The following was posted on February 8th, 2014 on a now discontinued website. It seems rather connected to the sentiments in the post titled Buddhas Enlightenment – Thoughts on practice. So, here it is.
There is only one thing
To train hard
For this is
Rules for Meditation by Zen Master Dogen
We set great store by being sharp, being focused, being brightly alive. In short, being THERE or, better, HERE. In Zen practice and any other kind of practice for that matter, being one who trains hard is better than being known as a slacker! But what does it mean to train hard, in practice. Are there particular times or circumstances when training hard is what’s asked of us, or is the instruction itself a bit of a red herring? Did the intended meaning get lost in translation?
I had an email from somebody this morning who reflected that with a number of people in our sangha diagnosed with serious medical conditions, and one who had recently died, the call is to train hard while you can. Yes, I can understand that response in a certain kind of way and I also question it too. In my view, meditation, be it formal zazen or throughout-the-day meditation, is essentially an internal movement, a movement to reflect within. How one does that ‘harder’ is less to do with visible effort and more to do with the growth of internal conviction, faith and a steady commitment. That cannot be measured, nor should it be. Not at any time in one’s religious life and certainly not measured by oneself. Faith cannot be measured yet known nonetheless.
When people become sick they quite often become distressed because they are not able to do what they once did. ‘I’m not sitting zazen regularly, I’m not training’. A woman on the phone today said, through her tears, that she was an utter failure because of the thoughts and feelings which were overtaking her at that moment. I advised her to take a walk to her altar, a pilgrimage in itself, and pause there for a few moments. This she did. Her voice changed, becoming softer, and once again she’d returned to touch something deeper in her being. A place of refuge and of faith. At whatever age the mind may not be as strong or as disciplined as we’d like. Emotions can rise up out of nowhere and become overwhelming, as was the case of the woman this morning. As I pointed out to her at the time. All that has happened in your life, all the pain and suffering and disappointments and the seeming failures, point you back to your altar. The non-ferocious way, a term I made up, is simply and softly and continuously returning to the altar of our own heart/mind.
Extra meditation, such as when on formal retreat, invariably points out the very human tendency to hurl ourselves at the edifice of ourselves. On retreat, we come to realize the futility of that approach, and in the process discover by accident the rock-solid-softness within our being.
Crab Apples? They remain hard, even the rotting ones, which apparently doesn’t stop hungry Pigeons eating them, whole! I’ve wondered if there is some teaching around the Pigeon’s behaviour, except that hungry creatures eat anything!
Thanks once again to Mark for sending in photographs. And thanks to the ‘me’ in 2014 who seems to be more insightful than the one who just ended a week-long retreat! Tiredness of body, with a mind all-over-the-place, has me walking up to my altar. There is ALWAYS returning to the altar of our own heart/mind.