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Thread: Learning about Yourself in Zazen

  1. #1

    Learning about Yourself in Zazen

    Hello Jundo and everyone!

    Frequently I have heard other teachers suggest that you will "learn a lot about yourself" and your own thought patterns while sitting zazen. Joko, for example, talked about coming to understand our own thought habits better after a time of sitting. It suddenly occurred to me in sitting the other day: should I be trying to retain some sense of my thought patterns? As silly as it sounds, I almost feel like I should sit wholeheartedly until the bell, and then scamper over to a notebook to jot down the things that kept bubbling up in my mind.

    I know this can't quite be what these teachers mean, and I know that in our practice we aim (non-aim?) to let thoughts pass away naturally rather than trying to retain them or make special note of them. And yet this "knowledge of our thought patterns" phraseology kinda bugs me in that it makes me feel like I'm missing an element somewhere.

    gassho
    justin

  2. #2

    Re: Learning about Yourself in Zazen

    I should probably let Jundo answer this one, but I'll say a couple things.

    Indeed we notice our thought patterns. How could we not. We sit with them every second of the day. In Zazen we don't move or do anything. There is nothing to distract us from our usual habits, and we start to see the process a little more clearly. For example: "craving". Craving can be not only about eating food, but also about the feeling of restlessness. Finding something to fill the time. Most of our activity are there to fill the time, so ego can keep holding on.

    Take for example if your a recovering addict. You were addicted to something. Well, practice can help us see deeply how that craving arises, both through body and mind. When we notice the craving arise, eventually we drop it.

    However, there's no real guide book to what patterns come up and which ones you let go of. Sometimes it's a simple as just straightening your posture.

    Study the self.

    But don't study like "these are my thoughts" etc.. Just notice them, let them go and pay attention to what's going on. Eventually you'll notice something. That's what's meant by "Sudden and gradual". We suddenly see, but gradually drop.

    Gassho

    W

  3. #3
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Learning about Yourself in Zazen

    The only thing I notice about 'my' thought patterns is basically, "Holy shit, I'm a crazy person!" There's a ton of incoherent stuff in there.

    Chet

  4. #4

    Re: Learning about Yourself in Zazen

    Quote Originally Posted by Justin
    Hello Jundo and everyone!

    Frequently I have heard other teachers suggest that you will "learn a lot about yourself" and your own thought patterns while sitting zazen. Joko, for example, talked about coming to understand our own thought habits better after a time of sitting. It suddenly occurred to me in sitting the other day: should I be trying to retain some sense of my thought patterns? As silly as it sounds, I almost feel like I should sit wholeheartedly until the bell, and then scamper over to a notebook to jot down the things that kept bubbling up in my mind.

    I know this can't quite be what these teachers mean, and I know that in our practice we aim (non-aim?) to let thoughts pass away naturally rather than trying to retain them or make special note of them. And yet this "knowledge of our thought patterns" phraseology kinda bugs me in that it makes me feel like I'm missing an element somewhere.

    gassho
    justin
    Hi Justin,

    This topic has come up a few times recently, and is very important.

    In traditional "lingo", our Practice does consist of both ?amatha (calming thoughts and emotions, illuminating and dropping body-mind) and awareness and understanding of vipa?yan? (insight and awareness primarily into the nature and workings of 'self' and mental functions).

    In a nutshell, Vipa?yan? might be described as insights and awareness, based on Buddhist psychology, as to how the mind works and plays it games. It is an understanding of the Skandhas (form, sensation, perception, mental formation, consciousness ... those words always sung in the Heart Sutra), how our thoughts and emotional reactions arise, how we label and divide the world. We should also understand the Buddha's ideas about how suffering arises within us, which is intimately tied to all that.

    Unlike some schools of Buddhism, in Shikantaza we do not pursue any particular practices --during-- Zazen itself in order to cultivate such vipa?yan? insight ... and much insight naturally arises from Zazen as "Zazen does its thing". Perhaps we might say that, just in "just sitting" Shikantaza ... dropping thoughts of this and that, thus quieting the mind's "mind games" ... we develop a natural sensitivity and understanding of the mind's "mind games" (much like one first comes to really appreciate what "urban noise" is when one first drives out of the city to the middle of the desert or some other truly quiet place).

    So, during Zazen we do not seek to analyze anything ... and just sit. Perhaps the only exception is that, if one gets caught up in Zazen in thoughts, one might briefly notice that fact before returning to "just sitting" (for example, if caught up in a train of angry thoughts, one might briefly note "oh, I am caught up in some angry thoughts ... let's let them drift away now" As Will said, "just notice them and let them go")

    Apart from "on the Zafu" sitting times, however, in the rest of our Buddhist studies and practice, it is good to contemplate and develop such insight, and come to identify the workings of the Skandhas and such within us day to day.

    For example, if you feel an angry or jealous thought arising within you during your day, it is very helpful to identify that as a "bit of temporary mind theatre" and "just the self judging and conflicting with another perceived self". That gives us some distance from the passing emotion, and we no longer see the emotion as quite as inevitable and "true" as we might have before (e.g., most people think, when they become upset, that they have "reason to be upset, and it is true and justified". We see it also as a bit of mental theatre).

    Something like that. Both wings on the plane -- ?amatha and vipa?yan? -- are necessary for take-off.

    So, no real need to make a "notebook", but do become good at identifying the types of passing thoughts that you make for yourself during the day. Become good at seeing the "story" in your head as mental theatre, and recognizing the self when it is up to its "mind games".

    Does that help?

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - See the recent discussion on "replanting" harmful thoughts seeds within us ... It is an excellent practice recommended by many teachers ...

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/treeleafzen/2 ... seeds.html

    http://blog.beliefnet.com/treeleafzen/2 ... seeds.html

  5. #5

    Re: Learning about Yourself in Zazen

    Jundo,

    Your answer, especially explaining the two-sides-of-the-coin relationship between samatha and vipasyana, made it much clearer for me. Thank you!

    Will,

    Thank you also for the suggestion that simply watching the patterns arise and disintegrate is itself a form of studying the self/no-self. Quite helpful.

    gassho
    justin

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