2019.01.16: Chapter Thirty-Four

(34) One night a monk was reciting a sutra bequeathed by Kashyapabuddha. His tone was so mournful, and his voice so faint, as if he were going out of existence. the Buddha asked the monk, “What was your occupation before you became a monk?” Said the monk, “I was very fond of playing the guitar.” The Buddha said, “How did you find it when the strings were too loose?” Said the monk, “No sound is possible.” “How when the strings were too tight?” “They crack.” “How when they were neither too tight nor too loose?” “Every note sounds in its proper tone.” The Buddha then said to the monk, “Religious discipline is also like unto playing a guitar. When the mind is properly adjusted and quietly applied, the Way is attainable; but when your are too fervently bent on it, you body grows tired; and when your body is tired your spirit becomes weary; when your spirit is weary, your discipline will relax; and with the relaxation of discipline there follows many an evil. Therefore, be calm and pure, and the Way will be gained.”

— From ‘The Sutra of Forty-Two Chapters’ in Sermons of a Buddhist Abbot by Soyen Shaku (tr. D. T. Suzuki)

Wanted to share a passage encountered in my reading this morning. This one, I think, provides one of my favourite illustration of the middle way.

My second or third round with this book.

2018.12.15: Limiting My World (my method of meditation in public)

Sometimes – yesterday, for example, waiting to board my flight in San Francisco back to New York – I like to stand or sit as still as possible, looking in one direction, thinking about my breathing, and accepting that all I can see and hear has become my entire world. There is nothing beyond the visible and audible, nothing behind me, nothing on the other side of the walls in front of me.

People, traffic, birds pass in front of me, but once outside my peripheral vision they no longer exist – nor did they exist before I saw them – and I don’t let myself turn my head or move my eyes to follow even the most attractive of these.

I don’t remember when I started doing this; whether I was inspired by something I read or heard; but, for me, it is an ideal way to practice a form of meditation without physically taking myself out of the world.

It can be difficult cultivate. Not only are there the distractions of sound and movement, but there is self consciousness: god, I must look like an idiot standing/sitting here without doing anything. I had to work hard to be able to do this for any real length of time, but now I can go for ten to fifteen minutes like this and I find myself in a clearer state of mind afterwards.