Most Zen monks in the west only wear their robes for ceremonial purposes. But I've found that when I'm on my way to or from the zendo and wearing my robes, strangers in the street will approach me, wanting to talk. It's not usually that they're interested in Buddhism, it's that they're lonely and feel isolated and need someone to talk to, and the robes give them an invitation, or maybe just an excuse, an icebreaker.
Despite the abandoning of lockdown restrictions, we have no plans to have sangha meetings indoors anytime soon, because the goverment and science have opposite views, and we’re going with science.
But, this Thursday, August 19, you’re welcome to join us for meditation in the park next to the Kelvinside Allotments just off Kirklee Road, near the bridge. (I’ll be there early, so look for a bald guy in Zen monk’s robes.) We’ll start at 6:30pm and do two 25-minute periods of zazen (sitting meditation) broken up by 10 minutes of kinhin (walking meditation). Bring something to sit on. If you have any questions you can email me, or show up 15 minutes early.
At last week’s meeting, the Dharma talk/discussion was about how, contrary to popular belief, Buddhism is based not upon the Four Noble Truths, but rather the Three Marks of Existence (no self, or not self, impermanence, suffering). Tomorrow, (Sunday, August 1), we’ll discuss the Buddha’s declaration: “I teach only two things: suffering, and the end of suffering.”
My friend Sister Petra is a Christian nun who also practices Zen Buddhism with our sangha. A few months ago she told me, “During the pandemic, I’ve been praying for everybody who’s sick, in body, mind, or spirit.”
I was moved by this, and it has continued to resonate with me. As I’m not a Christian, my view of prayer is probably different from Sister Petra’s (or maybe not), but I realised this prayer could easily be adapted into one that could be recited by anyone, of any faith or no faith.
So, most days now, using my mala, I chant, 108 times, May all who are sick, in body, mind, or spirit, be well.
Although Scotland is no longer in lockdown, I don’t intend to resume having in-person sangha meetings anytime soon. I think the lockdown has ended too soon, and some people have not yet been vaccinated, so I’m not about to have people sit together in meditation in an enclosed space.
Also, the online meetings have been going so well, I intend to continue having them even when we’re on the other side of the pandemic and in-person zazen resumes.
I’ve been doing kinhin (walking meditation) by myself at a spot near the River Kelvin, in the park near the Kelvinside Allotments. Whether I do it depends on the weather, so I haven’t done it in a couple weeks, but I hope to be able to get back to it soon. If you’d like to join me for 40 minutes (or less, whatever you can do) of kinhin, masked and physically distanced, in the morning or evening, let me know and I’ll give you the details when I figure them out. And please let me know if you have any suggestions for other places in the city for outdoor meditation, walking or seated.
At last Sunday’s meeting, I gave a Dharma talk about free will, which I think is a myth, and so it’s a mistake to make too much of our locus of control, though having an external one makes more sense than having an internal one. A couple days later, this article appeared in The Guardian. It brought to mind Shakespeare’s tragedies, in which the inescapable fate that dooms the protagonist is not something written in the stars by gods, but by everything that makes the person who they are.
If our faults are not in our stars, but in ourselves — or, more accurately, our selves — then praise and blame are irrelevant, and the only sane response to anyone, however admirable or heinous their behaviour, is compassion. This doesn’t mean not restraining someone from causing harm, but it means restraining them for everyone’s good, not as punishment.
According to Lacan, the I which speaks and the I which is spoken of are not the same. The one observes and describes the other.
Zen practice reveals to us that we are not the I, the self, the aggregate of traits we describe and identify as “I” or “me.”
As we study the self, we may find we do not like, or even have much in common with, that self, the same way we experience some other people. Or we may like and relate to that self we are studying, the same way we experience some other people. But we are none of those people we can analyse and describe, including the self.
One of the most common practices in Buddhist meditation, including Zen, is to simply pay attention to your breath. When you realise you have been distracted by a thought, you label it “Thinking,” then return your attention to the breath.
It is a useful practice, but I question the accuracy of the label. Using the word “thinking” suggests you are in control, doing something, producing the distracting thoughts. But, as practice goes on, you will find the thoughts are there whether you are actively thinking or not, and trying to stop thinking and quiet the mind is just one more activity to be distracted by.
What if you let the thoughts be, just allow them to make their noise, like the background noise in a public place, a chatter you hear but do not pay attention to? You will find that the correct label is not “Thinking,” but rather, “Thoughts.” The thoughts just happen, and they are not your concern, and so you notice they have distracted you, and you return to the breath.