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Lions Roar : July 2016
we can, we have attained unconditioned, unshakeable, everlast- ing peace. This is Buddha mind, the awakened mind, appearing in front of us all the time. Right where you are, see what needs doing and just do it. End of story. Although words have already passed between them, only when the student has dropped his judgments, ideas, and expec- tations does he finally meet Bodhidharma face to face. Eyes open, looking straight ahead, without a single thought to sepa- rate one thing into two, the student enters the gate of repose and bliss, the samadhi of being, where mind rests and self- imposed suffering stops. End of story. Nowadays, Zen students might work through hundreds of koans during a lifetime of training, and every one of them lands us in the same place: where the story in our head ends and real- ity begins. Resolving one koan isn’t likely to take care of the problem. Addictions are hard to overcome, and the addiction to the egocentric self, with its familiar pain and suffering, keeps calling us back into the shadows. So we keep practicing. The woman from the meditation class left quickly. I don’t know her name or where she came from, but I am still thinking about her. I didn’t teach her anything, but recalling that day, spinning vague memories into a story that suits my purposes, I realize what she taught me. It’s the same instruction given by all the great masters. Put it down. Let it go. Turn the page. Bodhidharma’s Wall Gazing YOU MAY ALTERNATE facing a wall with facing away from a wall, until you no longer perceive a difference. 1. Make the room quiet. As if no one were inside. 2. Eat and drink moderately. Don’t overfill. 3. Set aside all involvements. Put everything down. 4. At your sitting place, spread a thick mat. To cushion your knees. 5. Put your cushion or bench on the mat. To support your spine. 6. Sit upright. Like a mountain. 7. Align your head. Ears over shoulders; nose over navel. 8. Keep your eyes open. Lower the gaze and don’t look for anything. 9. Give up. Thoughts, ideas, and judgments. 10. Breathe and be still. Count your breaths from one to ten over and over again. If you lose the count, return to one and keep going. Start by sitting for ten minutes. Use a timer. Lengthen the time gradually as you are able. Sit a little every day and be consistent. Don’t make meditation a problem. ♦ Adapted from Dogen Zenji’s Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen (Fukanzazengi). The teacher isn’t dismissive, however. He acts with merci- ful urgency. That thing that is disturbing you? Bring it to me. Your pain, your panic? Show it to me. And the person or things that you think caused the problem—your parents, kids, partner, neighbor, boss, critics, rivals, bad luck, hard karma, the driver who cut you off, the dog that ate your homework—bring that too. Time is running out. Let’s end your suffering right here now. This is the aha moment. The student has been wracking her brain for years, debasing and nearly destroying herself, but in this instant, she is rendered empty. She can’t bring anything out. There is nothing she can grab ahold of. Life’s events are fleeting memories. Thoughts float up and disappear. Feelings overtake and then dissipate. The mind involved in fantasies, dreams, desires, and attach- ments—you can’t find it. You can’t locate yesterday; you can’t even go back to the moment you started reading this sentence. If you’re holding on to the story of your life, you’re holding on to nothing. This moment right now is the only thing there is, and you are not apart from it. You are it. All that rumination has gotten you nowhere, because there is nowhere else you can be. Perhaps you could just settle here and let things change by themselves—which they will, whether you like it or not. It can be painful to admit that we create most of our own suffering, but even more painful to deny it. Buddha said there are 84,000 dharma gates, infinite pathways to liberation. Today alone there are 84,000 fresh, new moments to be free. At last, peace is in sight. Alas, peace is always in sight. Face the wall. Bodhidharma’s practice is still vitally present in Zen, his wall gazing regarded as the most compassionately efficient method for revealing the true nature of our minds. Eyes kept open and cast downward in a soft gaze, Zen students meditate facing an empty wall. Nothing happens on that wall; nothing interferes or dis- tracts. You’d think we’d find relief there. Try it for yourself, how- ever, and you’ll see how, when confronted with the absence of stimulation, the egocentric mind revs into hyperdrive. Thoughts race here and there, developing elaborate fantasies and a torrent of self-criticism. I don’t like this. I can’t do this. I quit! It’s a bracing glimpse of what ego does for you twenty-four hours a day. Yet by counting or following the breath, you can bring your attention back to the present and calm the chaos within. The mind eventually slows down, and sitting becomes a sanctuary. Here comes the twist: just about the time we get used to the empty wall, we turn away from it and face into the room with all its messy contents. “The great earth and all beings” is how Buddha described it, “the full catastrophe” in the lament of Zorba the Greek. Can we view this “wall,” the world around us, with the same even-mindedness as we see blank nothingness? If LION’S ROAR | JULY 2016 59