Today we had our 3rd meditation cum dharma talk session organized by the Middle Way Buddhist Association and held at the St. Pete venue, but conducted and delivered by Brother Shieh as Bhante Dhammawansha is away in Asia. In the first session on meditation, Brother enumerated the following steps for beginners to heed:
a) adjust body position to achieve a physically stress-free state so as not to affect the focus (hence minimizing the benefits of meditation) by first bending the body, while in the single lotus (left leg on right or right leg on left) or double lotus sitting position, so that the bottom is partly suspended, then sitting back, thereby attaining a stable foundation.
b) Take care of the environment by having free air circulation, but not having the air stream directed at you, and placing shower towel over the legs to keep the knees warm.
c) Exercise minor adjustments by relaxing progressively various parts of the body, starting with the head, forehead and moving toward the bottom.
d) Focus on the breathing action.
e) Keep eyes slightly open to stay awake, mouth slightly agape and tongue touching the top of the teeth to facilitate air flow.
f) Other ways of keeping focused are staying fixed on one thought, though it’s better to try not to think, chanting Buddha’s name (Amitabha), and focusing on Buddha’s statue that evokes respect.
g) If the mind starts to drift away, stop and bring the wandering mind back. The most important thing is to realize where your mind is.
h) While any time is a good time to meditate, doing it in the early hours of the morning does have its advantages such as the environment is likely quiet and we just start on a new fresh day.
i) The length of time considered enough depends on the individuals. For Brother Shieh, his focus is beyond the sitting moment as meditation is one mechanism to help one to learn.
j) There is inherently more challenges to doing individual meditation as then a conducive environment may be at a premium.
In his introductory remarks during the ensuing Dharma talk, aptly named Wisdom Class, Brother Shieh explained that while Buddhism acknowledges the importance of self in the sense that we are to find the solution to our own problems, it also points out the problem of self attachment.
After writing down several terms associated with Zen: silence, still, and stasis, without elaborating further "of what", he invited the attendees to name the first thing that came into mind when the word Zen was heard. The candidates include: calm, peace, floating/suspended, question, lost connection, peaceful meditation. This diversity of views reflect the works of individual minds, each being a response born out of past personal experiences and conditioned by individual circumstances. In other words, each exhibits awareness of his/her own mind.
In the material world, we see things in the binary mode, a dichotomy of good and bad, of right and wrong. However, the essence of Zen, which is the heart of Buddhism, is non-dichotomy, or undichotomized dharma. We should distinguish, but without attachment.
Buddha teaching can be likened to a vessel/boat that would enable us to cross the ocean. However, once we reach the other shore, a proxy term for enlightenment, we should let go of the boat and not carry it onshore.
To learn Zen requires thinking. Therefore Zen is silence, stillness, and stasis of the mind, a state of being that is not restricted to when we are not in motion.
In the same vein, wisdom is free from annoyances and afflictions, a state described as the liberation of the mind manifested by having no attachment to the past, the present, and the future. This is Zen as enunciated by the Sixth Patriarch of the Zen School through his verses: Detachment from external appearances; Not to be disturbed internally.
Conversely, sin in Buddhism is that which leads to annoyance/affliction. It’s all in the mind, and the way to attain wisdom is to change the way we think.
Tolerance, which connotes a disparity in status between one who tolerates and one who is tolerated, is not a concept in Buddhism because all are considered equal in Buddhism. We do not heap accolades on the good nor do we condemn the bad. We just accept without enforcement or doubt.
The Buddhist worldview is one of connection as nothing occurs just from this moment. While the past has gone, we should learn from the past.
Detachment is understanding that all occurrences/disappearances are based on “conditions”. There is no need to point fingers in a relationship that has gone sour, but we do need to work hard to improve the conditions, and to stay away from the wrong/bad conditions. In this respect, it’s imperative that we observe the Five Precepts, the basic Buddhist Code of Ethics, which stipulates no killing, no stealing, no misconduct, no false speech, and no taking alcoholic drinks, so as not to generate bad karma.
Before adjourning the 3rd session, Brother Shieh reiterated that Buddha nature is in all of us, and that what differentiates us, the laymen, from Buddha, the Enlightened one, is that we have not eliminated all illusions and attachments.