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Category: Instructional Talks

Calming and Contemplation part 2

by tendo zenji

Instructional Talks Downloads

December 10th, 2022
Non-Abiding: Instructional Talk

Non-Dwelling

While there is reason and value to dwell in emptiness, ever open, the essence of the awakened mind is Non-dwelling. Our normal view is from the self, we dwell in this sense of separateness, that we are this and everything else is that. The awakened mind is not in such a static viewpoint, it is the energetic, generative, continual transformation that is reality. In the midst of thought, no-thought. We can practice this in our sitting, but go beyond this to all our activities. In any action we aren’t attached to any particular view or outcome. Thus we are able to respond freely.

We can see how this is explained in core treatises and sutras below and how to engage in this as a practice in the next section. Do see the recorded talk for a detailed examination of all of this.

The “Treatise on Awakening of Faith” says, “If you would practice cessation, stay in a quiet place, sitting straight with proper attention; do not rely on the breath, do not rely on physical form, do not rely on space, do not rely on earth, water, fire, or air . . . do not rely on perception or discernment—dismiss all conceptions as they come to mind, and also dismiss the conception of dismissing. As all things are fundamentally without conception, instant to instant they are unborn, instant to instant unperishing. Nor should you pursue outside the mind to think about objects. Then dismiss mind by mind. If the mind races and scatters, you should concentrate and bring it back to right mindfulness.”” In the contemplation of there being only mind and consciousness, all delusions will naturally be transcended.” For ordinary people and beginning students false and true are not yet distinguished; the net of delusion enters the mind and fools the practitioner. Without an adept teacher to ask, they have nothing to rely on; they take the effects of the four demons to be the right path:” as days and months pass, over a long period of time, false views become so ingrained that even meeting with good conditions they become difficult to change; sinking in the ocean of suffering, there is no way of escape. You should look into this on your own part; do not allow a moment’s deviation. This teaching is as expounded in the “Treatise on Awakening of Faith.”

Entry Into the Inconceivable p. 164-5

The Diamond Sutra and Platform Sutra

Chapter 10

Therefore, Subhuti, fearless bodhisattvas should thus give birth to a thought that is not attached and not give birth to a thought attached to anything. They should not give birth to a thought attached to a sight. Nor should they give birth to a thought attached to a sound, a smell, a taste, a touch, or a dharma.

The Sixth Patriarch Sutra says, “Once, when the Fifth Patriarch was reading the Diamond Sutra, when he got to ‘They should give birth to a mind that isn’t attached to anything,’ the Sixth Patriarch (Hui-neng) was suddenly enlightened and said, ‘How could I have known my own nature was already pure? How could I have known my own nature was neither created nor destroyed? How could I have known my own nature was already perfect? How could I have known my own nature does not change?’ The Fifth Patriarch said, ‘Not to recognize your own mind is to study the Dharma to no avail. If, as I was speaking, you recognized your own mind and saw your own nature, you are a leader of men and gods.’”

Hui-neng says, “People who dwell on the sights they see and give birth to thoughts about sights are deluded. People who remain detached from the sights they see and do not give birth to thoughts about sights are awake. People who give birth to thoughts about sights are like a cloud-covered sky. People who do not give birth to thoughts about sights are like a cloudless sky where the sun and moon shine.”   

The Diamond Sutra translated by Red Pine(p. 149-151).

Platform Sutra

The scholar-monk Qisong (契嵩) also noted in his foreword of the Platform Sutra:

The formless is the essence. (無相為體 wúxiang wei ti)
Non-thought is the tenet. (無念為宗 wúnian wei zong)
Non-abiding is the fundamental. (無住為本 wúzhù wei ben)

Non-abiding leads to prajñā (wisdom), as it enables one to consider that worldly issues are empty, so there is no point in retaliation or disputes.

from the Wikipedia entry on Non-Abiding

Non-Dwelling practices

Practices success as Silent Illumination or Shikantaza when done correctly are non-dwelling practices. See this article from Dharma Drum on Non-Abiding which gets into Silent Illumination as a non-abiding practice: Non-Abiding

Ocean Seal Samadhi

Visualization practice for openness. We use the Ocean Seal Samadhi as a technique toward increasing openness. See part 1 for description and guided meditation in this technique. The essence here is to get a feel for increasing openness and to let go of the words and then the visualization. Once one is able to just allow oneself to open up, then you can move on to

Increasing openness 

We relax ourself, settle into sitting, settle into our breath, move into our bodies and increasingly open up. Any point that we find ourselves resting into a modality we let it go. In the chan understanding of this, we simply ‘put down’ any attempt to rest anywhere: in the breath, in the body, in thoughts, in feelings, eventually in openness itself. Put it down.

References

Entry Into the Inconceivable
An Introduction to Hua-yen Buddhism
by Thomas Cleary
University of Hawaii Press· Honolulu, 1983
ISBN 0-8248-0824-X

Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles
A Companion for Practice
Dream Mountain Press 2020

Diamond Sutra
translated by Bill Porter (Red Pine)
Counterpoint; Revised ed. edition (November 18, 2002)
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1582432562

Platform Sutra
Hui-neng translated by Bill Porter (Red Pine)
Counterpoint (November 28, 2008)
ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1593761775


Calming and Contemplation part 1

by tendo zenji

Instructional Talks Downloads

October 15th, 2022
Relaxation, Openness, Outside Practice: Instructional Talk

November 12th, 2022
Cultivating Openness, Ocean Seal Samadhi: Instructional Talk
Ocean Seal Samadhi Guided Meditation: Guided Meditation

What is that we are doing when we are practicing? Mumon Roshi succinctly summarizes the aims of stillness-sitting thusly: align your body, align your breath, align your mind. In traditional Buddhism this is understood as Samatha-Vipassana or calming and contemplation. Let us consider this method of practice, which is the orientation of all Buddhist practice, from both of these categorizations.

Calming

In order to truly engage with the subjects of contemplation our minds must be settled. What is meant by a “settled mind?” This means that wandering thoughts have diminished to where they no longer are an issue. Thinking is what our brains do and at no point in the practice are we suppressing thoughts, or trying to stop this behavior. The almost random, brain driven thouights that come up when we are being still are know as scattered thoughts. If we purse these they are wandering thoughts This can be things like commenting on how things are going, what we will do later, dwelling on physical sensations and so on. Other forms of thoughts can be discursive where we analyze, plan and other types of reasoned through and narrative where we develop scattered thoughts into stories.

Align your body

We begin calming by aligning the body. This is our posture the physical form of our stillness-sitting. In Zen they say you have to “find your seat” which can take a long time to do. This is necessary for extended sitting but also applies in differing forms if we are walking, standing or sitting outside. There are many treatises on the physical aspects of sitting (see Mumon Roshi’s own in How to Practice Zazen) but the essence is:

Begin by sitting comfortably erect, back straight and naturally curved, eyes level, nose vertical, Chin tucked in. Shoulders should be slightly back, arms slightly open, hands resting in your lap.  Eyes should be just slightly open. Settle into your seat.

excerpt from Breath Guided Relaxation in Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles

Align your breath

From a solid foundation we already have begun to settle our minds. We settled into our bodies when we align them and what we mean we when say settle our minds is that our minds no longer feel separate from our bodies. We further this though the second part of Mumon Roshi’s tripartite practice.

We must be fully relaxed for our minds to truly settle and for us to truly “find our seat” Relaxation is the next step of the process. It settles us into our bodies, eases that duality between body and mind and prepares us to focus on our breath. The body scan method is the most effective way to search your body for tension and to let that tension go. There are numerous guided body scans one can find for this and in the guided meditation link here includes this before going into to it. Below is the essentials for the body scan, using our breath as a natural guide for letting go of tension.

Breath Guided Relaxation
For each breath we naturally exhale until we automatically inhale. There should be no effort involved. The breaths will naturally deepen and lengthen as we relax. As we exhale we slowly sweep our gaze from the current object downward as described.
Place your awareness on the top of your head and exhale, letting all tension go, sweeping down toward the eyes
Relax the eyes, paying attention to the space between the eyebrows, the eyelids and the eye sockets.
Sweep down the face, checks, up the jawline ending with a very slight smile on your lips.
Return your gaze to the top of your head and sweep down and back over your neck.
The shoulders can be especially tense, as you inhale your can deliberately increase this tension, slightly raising them up, them letting them relax as your gaze sweeps down shoulders toward your arms.
Let your awareness slide down your arms, elbow and hands.
Next we feel our inhale in the chest and sweep down to the abdomen, fully relaxing these muscles.
Then the back. Begin with the back of the shoulder blades and sweep down to the middle back.
Moving our gaze to the lower back, we relax down to the hips.
Continuing from the hips and slide your awareness down your legs, knees and feet.
Finally we we settle into our seat, exhaling from the top of our head down into our seat. Rooting ourself into the earth. Cultivating the Still Pool.

excerpt from Breath Guided Relaxation in Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles

It can take us quite a while to truly relax into our bodies. Our circumstances are such that we float through this world from our heads and there are many stressors and difficulties. It can be hard to relax. So in an extended period of stillness-sitting one many go through the body scan over and over again as one continues to feel tension and separateness. As the relaxation method presented is guided by the breath, one is engaging with this essential aspect of our beings to increase calming and the setting down of pursuing our scattered thoughts. To truly do so, we must begin to cultivate concentration through the practice of focus.

Focus
It is essential to be able to focus our awareness, to naturally let energy flow to a single point concentrating our minds. Through practice we can develop this skill which is the basis of so many methods.  
We begin as always by cultivating the Still Pool.  Shifting our awareness to our abdomen, feel the rise and fall of the breath. It is vital that this is the focus, that we remain alert and attentive to the breath moving through our bodies. Naturalness is equally essential: we don’t force the breath or by will attempt to control it.  Simply keep ones awareness directed toward the abdomen.  Thoughts may arise, note that and place awareness back on the breath. If we notice that have followed a thought for a period of time, we do not castigate ourselves, simply return our awareness to the breath.  If our thoughts are too scattered to stay with our breath in this manner we employ strategies that require ever more attention. Counting exhalations from one to ten is the most basic. We can increase the complexity of counting by counting by twos, by odd numbers, backwards and so on.  We do this to engage the conceptual mind until it settles down. Then we simply place our awareness on the rise and fall of the abdomen.

By doing this we build up the skills of noticing when we are unfocused, of placing our awareness without commentary and over time deep concentration.  These abilities will serve us well in other endeavors but is a practice that can be deeply pursued in its own right. 

excerpt from Focus in Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles

Contemplation

Align your mind

From a calm and focused mind we move into contemplation, the active work of the practice of engaging with what is actually happening. At this moment we are siting, calm and aware. In the contemplation that we are investigating here we are cultivating increasing openness, the active awareness that is the functional of reality as it is. This is development of the unified mind, that is empty of a sense of a separate self, but fully engage, fully aware.

Openness
Openness can’t be forced, you must ease into it naturally. We become increasingly open by cultivating the Still Pool and settling into awareness of our entire bodies. Then we can open up further by Listening, letting sounds in without discrimination, without placing attention on them. This brings our sense of awareness beyond ourselves.
Likewise the Gazing practices bring us to a place of greater and greater openness. Using the channels of eyes and ears and skillfully applying focus we become in tune with the landscape that is in our visual and auditory sensorium.
With practice we become increasingly open, open to sounds, sights, sensations, open to our bodies and surroundings, open to what is. By not chasing thoughts, by not naming or commenting upon what we see and hear, by not indulging in sensations, by not forcing everything into our story, we open even further and effortlessly remain open. Thoughts simply rise and fall uncommented upon and over time diminish. Our narrative fades and our sense of a separate self recedes. It is in this open condition, where we are mostly just a presence in landscape that are are in alignment with Empty Awareness. We find ourselves increasingly in tune with what is.

excerpt from Openness in Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles

Transitioning from focus into openness
In the same way that one can transition from the Still Pool into openness, one can move from focusing on the breath into openness. When we engage in a period of stillness-sitting we always begin by relaxing and settling into the Still Pool. Once settled we place our awareness on the abdomen as it rises and falls. If our minds are particularly scattered engage in the necessary counting practice. As it calms down we return our awareness to the abdomen, always focusing awareness there when we are distracted. As distractions fall away we simply increase the field of our awareness from the rise and fall of the abdomen to our entire bodies and from there to the experience of sitting, increasingly open. 

Every time that we engage in stillness-sitting we should transition into Openness. Until focus is deeply developed this might just be for short periods of time, as we return to the breath as we lose focus. But the practice of focus like all of the practices leads to increased Openness bringing us into alignment with what is.

excerpt from Focus in Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles

Cultivating Openness

There are myriad ways to cultivate openness, aligning ourselves with reality as it is. In these talks we are examine sitting, but also engaging with the wider world though outside practices. There are myriad outside practices, that both cultivate dwelling in openness and the non-dwelling that is the mind of empty awareness. These can be found in the Outside Practices text Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles and we will consider both sitting outside and a visualization technique for sitting here.

Sitting Outside
When out of doors we are naturally in our bodies, by being aware of our bodies, centering ourselves in the abdomen, rooting ourselves in the earth, breathing naturally, we can truly inhabit them. As we move amidst the natural environment with all of its continual change we can become increasingly aware of silence. Behind every sound, behind the incessant activity is a deep silence.  At twilight, when birds come to rest and people are generally not out and about, you can feel a hushed stillness, that points to a yet deeper silence.  Paying attention to these conditions facilitates seeing past the self.
When sitting out of doors our movement often noisy and careless, disturbs our surroundings. Stillness Sitting out of doors integrates us into the surroundings and the wildlife our rough behavior alienates will feel comfortable in our presence. Birds will fly right by, small mammal scurry right up to check us out, deep amble by unconcerned with our presence. As one’s stillness matures one becomes merely another feature of the landscape. We spend much of our lives distancing ourselves from our surroundings and in this way become a disturbance when we move through our environment. Being still outside teaches us how to naturally move through it.
When we are seated outside, or where we can see the outdoors, this is not an opportunity to ‘watch’ or to attach to additional stimulus. Gazing at what is in our field of view is not different from gazing at the floor in front of us. We engage in outdoor sitting in order to facilitate Empty Awareness.
Sit as you normally would, eyes mostly closed, gaze downward. Let the increased sounds of the outdoors flow through you. Let go of the environment and relax into awareness, cultivating the Still Pool. When thoughts have subsided open your eyes, fully utilizing your peripheral vision. There should be no distinction between them open and closed. The Still Pool, deeply clear, undisturbed by thought, sensations and feelings, brightly mirroring all that shines in.

excerpt from Being Outside in Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles

Ocean Seal Samadhi 
The Ocean Seal Samadhiis a practice that was core to the Hua-yen school of Chinese Buddhism. Its orientation is toward totality viewed in a a holographic way of the complete interconnection and interpenetration of all phenomenon. This can be seen as complete openness.

The oceanic reflection concentration, or oceanic reflection of the interdependent origination of the universe, refers to the clear, mirror-like mind, like the placid ocean, reflecting everything at once. In this holistic awareness everything is part of everything else, so that when one is brought up all are included. The Ch’an master Matsu Daoyi likened this awareness to bathing in the ocean-at once using the waters of all tributa­ries. 

Entry into the Inconceivable p. 217

Ch’an Master Sheng Yen developed a visualization practice in an attempt to reconstruct the Ocean Seal Samadhi which is not described in practical terms in any Huayan texts. I had learned a variant of Sheng Yen’s method about a decade ago under the name ‘The Eye of the Tatagata.’ This name is apropos in that you are visualizing seeing as a Buddha sees, the totality of all things, which is the orientation of Hua-yen. This practice I further developed into a non visualization practice of ever increasing Openness, which is Non-Dwelling, practice that we will return to in Part 2 of this series.

I was reacquainted with the visualization practice, in it’s proper context via Guo Gu’s talk and practice on Hua-yen Buddhsim in his excellent 16 week class From Indian Buddhism to Chinese Ch’an. In his discussion of it he translated a more theoretical description of the practice from the primary Hua-yan patriarch Fazang. Guo Gu summazrizins the practice thusly: “The focus is on the interplay of the images on the surface of the ocean—the unobstructed interpenetration of each and every phenomenal reality, or shishi wuai.”

From Reflections on the Mind that Journeys throughout Huayan Dharmadhātu by Fazang 

It is like the reflection of the four divisions of a cakravartin’s troops on a vast ocean. Although the reflected images differ in kind, they suddenly appear simultaneously on [the surface of] the ocean in their proper order. Even though the appearances are many, the water [that reflects them] remains undisturbed. The images are indistinguishable from the water, and yet [the water] is calm and clear; the water is identical from the images, and yet [the images] are multifarious. Both are utterly clear without past and present, and it is difficult to fathom where one begins and the other ends. Abundant and profuse, [the images] are quiescent and formless—simultaneously and instantaneously manifesting. Appearing and disappearing—their forms are difficult to fathom; interfusing and mutually penetrating—they are without constraints. The images harmonize with each other where conceptualizations are extinguished. How can they be apprehended? According to the Avataṃsaka, “This is the inconceivable [realm of reality]; that which can be conceived of cannot be apprehended. To deeply enter the inconceivable is to contemplate the un-contemplatable quiescent extinction.”  

Fazang translated by Guo Gu

The above passage gets at the essentials of Hua-yan thought that you are visualizing in this It continues on to state: “The sūtra also discerns that it is called “ocean” because its various reflections multiply endlessly and their limit is impossible to fathom. To investigate one of them thoroughly is to pursue the infinite, for, in any one of them, all the rest vividly appear at the same time.” It is this, the investigation of the all in the one and one in the all that is the heart of the contemplation. Thus it extends the “Eye of the Tatagata” from one of completeness openness to totality, to the ramifications of this understanding of reality in which all phenomenon is embedded in all other phenonoment.,

For this reason, it is called, “ocean.” It is called “seal” because all the images appear simultaneously within it without distinction of past and present. The myriad diverse kinds [of images] penetrate each other without obstruction. The one and the many are reflected in one another without opposing each other.

Fazang translated by Guo Gu

The guided meditation above goes through the visualization technique of increasingly opening oneself up to totality. This technique takes a while to develop a feel for it and it is essential to develop that feel. For you want to be able to increasingly open up in this way without the need for the words to guide you and eventually without the visualization. An essential aspect of this, as with any of the openness techniques is to note the silence, the stillness that seems vibrant with energy. This is a living practice, engaging with the dynamic process of reality as it is.

References

Dewdrops on Stinging Nettles
A Companion for Practice
Dream Mountain Press 2020

Entry Into the Inconceivable
An Introduction to Hua-yen Buddhism
by Thomas Cleary
University of Hawaii Press· Honolulu, 1983
ISBN 0-8248-0824-X

How to Practice Zazen
Comments on the Zazengi
Mumon Yamada Roshi
Institute for Zen Studies; January 1, 1980
ASIN: B000VUMOZ8