Thursday, December 04, 2008

Blue-Sky Samadhi

Last night, Wednesday, was my night to lead the Zen service at the Kennesaw location so that J. could continue his practice at rohatsu at the Atlanta location.

I arrived about an hour before the service began with a back seat full of zafus and a trunk full of zabutons. I set everything up for the evening, and enjoyed a few minutes of private zazen before the first practioners arrived. All told, we had about seven people for the night. We sat for two 30-minute periods, with 5 minutes of kinhin (walking meditation) in between. And since we had two first-timers (to Zen practice, but not to other forms of Buddhist meditation), I gave brief instructions during the first sitting period on posture, breathing, and dispostion of the mind during zazen.

Afterwords, I gave a short talk about samadhi. In meditation, through a gradual calming of the mind, we can enter a certain state of concentration. Although it's often referred to as "one-pointed" concentration, I think that term is misleading, as the concentration, although focused, is non-specific and non-dualistic. It may be best to just simply refer to this state as "samadhi."

In samadhi, the distinction between the one meditating and the meditation itself becomes blurred - that is, the suject and the action become one and the same. One is not meditating so much as one is meditation itself. Zen Master Dogen called this "body and mind dropping away."

Have you ever become aware of some annoying sound, say a piece of machinery or a car running outside, suddenly stopping, and since you had been blocking the unpleasant sound from your mind, you weren't aware of it until it stopped? Things weren't that bad before, because you weren't perceiving that annoying sound, but it's even better now that the sound is over. That's sort of like the experience I'm trying to describe. We aren't aware of the noise and distraction of our minds and rambling thoughts, but as we calm down they die away and things are . . . better.

(Of course, any description of the experience is not the same as the experience itself - the words are merely crude symbols of analogies of what the experience is sort of like, but shouldn't be confused with the the real thing itself.)

Many people come to Zen looking to experience samadhi and try to attain the state by sitting in zazen. This is a mistake. Samadhi is not something outside of yourself that you can acquire, it is not something that you can learn, it is not something a Zen master can lead you toward, and it is not even something innate that can be brought out. Samadhi is always present in us, just like the blue sky is always above, and we are always experiencing samadhi, even though we don't realize it.

There is always a blue sky up there, we just can't always see it. At night, there is not enough light to see the blue sky, but that does not mean it's not present. On overcast days, we might get glimpses of it, but at other times it's still there even though we don't see it. Even during the darkest, most intense storms, the blue sky is still there - it's just obscurred by clouds.

Taking off in a plane on a stormy day, it's often surprising to rise up above the clouds and suddenly see a gleaming bright sun and sky. It's always a beautiful day up there - there have been nothing but blue skies your whole life -and yet somehow we had forgotten about it.

So too the calmness and concentration of samadhi. It's always there, but our thoughts, our emotions, our sensations and perceptions keep us from realizing it. Sitting in zazen is like blowing away the clouds, or rising above the storms, or waiting for the sunrise to reveal the blue-sky samadhi that's always been there.

The talk lasted about a half hour and we were done by 9 pm. Several people helped me clean up, and packed my car again with zafus and zabutons, and I then drove back home to Atlanta.

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