On Nov. 20th, 2011, JW Hall wrote:
In zazen, we seek to become develop our sense of awareness of the world around us, to open our senses to every detail, and to discover the hidden impact of our slightest actions. We do this by sitting in front of a wall and staring at it. Sometimes this works, of course, and the boundaries between ourselves and the room seem not so hard anymore. Sounds drift in from outside, and we allow them to intermingle and intertwine with our mind as they pass. As the practice period continues, this deepening awareness allows us to see, on the large scale, our connection to the earth and our role in global warming. On a smaller scale, as attendance has grown over the last several months, our practice has also deepened our ability to hear every #*%& sound in the zendo.
Since we are a lay sangha and highly mobile people in a complex world, we face the particular challenge of having to constantly shift gears, most importantly to downshift when approaching the quiet zone that is AZC.
Here's a few ideas about that. You don't have to do this but it might make practice more engaging …
The next time the ending bell rings, make a special note of what you have done, the way you can hear things now that you didn't notice 35 minutes ago. Marvel a bit at how even silence itself has a texture. Please find a sense of wonder here, because you will need this later. Then, the next time you return to zendo, keep this in mind as you approach the zazen zone. If you haven't already, shift into Zen mode before the car door slams shut. As you approach the front door, be aware that if there is no wind blowing or AC running, the people seated on the Zafus inside will hear your conversation on the porch more clearly than you can. As you reach for the doorknob, bear in mind that whatever way you open the door will be part of someone's meditation. You are not just entering a building—you are creating a sacred space and we are all connected now.
(On a personal note, the Ino smiles inwardly when he hears the soft click of the door latch. It means that if you came in late, he will not have to get up and close the door when the breeze blows it open.)
Can you set your shoes down without making a sound today? Try that and then walk like an Indian—instead of striking the floor with your heels and telegraphing your arrival, allow the ball of your foot to find the floor first and step quietly into the Zendo.
As you pass through the arch, remember that you are stepping into other people's minds. Every sound you make is part of zazen now. Walk quietly and very slowly in the zendo. Perhaps it a little distracting to worry so much about disturbing others and this is definitely a little stressful and definitely no fun at all. So don't worry about that. We're buddists, so intentions are the thing that counts. You are fearless. You are stalking the dharma. Approach your Zafa, and your true nature, just like you would any other wild animal. Try not to make sudden movements. You don't want to scare it off and have to chase it through the brush of your mind.
As you settle into zazen, remember this, the methods of being silent only go so far. The best way to reach quiet is simply to listen, as intimately as you possibly can.
Do this and you'v e really arrived at your cushion in true form. But there is one more final thing and it happens as the next person arrives and, despite all your hard work, slams the door front door, tromps across the floor, and decides to sit (and breathe in a very erratic manner) right next to you. This is exactly the moment to remember that the sacred space we make was never about being silent, it was about being real. This is the only real way to learn what happens when we don't like something—how our irritation immediately gets involved and amplifies whatever sound we don't like. It turns out that our mind makes most of the noise anyway. We are an urban sangha sitting amidst the sound of planes, trains, automobiles, and whatever kind of day people bring in the door. Suddenly one sound that we don't like drowns out an entire city. This is the time to remember that silence always surrounds us, it is the white space that allows us to separate the noise into a kaleidoscope of small sounds. Have we yet heard the sound, or are we still just hearing how our reaction reverberates?
A Japanese zen teacher once said that zen mind is being able to let the eye wander a tree with one red leaf on it and not get stopped by the one that seems different. Big Mind, in his words, is to learn to see all the leaves, all the time. So the best response is to continue your quiet practice and demonstrate the value of it for the benefit of others. Keep trying to hear the white space, to find silence in noise. If that fails, ask the Ino to send out a note. He does this from time to time. Perhaps this might be useful to remember ... 1. Everything is connected. 2. The connections clank, vibrate, and thud and otherwise make a surprising amount of noise. 3. You have the power to create beauty in the minds of others. 4. In the zen world, the ability to travel the connections in silence is considered a sign of virtuosity. 5. We are learning this together.
See you on the mat.
A Bow, Joe