People talked about their meditation experience today. Why they started meditation, and the experience before and after meditation. For me, it is a little hard to remember exactly how and why I started practice.
When I was 6 years old, I first heard of the concept of death, and witnessed closely the death of a little girl one year older than me. I was very scared at that thought. I wanted to know if other people feel the same way. So I told my younger brother who is 2 years younger than me about death. He cried. Later my parents found out and scolded me. I know I shouldn’t have done that. But in another sense, to be exposed to the scary thought of death made us sensitive to life. I think that is a very good thing.
When I was a kid, I thought the death is somehow inevitable. I don’t quite believe in incarnation. I think when a person die, most likely s/he just dies. So the answer I came up with at that time is that I am going to try as hard as I can to fully live this precious life, to expand my life as much as I can, to learn as much as I can, to experience as much as I can, to enjoy as much as I can, to learn all the wisdom of human history. Because of the awareness of death, I always tried to work very hard.
Then on my 14th birthday, my elder brother, who was in college at the time, sent me a birthday gift. It is a cartoon book called Sixth Patriarch Platform Sutra. It is teaching of Sixth Patriarch of Chan/Zen and many Chan/Zen masters’ enlightenment stories. I was fascinated by that book. There is something in that book that resonate with me, that made me feel what it said is truth, and I wanted to know why it said so. I had some fundamental believes since I was a kid that everyone has a precious life, everyone should have the right to fully develop himself/herself, and that whatever a person or two persons want to do, if they don’t bother other people, it is their own business. These believes came from the very playful childhood that I enjoyed (You can read my other blog about this), and the awareness of death. Life is precious to me. I want me and anyone else to be able to fully make themselves. Thus I believe in true equality. But growing up in a Confucius society, I rebel against the pretense and hypocrisy of it and the social hierarchy it tries to maintain. But in that cartoon book, the students and the teachers are totally equal. The students can even hit the teachers. This appeal to me a lot. 🙂 Furthermore, all the things that book talks about is just totally new and fresh in contrast to what people normally think. And Zen masters live in such a happy and carefree life. I was fascinated and wanted to know why those masters spoke so. But as a kid, I couldn’t understand it. I later found another cartoon book titled Zen Stories by the same author. That book is much easier to understand, but still to truly understand it is still beyond me.
So in my life after that, whenever I experience something significant in my life, I always go back to that book, read it again to see if I can gain more understanding.
I wanted to find a good master in China. If I knew one, I probably would have gone to study under him/her. But in China, I wasn’t able to know that. There were even not many books (almost no books) in the bookstore on the subject of Zen or Buddhism. I tried to practice myself in meditation to understand the Zen masters’ words.
I am afraid that reading that cartoon book at a young age had a big impact on my life. As I was making many very important life decisions in my life, that book implicitly played a role in the decisions I made. Not being able to find a good teacher for a long time, I was used to fighting hard in real life and accumulate experiences in real world. Many years later when I went to a monastery, I immediately recognize that everything there is in accordance with how I live my life. Thus I often encourage people to just work hard in their real lives. And to me a better so called Buddha Land in the real world is a world that everyone can freely pursue the art of his/her life, thus the majority of the population will live according to their true nature even they are not exposed to Buddhism teaching. (Throughout the history, even in the greatest era, how much percentage of the population had the chance to be exposed to Buddhism teaching, and how much percentage of them can actually grasp it?)
It was not until two years after I came to the states I was able to find people who I can practice with. Later in my practice, I realized that Buddhism actually can answer my question of life and death. Trying as hard as I can to learn various things, to improve my abilities and to expand my experiences, I didn’t feel ready to tackle the issue of life and death myself. I felt it was beyond my knowledge and I suspended the question until a later time when I have more knowledge and life experience. But Buddhism made me realize I can resolve this issue with teaching of Buddhism, and its method is very simple, just put it all down (even just for a period of time as short as 20 mins) and see the truth. For this I am very grateful for Buddhism’s teaching and feel that I am very lucky to have a chance in my life to be exposed to such teaching.
I am not going to lay down my whole path of meditation experience here. I will just list a few of them.
When I first started practicing formally with a very good friend of mine, I was stunned when hearing that Buddha finally just sit down and put everything down, saying if he couldn’t resolve the issue he would never stand up. Putting it down strike me at that moment. My life had been very actively pursuing things. There is nothing wrong with that. You can say it is actually a good thing. But I need to be able to put it down. Most people are not able to put it down, even just for a short time. They are always grasping. Without a moment of putting it down, we will never see the truth. Whatever great teaching of Buddha, essentially it boils down to: can you put it down, even just for 20 mins?
During a 7 day retreat, I just realized that I had a strong self. It was not necessary bad thing. It is what brought me to practice. But my practice there is to put it down. It is ridiculous that after several days of sitting and doing nothing my mind is still very much focused on myself. (When I say doing nothing, I mean no activity of mind. Of course, we are still doing some other activities. For example, we are still breathing. Without the mind trying to control breathing, we can breath very naturally. Also we are sitting on the earth, and together with the earth, we are surrounding the sun, and together with the solar system, we are expanding with the universe. We did all these activities perfectly without failing. It is activity of mind, which we may say is a higher level of activity, gives us troubles. Since any concept is dualistic, we tend to attach ourselves to one side of the view, thus we cannot follow the natural flow of the plus and minus activities of the physical world. Everyone of us has a lot of attachment. The biggest and most common one is probably the attachment to this I am self. Americans tend to acknowledge unconditionally the activity of mind and thus this thinking I am self (quote). Meditation practice, is to keep silent, to drop thinking, drop talking in our heads. Then we will be more aware when thought arise. Then we will notice what we are attached to. That is to see with our Buddha nature. When you are not attached to one side of the view, you won’t give rise to the self-generated activity. Then your Buddha nature will function perfectly, seeing everything. This Buddha nature is emptiness. It is the world before the world of language. You have to experience it. Actually we all have experience in it. But we tend to forget, because of our attachment to many things. So you’ve read this, how are you going to put this into your practice? As for Koan practice, I guess it is still some kind of activity of mind, although it is definitely not logic thinking. It is kind of using Koan to experience the emptiness of one or the other side of any view. After it expands to very large, it has to disappear. Then the other side of the view will be active.) Do you realize this? A lot of times, we really don’t need to put so much emphasis on ourselves. It is really not necessary. It is actually not helping ourselves that way. The mind needs to go to the group that we are in. That is disappearance of self, which is our true self and where our happiness lies.
(To be continued)