Think List

12

July 25, 2020


Koans

Almost every time I meditate, in moments lost in thought, I find myself wishing everyone would do it. Whenever someone tells me they don't meditate because they're bad at it, I think, yes, exactly. I'm aware that this might sound mildly confrontational, or even arrogant, to people who choose not to meditate. And while I accept that most of this is probably in my head (because what isn't?), I can hear a chorus of non-meditators now feeling some discomfort, and perhaps irritation, at this sad little faraway man telling them what they should do and how they should be and how they're not good enough how they already are or how they're striving to be and who the fuck does he think he is anyway (and did I forget to turn the light off in the bathroom and what time is it and maybe I should reply to my sister's email today and maybe it's not too late to be an actor or write a book or eat some more ice cream)?

I get it. And I especially get it in today's world, where so much of what ends up online is just thinly veiled versions of: Look at me, look at me, look at me. This is me. These are the groups to which I belong. These are our shared interests. And these, over here, these are my special interests. Unique only to me. Me me me. Me. This is who I am.

I also get that almost no one is actually reading this, and that the few of you who are reading it don't think in the ways I just described. And therefore, there is no chorus. It is, in fact, a creation in my head. And this creation is, in turn, also now in my body, and my emotions, and my constantly shifting moods and actions. And if left unnoticed and unattended, there it will stay, dictating my experiences, and eventually my life.

By far, the greatest aid to my meditation practice thus far has been Sam Harris's Waking Up app. So, should you have the slightest interest in giving it a go, I encourage you to try it for a month for free. After that, you have options, as detailed on the Waking Up support site:

How much does the app cost?
Waking Up is free to download and offers access to the first 5 meditations from the Introductory Course, along with 5 short talks. To gain full access to the expanding course, you will need to purchase an in-app subscription for $99.99 US/year.
Waking Up is risk-free. If you don't find it valuable, we will give you a full refund. No questions asked.
If you would like to use the app but truly cannot afford it, please email us at support@wakingup.com so that we can give you a free account.
While we operate a business, we believe that money should never be the reason why someone can't gain access to Waking Up.

Lately, I've been getting deep into the koans. I wouldn't recommend starting there. But perhaps just consider this a seed planted for later. Or, if you've been meditating for a while already, maybe give these guided meditations and talks a listen. I'd love to hear your thoughts on them.

One of the koan talks/meditations struck me so much that I ultimately transcribed it. You'll find that below.

Brian Leli, July 2020

Everyday Awakening

Among the various schools of Buddhism, of awakening practice, Zen has always placed a perhaps unusual emphasis on the everyday. We're not, so to speak, yet living our deepest life until we're devoting ourselves to the most ordinary moments of life, an ordinary kind of life. We can see the logic of this: if ordinary mind, ordinary life, everyday experience, is where we find awakening, then the right way, so to speak, to express awakening, and to live it, is also in ordinary life. The long-range shape of a Zen training is intended to deliver us right back into the most ordinary life, where we should become, they say, indistinguishable from ordinary people. There should be no markers of being awakened. Sometimes they talk about washing away awakening. It's not complete until it's forgotten. So we're going to look today at a couple of koans where we can see this emphasis.
The first is with Joshu again, and it's called Wash Your Bowls. A new student comes to him, and says, "Master, I've just got here. I've just come to this place of practice. Please give me some guidance." And Joshu simply asks, "Have you eaten your rice porridge yet?" And the student says, "Yes, I have." And Joshu says, "Then wash your bowls." That's the end of the koan. Wash your bowls.
So we might ask, "Has the car been serviced lately?" "No." "So take it for a service." "Have you come back with the shopping?" "Yes." "Then let's put it away." Is it conceivable that this could be the whole expression of awakening? In a sense, the ultimate reality of our lives? Not to say that we're caught in the lives of pain and drudgery and suffering. Rather that the ordinary moments, ordinary activities, are utterly boundless, free, and fulfilling, if we just receive them right, see them for the boundless gift they really are.
A meal has been finished? Great. There's washing up to be done. Wash your bowls.
Another master, whenever he was asked about awakening, he simply held up one finger. They called it One-Finger Zen. And when he was an old man, and about to die, he said, "I've used this One-Finger Zen all my life, and I haven't exhausted it." What does one finger have to teach us? And by the way, it's not a riddle to be puzzled out. It's coming to see what is just one finger.
A finger. A bowl. A cup. A pair of shoes. Car keys on the counter. These ordinary things of our lives, Zen invites us to appreciate as enough. To be able to inhabit any ordinary moment, ordinary activity, completely. Aware that it's all we need to do. Sensing clearly that there's actually nothing outside it, nothing outside this moment.
One old master, Setcho [?], said, "It's so big, there's nothing outside it, and so small, there's nothing inside it." What is it? One answer could be: It's this moment. So I invite you to give deep and full attention to whatever activity you may be engaged in through the rest of today. Treat it as if it were really the one and only thing going on in the universe. And enjoy.

Henry Shukman, Waking Up, "Introduction to the Koan Way"