Sunday, April 26, 2015


‘I want to learn how to meditate.’

I hear those words quite often. My reply to such enquirers meets either with annoyance or just confusion or consternation. ‘You cannot learn how to meditate. When you ask “how,” you are seeking a method or technique. Methods and techniques are mechanical. They are the product of a conditioned mind. Meditation is all about the non-mechanical and the unconditioned--or rather deconditioned—mind.’

As I say, this reply is not what enquirers want to hear … but I say it anyway. Why? Because it’s the truth. Perhaps I can best explain what meditation truly is by giving you some pearls of wisdom from two great Japanese Zen masters of yesteryear, namely, Hakuin [pictured right] and Ikkyū [pictured below left].

First, Hakuin. 

Now, you have probably heard of the famous Zen kōan, ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping’? Well, Hakuin is said to have been the creator of that particular kōan. He was also the originator of the study of kōans as a means of attaining enlightenment. Actually, the 'sound of one hand clapping' kōan, as originally formulated by Hakuin, went like this: ‘What is the sound [or voice] of one hand?’ Egad, I hear you say. That is silly. Indeed. Indeed.

Are you looking for some ‘answer’ to the kōan ... or some other kōan? Some 'right' answer? Don’t bother. Kōans are not riddles. They have no ‘answer,’ and definitely no 'right' answer, as such for life has no answer. Life just is. So is a kōan. Have you heard this one? 'Two sisters are crossing the street, which one is the older sister?' Get the point? I hope so.

The purpose of kōans---if 'purpose' be the right word, which it probably isn’t---is to still the active, rational, intellectual, analytical mind. The mind then finds itself (note those words, ‘finds itself,’ for that is the way it happens) in an existential cul-de-sac of sorts where there is no way out but enlightenment. That is the only way we will ever be able to experience a direct, immediate and unmediated apprehension or realization of truth. Now, this is terribly important. A kōan is not a method or technique. It is the complete absence of any method or technique. It is the absence of any meaning or purpose as those terms are ordinarily understood. It is … seeing and experiencing things-as-they-really-are … without any filters, beliefs or conditioned thinking of any kind. It is waking up to what really is ... and that can be an earth-shattering experience.

That was not the wisdom from Hakuin that I actually wanted to share with you today, not that what I just said is unimportant, for it is of ultimate importance. This is the particular gem of wisdom from Hakuin that I wanted to share with you:

What is true meditation? It is to make everything: coughing, swallowing, waving the arms, motion, stillness, words, action, the evil and good, prosperity and shame, gain and loss, right and wrong, into one single kōan.

That, my friends, is meditation. It is not repeating over and over again some word or phrase. It is not staring for hours at a candle or a statue of the Buddha. Well, I will correct that. It is ... and it isn’t. Let me explain. Meditation is being attentive, fully attentive, to whatever you are doing or whatever is happening inside you or around you. Now, that may be a candle burning, or a repetitive word or phrase, but you should never restrict your meditative practice to just that sort of thing. Why? Because it soon becomes mechanical, and that is not a good thing. True meditation is washing the dishes, eating your dinner, driving the car, writing a letter or an email, having sex, and listening to your partner speak to you. It is doing all those things---and anything else for that matter---with focus, clarity, awareness, intentionality, deliberateness, and attention. Meditation is being aware … and being fully aware that you are aware. In short, meditation is living---really living---with your eyes open.

Now we come to Zen master Ikkyū.

One day a man of the people said to Ikkyū, ‘Master, will you please write for me some maxims of the highest wisdom?’ Ikkyū immediately took his brush and wrote the word ‘Attention.’ ‘Is that all?’ asked the man. ‘Will you not add something more?’ Ikkyū then wrote twice: ‘Attention. Attention.’ ‘Well,’ remarked the man rather irritably, ‘I really don’t see much depth or subtlety in what you have just written.’ Then Ikkyū wrote three times: ‘Attention. Attention. Attention.’ Half-angered, the man demanded: ‘What does that word “attention” mean anyway?’ Ikkyū gently answered: ‘Attention means attention.’

That, dear friends, is meditation. Attention. Attention. Attention.

And you thought you needed a method or technique.

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