Bob Schwartz

Category: Zen

“Competitive About Your Meditation? Relax, Everyone Else is Too.”

Missing the way by a hairbreadth
is the gap between heaven and earth.
Xinxin Ming (Verses on the Faith Mind), Jianzhi Sengcan (d. 606)

When I saw the following in The Wall Street Journal, I was dumbfounded.

Competitive About Your Meditation? Relax, Everyone Else is Too
As hard-chargers descend on the ancient practice, they are tweaking the quest for inner peace
By Ellen Gamerman

Alan Stein Jr. is on his 324th straight day meditating—a streak he is tending with the mindfulness of a monk.

The 42-year-old performance coach from Gaithersburg, Md., has kept his record using the Headspace app, despite early-morning flights and travel across time zones. On a recent work trip to Atlanta, he remembered to meditate only just after the clock struck midnight. Worried he’d blown his record, he closed his eyes and quickly tried to meditate on the hotel bed for 10 minutes.

“The whole time I’m just waiting for the 10 minutes to be over to see if my streak was alive,” he said. …

Desperate to maintain streaks that can surpass 1,000 days, some driven spiritual voyagers have started looking for new ways to protect their records. On Headspace, the app counts any session completed in an eight-hour period as its own day. Pointing this out, a user on Facebook suggested logging three days in one by meditating at 4 a.m., 2 p.m. and 11 p.m.

On Mindful Makers, a private online group of roughly 250 meditators, members can check the streak rankings daily. Robin Koppensteiner was in second place with 71 days at the start of this week. Members are trusted to report their own meditation updates.

“I have to admit I check every day to see if I’m still in number two or if I’ve gone up to number one,” said the 29-year-old author from Vienna, Austria.

As astonishing as this seems, it should not be surprising.

Every tradition that includes meditation as a practice warns practitioners of objectifying the practice itself, rather than experiencing the practice only for what it is within a bigger context. This is a danger inherent in all religious and spiritual traditions, where specific practices seem to overtake the bigger point. As the Zen saying goes, it is confusing the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself.

Chogyam Trungpa called this spiritual materialism, which is a central idea in his classic Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism: “The problem is that ego can convert anything to its own use, even spirituality.”

Now in the case of many of these meditators, they are pursuing calm, relaxation or peace of mind, rather than following any particular way, Buddhist or otherwise. Which is fine. But the advantage of practicing within a bigger context is that you are regularly reminded and discover for yourself that things like “meditation streaks” are kind of ridiculous and kind of misleading. In fact, the meditation session you miss might be the very session the brings you the calm, relaxation and peace of mind you are seeking. If you are a “competitive meditator” that will mean nothing to you. If you are, for example, a Zen practitioner, it makes perfect sense.

For meditators worried about breaking their streak and losing the meditation competition, this from Suzuki Roshi:

One of my students wrote to me saying, “You sent me a calendar, and I am trying to follow the good mottoes which appear on each page. But the year has hardly begun, and already I have failed!” Dogen-zenji said, “Shoshaku jushaku.” Shaku generally means “mistake” or “wrong.” Shoshaku jushaku means “to succeed wrong with wrong,” or one continuous mistake. According to Dogen, one continuous mistake can also be Zen. A Zen master’s life could be said to be so many years of shoshaku jushaku. This means so many years of one single-minded effort.

 

Advertisements

Yesh Me’ayin (Creatio Ex Nihilo)

Ayin

Yesh Me’ayin (Creatio Ex Nihilo)

Knock knock.
Who’s there?
Nothing.

©

Without Opinion

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.

If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
To set up what you like against what you dislike
is the disease of the mind.

From Hsin-hsin Ming: Verses on the Faith-Mind by Seng-ts’an, translated By Richard B. Clarke

Try going for one day without having or expressing an opinion. For one hour. One minute. Oh but, you will say, my job requires me to make distinctions. Or, you will say, opinions make for interesting conversation and diversion. If I have no opinion, I will end up with an unsuitable lunch or an unsuitable friend or an unsuitable leader. Maybe so. Still, it might be worth a try.


When a Man Meets Himself

One of man’s greatest difficulties is also his most obvious drawback. It could be corrected if anyone troubled himself to point it out often and cogently enough.

It is the difficulty that man is describing himself when he thinks that he is describing others.

How often do you hear people say, about me:

“I regard this man as the Qutub (magnetic Pole) of the Age”?
He means, of course: “I regard this man…”

He is describing his own feelings or convictions, when what we might want to know is something about the person or thing being described.

When he says: “This teaching is sublime,” he means: “This appears to suit me.” But we might have wanted to know something about the teaching, not how he thinks it influences him.

Some people say: “But a thing can truly be known by its effect. Why not observe the effect upon a person?”

Most people do not understand that the effect of, say, sunlight on trees is something constant. In order to know the nature of the teaching, we would have to know the nature of the person upon whom it has acted. The ordinary person cannot know this: all he can know is what that person assumes to be an effect upon himself – and he has no coherent picture of what “himself” is. Since the outward observer knows even less than the person describing himself, we are left with quite useless evidence. We have no reliable witness.

Remember, that while this situation still obtains, there will generally be an equal number of people saying: “This is marvelous,” as are saying: “This is ridiculous.” “This is ridiculous” really means: “This appears ridiculous to me,” and “this is marvelous” means: “This appears marvelous to me.”

Do you really enjoy being like that?

Many people do, while energetically pretending otherwise.

Would you like to be able to test what really is ridiculous or marvelous, or anything in between?

You can do it, but not when you presume that you can do it without any practice, without any training, in the midst of being quite uncertain as to what it is you are and why you like or dislike anything.

When you have found yourself you can have knowledge. Until then you can only have opinions. Opinions are based on habit and what you conceive to be convenient to you.

The study of the Way requires self-encounter along the way. You have not met yourself yet. The only advantage of meeting others in the meantime is that one of them may present you to yourself.

Before you do that, you will possibly imagine that you have met yourself many times. But the truth is that when you do meet yourself, you come into a permanent endowment and bequest of knowledge that is like no other experience on earth.

Sufi master Tariqavi in Wisdom of the Idiots by Idries Shah

Winnie the Pooh Censored in China

China President Xi Jinping wants to change the constitution to remain in power beyond the limit of two terms. China Digital Times  explains:

Chinese state media announced on Sunday a list of proposed amendments to China’s constitution, which are expected to be adopted next month at the National People’s Congress session in Beijing. Among the 21 proposed amendments, the one with perhaps the deepest potential impact on the future of Chinese politics and society deals with paragraph 3 of article 79, which would eradicate the current limit of PRC presidents and vice-presidents to two five-year terms. This would effectively set President Xi Jinping up to maintain his seat as president indefinitely….

Following state media’s announcement, censorship authorities began work to limit online discussion.

As part of that censorship, a growing list of terms have been blocked from being posted on the search engine Weibo. Along with seeming innocent phrases that are protest memes and obvious authors such as George Orwell, for a while the list also included the letter “N”:

N — While the letter “N” was temporarily blocked from being posted, as of 14:27 PST on February 26, it was no longer banned. At Language Log, Victor Mair speculates that this term was blocked “probably out of fear on the part of the government that “N” = “n terms in office”, where possibly n > 2.”

Most ridiculous of all is the blocking of Winnie the Pooh:

Winnie the Pooh (小熊维尼) — Images of Winnie the Pooh have been used to mock Xi Jinping since as early as 2013. The animated bear continues to be sensitive in China. Weibo users shared a post from Disney’s official account that showed Pooh hugging a large pot of honey along with the caption “find the thing you love and stick with it.”

I’ve written before about my high regard for Winnie the Pooh—the books by A.A. Milne, not the Disney version. It is great literature, not least in the character of the sweet, loyal, interesting, but seemingly not very smart bear (as he calls himself, “a bear of very little brain.”) Seemingly, because he may also be a bit of an enigmatic Zen master:

On Monday, when the sun is hot
I wonder to myself a lot:
“Now is it true, or is it not,”
“That what is which and which is what?”

I have never thought of Pooh as a political subversive. And yet, if you are a supreme ruler aiming to become eternally supreme, enemies are everywhere. Even a letter of the alphabet or a simple and adorable bear.

First Thing

First Thing

Whatever I read or hear
First thing
Thousand year old dead man
Or new born bird
Whatever I drink
Cool clear water
Or hot brown coffee
There is the floor and a cushion
And if gone
The ground and a rock
The incense stick is lit
Fragrance up
Burning down

©

Light On

Gyokusei Jikihara, Ten Ox-Herding Pictures, 4. Catching the Bull

Light On

As I lay waking in bed
Listening to the Zen poem
Verses on the Faith Mind by Sengcan
The reader said
“The illustrator Gyokusei Jikihara, sensei,
is a Japanese master of calligraphy and nanga painting.
Still painting and teaching at the age of ninety-nine,
he will celebrate his one-hundredth birthday on August 1, 2004.”
Then the ceiling light came on spontaneously
Like a sun rising
With no one at the switch.
Sengcan died in 606.
Jikihara died in 2005.
If I live to be one hundred
I will remember this.
Sengcan says
“Don’t waste your time in arguments and discussion
attempting to grasp the ungraspable.”
I don’t think
I will

©

Fake News and Enlightenment

An apple is also a banana.

Maybe all things Trump are good for us.

As with all indignities and suffering, we may want our difficulties to have meaning, meaning that is constructive and helpful. That can be hard and even impossible. Considering some current events as a blessing smacks of shaky rationalization.

In the Trump context, we know what fake news means. It means that reports from reliable sources are not to be believed, no matter how well investigated and substantiated. This can be maddening to intelligent and discerning people. It led to the current CNN campaign, showing that you can call an apple anything you want, including a banana, but it is still an apple. The apple is not fake news.

The Buddhist tradition doesn’t say it is not an apple. Of course it is. But beyond that, what we know is the thought of an apple, as is anything and everything the thought of anything and everything.

To put it another way, the apple is real news. And fake news. A conversation about how the apple is a banana sounds like a conversation you might find in a collection of Zen koans.

All is real news and fake news. Having the concept of fake news in our face can be a reminder of that. Even Trump is real news and fake news. Of course he is president and all that comes with it, some of it actually or potentially dire. But he and all that comes with it, including the dire, are thoughts. That doesn’t make the situation less real, but it may help moves us towards an enlightened perspective on things. Including all things Trump.

Is Zero A Number?

O zero
You fool me all the time
Pretending to be something
When you’re nothing

Reminders

Reminders

This way
That way
I think I know better
But I easily forget
Lost in myself
So a story
A sentence
A phrase
A word
A sound
A silence
A laugh
A look at anything
Reminds me
Of nothing more
Than this or that
O this
O that

©

It’s Just Pumpkin Pie

The Great Way is not difficult
for those not attached to preferences.
When neither love nor hate arises,
all is clear and undisguised.
Separate by the smallest amount, however,
and you are as far from it as heaven is from earth.
Verses on the Faith Mind

It’s Just Pumpkin Pie

It is a slice of pumpkin pie
The hundredth I’ve eaten
Is it good
Is it better or worse?
Some comment and compare
The filling and the crust
I notice too
But choose to just eat and enjoy
This slice of pumpkin pie

©