Sunday, December 04, 2016

座禅, after 25 years or so of practice, is worth it.

I've practiced Zen for something like 25 years or so, that is, Zen meditation or Zazen (座禅). I don’t often talk or write about it (unless you count 書道/書法) on FB, and I haven’t written about it on the blog much lately, but I do think it’s a good time to write something about Zen practice that appears on FB.

Having done Zen practice for as long as I have, as well as Wing Chun practice now for 5 years, I cannot un-experience what I have experienced. Hakuin, the Zen ancestor in whose tradition I practice, stated more or less that everything that rights what’s wrong, cures what’s sick, etc. that arise from Buddhism arise from 座禅. There's truth in that. Before you go somewhere, you need to know where you are in order to get to a place in which you are not presently abiding.

Many years ago, when I started practicing, I went to the Zen Studies Society in New York City. I attended a teishō (提唱), a talk on the Buddhadharma given by the now disgraced Eido Shimano. The disgrace part is a long story, involving abuse of some women, and if you want to know more you can Google it, since it’s not the point of this writing. The point of this writing is something Eido Shimano said during his 提唱; he said if you practiced 座禅 for ten years, and if you derived no benefit from it, you could cut his head off. While it may be true that Eido Shimano might deserve to have his head cut off, he does not deserve to have his head cut off for recommending 座禅. I myself, who continually still screw up in many ways with many people, might deserve to have my head cut off, but not for recommending 座禅. Hakuin was right about 座禅, but like any skill, 座禅 takes time to master, and I’ve only just started.

When you do such a practice as 座禅 for a long enough period of time, it cannot but unalterably shift your perspective. Your perspective of who you are, your nature, your relationship with others, with the world, with what you experience, all of that is changed. (Though as they say, at the same time nothing changes.) After a certain point, there’s no going back. And because of the way in which perspective is shifted, one tends not to be categorically rigidly fixed in one position mentally. One acquires the capability to transcend the slavery of one's thoughts. I know some folks on FB may think I have rigid fixed positions on things, but that is usually because they, themselves, have rigid fixed positions and are often surprised that their views don’t get unconditional approval and encouragement. Instead they think they are facing diametric opposition. There’s a great 詠春拳 metaphor for this, but most folks wouldn’t get it. Suffice it to say the world doesn’t work at all according to the presumptions of American football, or one's thoughts. It's not what you or I think it is, whatever it is.

So for example, most folks have views about Donald Trump one way or another. Truth is, he’s likely to be the next president. I admit to the view that anyone who voted for Trump or supported him who wasn’t on the gravy train of grift was conned, and any sincerely expressed outrage about expression of that view has more to do with stages of grief than it does my view. But my views about what to do are tempered by the perspective shift I’ve acquired over the years. It’s why though I am pretty left of center to some rightists/conservatives/libertarians, it’s only because it is seen by them from the perspective of rightists/conservatives/libertarians, many of whom don’t get that the world doesn’t work at all according to the presumptions of American football, or one's thoughts. It's not what you or I think it is, whatever it is.

I’m very grateful for the practices that have been demonstrated to me; personally, I would not know how to survive in this world with everything more or less intact. And I’m grateful to my family for giving me the space to practice, and to try and fail, and try and fail again.

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