By Parveen Chopra November 2004 Doing away with metaphysics and scriptures, this radical path offers some unconventional, direct ways to shake you out of your blabbering mind to let you see your true nature Getting started with Za-zenChoose a quiet place with minimal possibilities for disturbance. This place should be kept clean and, if possible, reserved for your practice. You could have an altar or statue of the Buddha or any other deity. Incense and flowers would also add to the atmosphere. The setting and feel of the room itself would be enough to bring you immediately into the meditative state.Begin with a session of 10-15 minutes, gradually increasing it to half an hour or even an hour. It is best to sit on a cushion on the floor, but you can use a chair to relieve aching feet.You can try out the postures and adopt the one that you find most comfortable:Sitting on a chair with feet on the ground, hold your head upright, keeping a straight back. Resting hands on your lap, right hand under the left, keep the palms open, thumbs touching at tips and parallel to the fingers.Sit on a mat so that you are resting on your knees, shins and insteps and bottom. A triangle should be formed by your knees and bottom.Burmese position: Sitting on the mat, cross your legs so that both feet lie flat on the mat. The bottom should be slightly raised on a cushion. Both knees should rest on the floor.Half-lotus: Sitting crossed-legged, keep the left foot under the right thigh and right foot on the left thigh or vice versa. It helps to keep alternate leg positions each time.Full lotus: Here the right foot rests on the left thigh and the left foot rests on the right thigh. It is difficult to achieve, but if you can, this is the best position as it forms a perfect triangle, producing great stability.After sitting in a comfortable posture, try to focus on your breathing. Breathe freely and naturally without trying to control it. As you inhale, inaudibly count one and as you exhale count two. If distracted, when you realise it, begin counting again at one. When you reach 10, go back to one. After some practice you may count only alternate (in or out) breaths. Weeks or even months may pass before you will be able to count to 10 without a distracting thought but patience will pay. OX HERDING: coming full circleThe 10 Ox Herding pictures are an excellent way to understand the essence of Zen. The drawings describe the various stages of the student as he evolves in his practice of Zen.The ox in the drawings is representative of our essential Buddha Nature, while the ox herd is the student (human being). Since they were first produced in the Sung Dynasty in China, many versions of these drawings have emerged, even sparking off interpretations and commentaries. Searching for the oxThe ox is not astray, but the ox herd’s own delusions have led him away. He is lost in wilderness far from home, confused by the myriad paths and driven by his desires and fears.This picture describes the beginning of spiritual stirring, where a seeker starts looking for answers. Done with searching in the outward world, he turns his attention within, but is bewildered by the possibility of the paths to enlightenment. Yet he feels the joy of turning away from worldly pursuits to spiritual ones. Seeing the tracesStudying the sutras and inquiring into the teachings has given him a glimpse of the Truth. He realises that the objective world is a mirror of the self, but is still perplexed about truth and falsehood. However, he has not yet entered the gate, just seen the traces.This picture explains that the seeker has begun to study the teachings (Zen Buddhism). He gains intellectual knowledge and is certain of being on the path. Seeing the oxThe ox herd finds the way by the sounds. Thus he sees the original nature of the world. There is harmonious flow that marks his activities. This picture describes the student’s evolution from intellectual study to a more intimate experience of the spiritual. Spirituality now emerges out of everyday activity, so that he is no longer following a path. The ox becomes all the paths, the seeker and the forest. However, further discipline is required at this stage. Catching the oxThough the ox herd has at last found the ox, the beast is hard to control. His nature is still wild and yearns for accustomed pleasures. To have the ox completely in his hold, he needs to use his whip.This picture describes the unbridled ox filled with obstinacy and wild energy. To be fully in control the seeker needs to be completely disciplined, so as not to let this energy pursue destructive goals. The seeker must seek refuge in values such as honesty and compassion. Herding the oxThe thinking mind remains susceptible to deception. The ox herd should therefore never let the nose-string be slack. This picture describes a relatively advanced stage, where there is a harmonious relationship with one’s essential nature. Training received earlier is now completely assimilated and spiritual life is not separate from the practical. The ox becomes a willing companion. Coming home on the ox’s backThe ox herd rides on the ox’s back, singing simple songs and playing his flute. Now, even if called, he will not succumb to the temptation of returning.The drawing describes that stage on the path where the struggle is over and loss and gain are no longer relevant. The seeker’s actions are simple and natural and radiate spontaneity and tranquillity. The illusion of the ox as separate continues to persist though. The ox forgotten, leaving the man aloneThe ox is only symbolic. The wisdom does dawn, separating the wheat from the chaff. The whip and rope lie idle.In this picture, the man and the ox are one. At last, the seeker sees his Self as the only Truth and enjoys bliss in the absence of the separation. The ox and the man both out of sightThere is now only serene bliss; no ideas exist, not even of the Dharma. There is no duality, no separation. The picture depicts dharmakaya, the causal realm, where there is profound emptiness. There are no illusions left and even the idea of enlightenment is transcended. Consciousness has returned to its original source. Returning to origin, back to the sourcePure from the very beginning, the ox herd has never been defiled. Remaining in unchanging serenity, he watches things changing. There is no identification with any of the transformations he himself is undergoing.This ninth picture depicts formless awareness taking form again without losing its formlessness. Having dissolved into emptiness, this again takes shape. But there is no striving, just the observation of endless change. Entering the city with bliss-bestowing handsHaving no desire, the ox herd lives his life, without following the paths of any sages.In this last picture, the sage returns to the human world as a Bodhisattva, having renounced his own liberation to help others on the path. When Mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers—againIn Zen Heart, Zen Mind, Zen master AMA Samy, the only Indian to have received the Dharma Seal of Enlightenment from a recognised Zen master in Japan, says, “To live a life of Zen is to live in the mysticism of the now, of the particular and concrete. What does this living in the now mean? It is as simple as Zen Enlightenment: the now is the now! …Yet this apparent simplicity is full of traps and pitfalls… Living in now becomes for many, the philosophy of Carpe Diem: enjoy the day as long as it lasts.“You can enter the Now only as a free and conscious Subject. This involves taking responsibility for yourself, learning to accept your desires and not live by the desires and expectations of others. It is only by being true to yourself, to your heart’s desires and decisions, and taking responsibility for yourself that you become yourself and begin to live truly. In this process, the images of God as a super other standing over and against you have to go. God has to die.” He elucidates by retelling an old Zen story. Once there lived an old woman who had supported a monk for over 20 years—she had housed him in a hut and fed him while he was absorbed in spiritual practice. Came the day she decided to check the adept’s progress. She hired a girl to go to the monk, embrace him and ask him what he was going to do about it. The girl did as instructed, and when she embraced him, the monk said to her, “An old tree grows on a cold rock in winter. Nowhere is there any warmth.” The girl reported her experience to the old woman. The woman was furious. “He showed no consideration for your need, no disposition to explain your condition. He need not have responded to your passion, but he could have at least shown some compassion.” She went to the monk’s hut and burned it down.Says AMA Samy: “The monk has suppressed his emotions and become attached to his detachment from passions. Without passions there can be no compassion. He is self-enclosed and is not able to pay attention to ‘the other who comes’ and respond.”Zen believes that emotions and passions are what make us human—one has to learn to cultivate and be sensitive to them, and not negate them as worldly, for only such commitment gives actual freedom. “Emotions and passions are our heart and soul… Passions are bodhi, but that is only half the truth. Emotions become meaningful only in commitment to values in terms of others and the world.”Commenting on the famous Zen lines of Realisation, AMA Samy says, “In an unawakened state, mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers. You are you, I am I, God is in heaven, humans on earth. Humans, God, Buddha-nature, self, all are substantial realities standing distinct from each other… Zen calls this state one of ‘greed, hatred and illusion’. It is the world of
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