Results 1 to 30 of 30

Thread: Why a Wall?

  1. #1

    Why a Wall?

    Why do we do zazen staring at a wall? I know that Dogen's instructions for zazen say (or at least intimate) to do this, but does he anywhere give an explanation of why the practice is done like this?

    What prompts this question is reading about Buddha having sat underneath a tree, thus presumably outdoors. Things must have been moving in his field of vision. And things are always moving. Even when I'm sitting in front of a wall, my heart is beating, I'm breathing, blood is flowing...things are in constant motion. So why do we practice in such a way as to 'artificially' create a field of vision in which there is no motion?

    So: what's up with the wall?

    (Sorry if there's a very obvious answer to this that I'm missing; I'm really new at this, please bear with me.)

    --Charles

  2. #2

  3. #3
    So the story goes, Bodaidaruma sat in meditation facing the wall of his cave.

    Not every Zen practitioner faces a wall, some Sőtő-shu groups do not, Rinzai-shu does not, my own little group does not.

    Facing a wall or facing the world is no different.

  4. #4
    Hello Charles and Gregor
    What a fantastic question. I was blown away--all these years sitting and I've never asked this question!
    The wall gazing comes to us from Bodhidharma, who brought the Dharma from India to China and became the first Chinese Patriarch.
    In other words, it's Bodhidharma's wall, not Gautama Buddha's wall.
    When you think about it, a wall makes beautiful sense and is an elegant and simple solution for a practice easy to take with you no matter where you go or find yourself.
    What is the closest thing to closing your eyes without closing them?
    It is such a radical thing to do--I mean my associations with a wall in our culture is that of a mild 'punishment': children are told to stand in a corner or stand facing a wall, as an opportunity to reflect on their behavior/its consequences and turn themselves around/turn their day around when they can go and rejoin their companions. It wasn't a punishment I ever received as a child (my parents believed in hitting us kids), but it was a punishment we gave children at the group home I lived at. When I first started sitting I had to come to terms with the association I had with facing a wall and being 'on punishment.'
    A wall is readily available--who doesn't have access to one? With a wall you can sit alone/with others with minimum distraction, it's the closest thing to closing your eyes while keeping them open. And, of course, even though we spend so much time gazing at it, how many of us actually see the wall (I spent 6 weeks or better seeing shoes--see other thread on sitting).
    Thanks to your question, I'm 'seeing' the wall for the first time all over again!

  5. #5
    An interesting question. I wondered about this myself because I live in a smallish apartment and have virtually no space where my field of vision doesn't include some piece of furniture, art work, guitar, power strip and so on. The Zen aesthetic is one of bare bones simplicity.

    I guess the obvious answer is that a blank wall doesn't offer any distractions. Nothing to catch the eye that might carry you into a train of thought.

    Gassho,
    Chris

  6. #6
    When outward becomes unremarkable, your mind begins to look inward and finds nothing to latch onto.

    That's my guess.

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin

    The wall gazing comes to us from Bodhidharma, who brought the Dharma from India to China and became the first Chinese Patriarch.
    The list of 28 patriarchs, including Bodaidaruma, has no historical warrant. The entire story of Bodaidaruma is historically questionable. Much like the Moses and Jesus characters, no doubt Bodaidaruma was invented. The T'ang Chinese after all needed a lineage of patriarchs (in the Taoist tradition) in order to prove a direct transmission linking back to the Buddha.

  8. #8
    For me, its part of that whole "simultaneously true perspectives" thing. Whether you're sitting and looking at a wall, or one with the wall, it's still just a wall. When you sit, the whole world sits with you - looking at a wall. I think there's an element of humour to it

  9. #9
    And of course, we must ask ...

    ... Why not sit facing the wall?

    After all, we have to face something ...

    ... if not the wall, then it would be something else!


    No matter what, we are just facing ourselves.


    Gassho, Jundo

  10. #10
    Any one sat facing a mirror? Could be an interesting experience depending on how you see/feel about yourself?

  11. #11
    I will sit in front of this mirror and report my findings. It might be a vacation from the demands of a wall. Or in my case, my random belongings. My place is a complete mess.


  12. #12
    Wow. Thanks for all the replies.

    A lot of what people are saying seems to boil down to...

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregor
    Sensory deprivation
    ...or something approaching that. I can see a logic to that. Though so far, when I sit, I don't feel sensory deprivation so much as sensory acuity. I'm much more aware of things around me than I usually am -- I notice sounds that my creaky old house makes that I've never noticed before, I notice the way paint is distributed on the wall, things like that.

    Quote Originally Posted by Keishin
    ...I mean my associations with a wall in our culture is that of a mild 'punishment'...
    My two main associations with walls are boredom, and being trapped or cornered (as in the phrase, 'my back's up against the wall'). I've felt both so far while sitting.

    Quote Originally Posted by HezB
    My understanding of terms such as 'stillness' and 'silence' in practice is that they are poetic and relate to a condition of acceptance of phenomenon.
    That makes a lot of sense to me.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    No matter what, we are just facing ourselves.
    Yeah. The first time I sat, for the first few minutes, I was shocked -- kind of frightened, actually -- at how much 'noise' I was willing to throw around 'in my head' to avoid just sitting there quietly. It was a kind of panic, and was a very new experience for me. My reaction was something like: how could I not have known this about myself before? Things have quieted down a little (honestly, very little) since then.

    Quote Originally Posted by Longdog
    Any one sat facing a mirror? Could be an interesting experience depending on how you see/feel about yourself?
    For some reason I think I'd find that pretty creepy. Not sure why.

    --Charles

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Charles

    A lot of what people are saying seems to boil down to...

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregor
    Sensory deprivation
    ...or something approaching that. I can see a logic to that.
    I can't.

  14. #14
    In my little group, we sit facing toward the walls for a very practical reason. In a room full of people sitting Zazen, especially with several almost TOTALLY inexperienced Zensters, if two people were facing each other and happened to glance at one another at the sam time, they'd very likely get the giggles. Trying to stop when one has the giggles not only makes it worse, it makes it very contagious.
    Facing the wall is safer. LOL

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by Jun
    Quote Originally Posted by Charles

    A lot of what people are saying seems to boil down to...

    Quote Originally Posted by Gregor
    Sensory deprivation
    ...or something approaching that. I can see a logic to that.
    I can't.
    It seems to make a great deal of sense to me. But, if you can't see it, then you can't not a big deal. I really don't care to explain it. Not that important after all it's just a technique or style of practice . . .

  16. #16
    That's cool Gregor, no need to explain it - I'm not all that interested in depriving myself of reality.

  17. #17
    I don't think that reality and sensory perceptions are exactly the same thing.


    But that's neither here nor there . . . there is plenty of room for you to see things as you do. Just another perception after all.

  18. #18
    That's cool Gregor, no need to explain it - I'm not all that interested in depriving myself of reality.

    That's an interesting conversational turn. Do you think sensory experience is reality?

  19. #19
    I don't think that reality and sensory perceptions are exactly the same thing.
    Agreed.

    sensory reality - for without our senses we would have no perception. How do you perceive if not through your senses? Take away your senses and your brain would have no input.

  20. #20
    What's not real about a wall?

  21. #21
    Jun,

    After considering this for a while, I think that without some level of sensory deprivation (a relatively quiet place, a fairly non-active visual field) I, as a beginner, would have a hard time avoiding constant distraction. I think that's what I meant when I said that I can see a logic to the 'sensory deprivation' explanation that people were giving.

    --Charles

  22. #22
    Or is it in limiting the input from our eyes (which constitutes a great majority of our sensory input on a given day...provided we aren't blind), we allow the rest of our senses to catch up?

  23. #23
    Hi,

    Here's my take on this ...

    We push nothing away, and we sit with everything. There is no "bad" Zazen, quiet or noisy, peaceful or rocky. We reject none of it ... in our Zazen, or in all of life. Both the clouds of thought and distractions, and the clear and empty blue, are the sky ... we reject none of the sky.

    That being said, we are so used to being bombarded by sights, sounds and thoughts during our busy day (surrounded in clouds of thought) that we sit Zazen with a bit of sensory deprivation to recover our ability to see the blue spaces of empty sky between ... the quiet between the clouds of thought. So, we turn off the TV, turn down the lights a bit, face a wall or (if unavailable) look at the floor. It is best if the room not be overly cluttered and distracting too.

    However ... we reject none of the sky! So, besides Zazen in a crowded room once or twice a day, I recommend folks to do "mini-Zazen" several times during their busy day .... standing in a slow postal line, stuck in traffic or on a crowded bus, in the dentist's chair. A "mini-Zazen" need only last 5 minutes, 1 minute or a few seconds. But try to "mini-Zazen" a few times daily (standing, walking ... no need to be sitting).

    I also recommend folks to do a sitting once every couple of weeks in an intentionally disturbing place, such as a shopping mall, rock concert, in front of a blaring TV, a bowling alley, smelly garbage dump or, like here, by the side of a busy highway.

    http://treeleafzen.blogspot.com/2007/06 ... xxvii.html

    Gassho, Jundo

  24. #24
    I can't remember the exact details (one of our resident brain doctors could probably say) but the amount of informational input from the eyes and processing by the brain is a gazillion bytes (ok an awful lot :lol: ) more than from any of our other senses even when looking at a still picture, colour, movement, words etc put that input and procesing needs up even more.

    So as Jundo said looking at a blank wall/floor cuts that brain whirring down considerably so that we can see the gaps in the clouds and even see the clouds clear.

    Also keeping the eyes open helps to keep us grounded in this reality not drifting off to some dream/trance state which is why you don't jump out of your skin when the bell rings.

    In gassho, Kev

  25. #25
    When we wish to teach and enlighten all things by ourselves,
    we are deluded; when all things teach and enlighten us,
    we are enlightened.… Dőgen Zenji

  26. #26
    Quote Originally Posted by HezB
    Hey, Jun.

    Why do you wear a black dress?

    Of all the lovely colours in the world... black. How about some nice, sensory inducing floral patterns... or a nice paisley?

    Regards,

    H.
    I could have a tartan one made Harry! That would be nice!

  27. #27
    Treeleaf Unsui Shohei's Avatar
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Location
    New Brunswick, Canada
    Posts
    2,937
    I ve alway sat facing a wall - for no other reason than thats what i thought i was supposed to be doing :B, any who- i used to sit in a corner of our bedroom where my wife kept her artwork and although wonderful too look at i found it a bit distracting (eyes darted all over the place) so in the end i moved to a new spot in the room with plenty of blank wall. Now it doesnt bother me much (depending on my state of mind of course).

    The wall is a mirror (for me). Some days its excruciating to face, others its a welcome site. some moments its every flaw is shown and sometimes no flaws are there at all. What i see seems to be a reflection of my state of mind when i first sit down. a reflection of my self with out looking my image.

    Gassho
    Dirk

  28. #28
    Good post Kev.

    Gassho

  29. #29
    Will

    Off on a weekend retreat tomorrow here http://www.throssel.org.uk/

    Seems funny to tell friends that I'm looking forward to a weekend of looking at the wall and getting up early to do it too :lol:

    It' not far from the Scotltish Borders, Harry, but they d'nee wear the kilts ya ken, except on a braw bricht nicht :lol:

    In gassho, Kev

  30. #30
    Quote Originally Posted by krid
    The wall is a mirror (for me). Some days its excruciating to face, others its a welcome site. some moments its every flaw is shown and sometimes no flaws are there at all. What i see seems to be a reflection of my state of mind when i first sit down. a reflection of my self with out looking my image.

    Gassho
    Dirk
    Good point, Dirk.....

Similar Threads

  1. Talking to a wall
    By Sleeps in forum TREELEAF COMMUNITY: Topics about Zazen, Zen, Buddhism & MORE ZAZEN!
    Replies: 7
    Last Post: 03-17-2012, 06:24 AM
  2. Question for Jundo: Wall sitting/Wall gazing
    By Eika in forum TREELEAF COMMUNITY: Topics about Zazen, Zen, Buddhism & MORE ZAZEN!
    Replies: 9
    Last Post: 04-24-2009, 07:58 AM
  3. Hitting the Wall
    By Myoshin in forum TREELEAF COMMUNITY: Topics about Zazen, Zen, Buddhism & MORE ZAZEN!
    Replies: 16
    Last Post: 03-03-2009, 07:06 AM
  4. ONE wall spot
    By AlanLa in forum TREELEAF COMMUNITY: Topics about Zazen, Zen, Buddhism & MORE ZAZEN!
    Replies: 21
    Last Post: 09-26-2008, 04:36 AM
  5. Wall Gazing
    By will in forum TREELEAF COMMUNITY: Topics about Zazen, Zen, Buddhism & MORE ZAZEN!
    Replies: 9
    Last Post: 09-20-2007, 11:02 PM

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •