At today's sangha meeting, we discussed the dangers of judging our meditation, of thinking of it as something to fail at. How some people say, “I can't meditate,” when what they mean is that their meditation isn't what they think it should be.
It never is. And that's okay.
The only way you can do it wrong is by thinking you're doing it wrong. If you're meditating, then whatever your mind is doing — being focused, being distracted, happy, sad, angry, bored — is what it should be doing.
Some people in the Buddhist world like to talk of “noble silence,” or, even, “Noble Silence.” Silence is neither noble nor ignoble; it's silence. If we try to make it more than it is, we make it less than it is, by imposing our small story on it, so we experience not the silence, but our ideas about the silence.
Yesterday's online sangha meeting went well. People in various time zones sat zazen together, then I gave a Dharma talk. I was impressed by the video and sound quality of Jitsi (it works better in the app than a browser). So we'll continue to meet on Sundays at 6 pm Scottish (UK) time. If you want to join us, let me know and I'll send you the link and the password.
Note to lurkers: there was at least one person yesterday who left their camera and microphone off. We're a sangha, not a sideshow, so that's unacceptable. From now on, anyone who's not visible will be bumped from the meeting.
Enough people have expressed interest in online Zen practice that I've decided to have a weekly sangha meeting by video. Our sangha has students in the US, the UK and Europe, so the meeting will start at 6 pm UK time, which is late morning or early afternoon US time, depending on which state you live in.
We'll begin and end with some chanting. We'll do 25 minutes of zazen (meditation), then I'll give a short Dharma talk and take questions. The whole meeting will last an hour. Please be online and on your cushion ten minutes before the starting time.
Most sanghas have been using Zoom, but it has poor security and it tracks you. So we'll use Jitsi. If you want to join us, let me know and I’ll send you a video link and a password, and a copy of the liturgy.
If you want dokusan, we can also do that by video, using either FaceTime (if you have an Apple device) or Signal. I won’t use Skype, for the same reason I won’t use Zoom.
Most (or, I hope, all) Buddhist sanghas have moved their practice online because of the coronavirus pandemic. This has me thinking about doing interactive online Zen teaching, perhaps having dokusan by video. I'm still pondering, so if that's something you would be interested in, please let me know.
In Western culture, we're encouraged to “make our mark.” We're told we should want to be remembered, and that it's bad to be forgotten.
What if, instead, we do the work of trying to make no mark, but instead try to help heal the marks and scars we find? What if we aim to be forgotten, and trust the results of what we do to exist without us?
In his great book of calligraphy and commentaries, Moon by the Window, Shodo Harada Roshi writes, “We cannot throw our ego away completely, but we can decline ownership of it. To awaken to our origin prior to ego is the subtle flavour of zazen.”
We have feet, but we're not our feet. We have personality traits, but we're not our personality traits. The transformation that Zen practice brings isn't a tweaking of our quirks, an attempt to change — improve! — our personality. It's no longer identifying with that personality. We don't have to identify with our own personality traits any more than we identify with someone else's.
When Ikkyu was abbot of Daitokuji, a layman approached him and said: “Master, you are renowned both for your wisdom and the beauty of your calligraphy. It would be a great honour for me if you would write down some words of guidance which I could hang on my wall and reflect upon.”
Zazen means “sitting in meditation.” It is the heart of Zen practice, and is most useful if done daily. It is best learned from a teacher, who can check your posture and answer questions, but here are the basics of the practice that Dogen Zenji calls “the Dharma gate of great ease and joy.”