It is so that some things are so horribly wrong that it is easy to ascribe them to Evil. Of course, if Evil is the genesis of wrongness, then rightness must be akin to godliness. At the same time, good fortune versus a horror show life appear to select randomly. This being intolerable, there is a hunger for order. Since right and wrong more or less define each other into being, much better to place more weight and wisdom onto kindness. The meditation I espouse takes as its primal pivot the concept of openness and receptivity. Openness and receptivity are indistinguishable from kindness. It's what I have written about many times over the years; it is the meditation that re-embeds the kindness reflex closer to the heart of the matter.
I revere and love the religion; Buddhism is full of wisdom and compassionate advice preserved by dedicated and admirable monks of no rank or name. I think of Zen as the kinship of the zeroistas and is a marvel. I know there are many who feel somewhat the same way, but I am interested in speaking to those for whom the whole religious side of Buddhism just has no purchase. This could be because they already have a religion or could be they recoil from religion in general.
The tradition of Soto Zen has room for a lay practice. In Zen lore there is a famous exemplar named Layman P'ang, but in modern Zen a figure like Layman P'ang is of minimalized value even though his legend speaks to how most Zen is practised. Layman P'ang was married, had a family and a career. The monks who are the stars of most of the anecdotes of Zen were not concerned with such. As I get older I more and more want to promote the practice of meditation as something utterly separable from the religion of Buddhism or Zen.
Meditation promotes happiness, but very often not before weakening any pre-conceptions about what happiness is. We all know that happiness is the goal; the only question is how that gets done. Although relationships, material success, good health and other desirable things all contribute to over-all happiness, none of those factors will result in truest happiness either individually or in combination. Without meditative awareness all these factors become mundane and corrupted by adventitious afflictions.
What makes us truly happy is our usefulness to the welfare of others. I see this as having two stages. First we stop doing things adverse to the welfare of others and then we begin to act in ways that benefit others. In meditation almost the first thing we do is begin to stop doing and saying things that hurt and harm. We try for zero; zero opinion, zero judgement, a still body and silence. We do this over and over. Sooner or later we recognize the immense value of stopping. Happiness ensues.
Meditators become very familiar with irony. For example, I have in the past reserved an especially virulent scorn for those who offered a “one size fits all” solution to life's mysteries and problems. This idea, I have thought, is the womb of religious extremism on all sides. Yet I now say that meditation, specifically Dogen's meditation, is something that will help regardless of conditions. Effectively this is very close to advocating a one size fits all solution to a variety of human issues.
But Zen, of course, avoids these potential irony traps by emphasizing such concepts as 'doing not doing' and 'thinking not thinking'. This is absurd in western ancestral philosophy. Remember, it was western ancestral cultures that invented the excluded middle as an axiom of discussion. It might prove difficult to take these zennish concepts seriously because they imply a different point of view, the difference being tethered to meditation. Once we weaken our binary fidelity to the excluded middle, even a little, we can see that such thinking is primal, not what is usually meant by one-size-fits-all solutions. Meditation puts us in the proximity of the primal, not the perfected.
Wayne Codling is a former Zen monastic and a lineage holder in the Soto Zen tradition. He teaches Zen style meditation in various venues around Victoria. Wayne’s talks and some writings can be found on his blog http://sotozenvictoria.wordpress.com
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