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Lions Roar : January 2013
mind.” After some time of practice Huike said, “I cannot find my mind.” Bodhidharma said, “Then your mind is at peace.” Once you feel in your bones and throughout your awareness the emp- tiness of your mind, you are at peace. Even when problems and difficulties arise, there’s still the thread of peace woven in at the heart of them. In Zen practice, zazen (sitting meditation) is training in emp- tiness. The practice is simply resting alertly in the feeling of body and breath, letting everything come and go, without denying or latching on. Sitting this way day after day, retreat after retreat, year after year, Zen practitioners learn to hold things lightly: respect- ing them, appreciating them, attending to them when the time for that comes, but also letting them go as they naturally will— because they are empty. Everything exists in time; time is exis- tence. Time is empty; everything comes and goes. In fact, com- ing/going is the reality of each moment. Sitting, you feel the truth of this as your own immediate experience of body and breath. Emptiness teachings internalized become a way of being fully and easily present with what is—a passing, flowing, empty, ongoing stream of living and dying. At my first long Zen retreat, in the deep snows of Upstate New York, I wandered for hours in the woods above the retreat center as snow fell, my tracks disap- pearing as I made them, until everything disappeared into a soft uniform whiteness, the trees, the ground, the sky—no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind. The Heart Sutra is also practiced by chanting. Since it’s so short, it’s easy to memorize, and anyone who has lived in a Zen temple for any length of time will automatically have memo- rized it. Having such a text, as they say, “by heart” is an expe- rience increasingly rare in our culture, which makes it all the more precious. A mind that can, at any moment, begin vocal- izing, in trance-like fashion (the syllables tumbling out of the mouth even before the brain registers them), the familiar words of the Heart Sutra is a mind that has at its disposal the means for its own pacification and expansion. I remember many dark moments of confusion or despair when I chanted the sutra over and over for comfort, the words lifting me out of the rut I was in, opening up new vistas. Once, long ago, visiting my parents in a crisis moment when my life seemed vague and directionless and I didn’t know what to do, my mind raged with troubled thoughts I couldn’t share. It was autumn, and leaves were falling from the many oak and maple trees that lined the streets of the small Pennsylvania town where they lived. I walked through the leaves for miles, chanting the Heart Sutra over and over, until the thoughts dissolved and joy arose, my ears full of the sound of crunching leaves under- foot, my heart grateful for the strangeness of the passing of time. Sutra chanting went in deepest of all at my mother’s hospital bedside, just after her death. Everyone had gone and I was alone with my poor bewildered mother’s body. Not knowing what else to do, I chanted and chanted the Heart Sutra as tears filled my eyes. I was sad and not sad at the same time. The words of the sutra never seemed truer or more comforting. ♦ To order audio and video recordings of PEMA CHödröN‘s teachings: Great Path (269) 384-4167