When the pandemic took hold, our sangha decided to try holding meetings online, to meditate, chant and discuss the Dharma in a way that would be as similar to physical meetings as we could make it. We decided to use Jitsi Meet, an open source and ethical application (no tracking or mining of user's data) that works across multiple platforms, and does not require you to have an account to use the service — just the app or a web link.
In Zen practice, meditation is usually referred to as “sitting.” Some of us think we are unusual because of our practice, but we are not. Everybody sits, but most people do their sitting in front of a TV. We can either sit to distract ourselves from life, or we can sit with, and in, life.
When we say, “This should not be happening,” we may be right or wrong. When we say (or do not say, but mean), “This should not be happening to me,” we are always wrong, no matter the circumstances we are talking about.
When we see our own character flaws, we can respond by practicing awareness of those flaws, practicing not letting them dictate our behaviours. If we can do that, they no longer exist, as they are a cause without an effect.
Or we can have a judgmental, self-hating (and therefore self-centred) response — “I’m such an arsehole, I’m such a bad person” — that blames, but is unlikely to do anything more than name-calling. When we see clearly, we know we are neither our flaws nor our virtues.
The old teachings tell of monks going to charnel grounds to meditate and face their fears. Good practice, but maybe needlessly theatrical, as our fears are always close by enough for us to smell them. A person would have to be very deep in denial (or perhaps very young) for a journey in search of their fears to be necessary.
We’re always in the charnel ground, but usually pretending we’re not. If we sat long enough in a literal charnel ground, we’d get used to it and become less aware of it, less aware of reality.
“Medicine and sickness heal each other. The whole world is medicine.” — Blue Cliff Record, Case 87
In this week’s Dharma talk, I mentioned a parable that’s been on my mind lately. I don’t know its origin — I’ve heard different versions, some attributing it to the Zen or Taoist traditions, but I haven’t been able to find its source, and I don’t think it matters. Here’s the version I discussed: