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Lions Roar : July 2016
OULD YOU LIKE TO LEARN to meditate now?” I asked this of a student as we neared the end of the meditation class. I was losing my patience. All morning long, she had raised philosophical questions and objections. She wanted to debate Buddhism and not practice it. Time was running out, and we’d barely begun. I kept trying to get back to the point, but it wasn’t working. She had her own ideas and they were different. When we began to meditate together as a group, she ignored the advice. When I demonstrated the postures for sitting comfortably on a zafu, a bench, or a chair, she wouldn’t try them. Sitting cross-legged on a cushion, back bent, her knees floating several inches above the floor, it was a good bet she was in agony. Perhaps she was disappointed, angry, or bored. When we met, she said she had taken several meditation and mindfulness courses already, naming the famous teachers and thinkers she admired. I wondered what she was still looking for. “Can I ask one more thing?” It would be her last question of the day. “Have you found the secret to happiness?” “No,” I replied. “But I’ve found the secret to suffering.” Bodhidharma sat facing the wall. The Second Ancestor stood outside in the snow. He cut off his arm and said, “My mind is not yet at peace. Please, Master, put my mind to rest.” Bodhidharma said, “Bring me your mind, and I will put it to rest.” The Second Ancestor said, “I have searched for my mind, but I cannot find it.” Bodhidharma said, “There, I have put your mind to rest.” This is a koan that Zen students might encounter several times over the course of their formal training. But even if you’re not a Zen student, it’s a koan that you encounter many times throughout your life. It could be when you are depressed or enraged. When you are anxious, afraid, helplessly confused, or in despair. The kitchen sink is stopped up and the car has a flat. The roof is leaking. The taxes are due. You can’t take it anymore, and you want out. Can someone tell you the secret to happiness? Koans are stories of historical encounters between Zen teachers and students, and this one recounts a student’s climac- tic meeting with Bodhidharma, the meditation master who brought the Buddha’s teaching from India to northern China in the form of Chan, the predecessor to Japanese Zen. The details of his life are a little sketchy. Some say Bodhidharma came by water, some say by ground, sometime around the fifth century. His ocean passage was tossed by storms, his overland journey besieged by bandits. Like anyone traveling the perilous byways of life, his was not an easy route. He got sick; he got sore. There were setbacks and deprivations. Eventually he arrived at a place he could settle. He founded a sanctuary, sat down, made his mind as steady as a mountain wall—originating the practice called wall gazing—and entered the state of samadhi, non-distracted awareness. This story presents the essence of Bodhidharma’s Zen, which he described as this: A special transmission outside the scriptures; No dependence upon words and letters; Direct pointing to the mind: Seeing into one’s own nature and attaining buddhahood. KAREN MAEZEN MILLER is a Zen Buddhist priest at the Hazy Moon Zen Center in Los Angeles. Her most recent book is Paradise in Plain Sight: Lessons from a Zen Garden. How Do I Put My Mind to Rest? Like the student in this famous koan, we constantly face the challenge of emotional turmoil and restless mind. You don’t have to cut off your arm like he did, says KAREN MAEZEN MILLER, but you do have to cut off your conflicting emotions at their root. PHOTOBYSTACYDELAROSA “W LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 56