The following dialogue is a conversation between Dr. T and a student inquiring about meditative practices.
Hey Clarence, I have a question. I met with this zen Buddhist monk in Redding (Reverend Helen from the zen Buddhist priory), we talked about meditation (and she said she admires you) and she suggest that I try Soto Zen meditation for a week. It’s where you simply sit with no deliberate thought, and in awareness of the subconscious stream of thoughts, as well as anything else that arises. You sit with your eyes open at a 45 degree angle to the ground. What category of meditation does this fall under? Is it a valid meditation that I should practice for a week? I’ve been practicing awareness of the breath meditation but this seems to differ because it has no object. Thank you
Greetings to you Camren. Rev. Helen….Good! She is suggesting Zazen, a popular method of Soto Zen practice. Taken from the more specific shikantaza meditation. It is a valid meditation. However, true Buddhist practice via zazen has no goal beyond Shunyata (emptiness). It does not address or consider any “life beyond” and is therefore a “no outcome” philosophy. That is why the final state is called Nirvana (Nir=no. Vana = flame). In other words, extinguishing the flame of consciousness and entering into the void (Nirod). The practices are good, but since there is no ultimate consciousness realization it is not an attractive aim. Many (like me) have made use of the excellent meditational practices, but go beyond the Buddha, and embrace the existence of an ultimate, awakened state of consciousness called Self-realization. So, use the practice, but aim beyond the void to a state of supreme enlightenment.
Clarence! Thank you for your wonderful insights. A void doesn’t sound like a very fun place, a realm of liberation, bliss, and abiding love sounds a little better. It’s interesting how Nirvana is a different aim, when I thought all paths lead to the same destination? Is it a misinterpretation of Buddha’s original teachings? How does Zazen differ from vipassana? From my understanding vipassana still has an anchor (the breath) but acknowledges the sensations and thoughts that arise and returns back to the breath. Is this correct? Or is this Samatha? See I’ve been practicing this for a while now, where I sit, focus on relaxing my body, then direct my attention to the breath. I notice all the sensations of my breath that arise, as well as any tension that arises, and thoughts, and return back to the breath as it deepens and becomes more relaxed. Is this a Buddhist practice or is this a Kriya yoga practice? Or does Kriya yoga fundamentally require syncing a mantra to the breath, as well as focusing on a subtle energy point in the body such as the Ajna or Anahata Chakra? And out of these practices, which is the quickest path and most effective? See, I’m willing to put in much effort if a practice quick and effective. For what I’ve heard, the royal path of Kriya yoga is the fastest and is known as the “jet plane route,” but I’ve also heard that vipassana is very quick? I also like how there are 10-day vipassana retreats where many have life changing experiences. Thank you.
Zazen is Buddhist meditation in the Soto Zen tradition, and Vipassana is essentially the same meditation in the mindfulness (Theraveda) tradition , but emphasizes nasal breathing to reach a state called jhana (of which there are many stages on the path to Nirvana), and include various experiences of happiness, joy, bliss, and ecstasy along the way before “snuffing out” consciousness altogether.
As you can see, there is some confusion in the Buddhist tradition as to exactly what one is to ultimately achieve. I believe the Buddha achieved an advanced transcendent state (judging from his teachings, and intuitively accessing his spirit). The truth is that so called Buddhist beliefs and practices vary wildly, including the beliefs in gods and goddesses and demons. While traveling and studying in India and Nepal, and the Himalayas I encountered a vast range of reasonable to delusional thinking and behavior that was called “Buddhism.” In a city called Baktapur, I encountered the whole town that had virtually insane “Buddhist” beliefs and practices. Pure Buddhism is a rare achievement. Virtually no one knows the 4 Noble truths, nor the 8-fold Path, let alone travel it. The Buddha is grossly misrepresented by many followers mistaking his teachings entirely. However, much of Christianity is in the same state, generating and promoting teachings and actions that have nothing to do with Jesus’ wisdom.
The many Eastern collectively overlap with Christian ones, so that it is difficult to sort out what is what. A work that is essential reading in this regard is psychologist Daniel Goleman’s book: The Meditative Mind. Goldman is a seeker himself, and colleague of Ram Dass, both of whom were early followers of my own Guru, Swami Muktananada. The latter’s writings are peerless, and I recommend you begin reading his work, starting with Where Are You Going and I Have Become Alive. Once those are absorbed, I will give you exciting deeper concepts.
You are making some “speed bump” mistakes by seeking “the fastest path” to liberation. Samatha and Vipassana are in essence the same, but on a long continuum. All meditation is essentially the same. Its original purpose is to attain the ultimate insight, and from that insight to be freed to en-joy your enlightened existence. Speed slows the process. Focus must be on practice quality. All paths, even evil ones, eventually lead to the truth. Find, through your experimentation in these early stages of sadhana, a meditative technique (with its breath and other components) that satisfies you ENOUGH and stick with it. From devotion to that practice you will merit advancement, even as you study other methods both for inspiring and nourishing your practice, and for your growth entertainment. Your questions to me, and the answers are mostly for feeding your already in place practice. Your accumulating information about practice may provide you with insights on tweaking your practice, but mostly for your inspiration to continue your own practices. These words are a prescription.