Image from a retreat conducted at Hsi Lai temple in Sept. 2012.
On Saturday, October 6th, I marked 365 consecutive days of consistent sitting practice. Obviously, being a Buddhist, I had sat before this, but like many I know I hadn’t found I was being as consistent as I would prefer. Sure, there were times when I would sit every day, but there were also times when I would sit once a week, and, occasionally less than that. I had always found that ‘life would get too busy’ to sit on a consistent basis. I would be tired, too busy watching a TV program, working, or just plain forget. After beginning this challenge I had made for myself (I believe I had only mentioned it to my wife, and maybe in conversation with my friend Rev Danny) I found something about my previous way of thinking I was too busy; I was wrong.
Most who read this will have likely heard the old Ch’an/Zen saying “you should sit in meditation for 20 minutes a day, unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.” In my own practice, I have found there is a lot of truth in this. This saying says a couple things to me.
One – Find the time! No matter what you are doing in life, there are always a few minutes in your day that are free to sit. Twenty minutes is great, an hour even better, but, who can’t spare 10, or even 5 minutes to sit and breath.
Two – Sitting will, more often than not, have a positive effect on everything else you do. In my own experience, having a consistent sitting practice develops many things, concentration and calmness are two that come to mind now that help in daily life. Another that I experienced was an overwhelming sense of acceptance. Not in the sense of just accepting things as they are and forgetting about them, but, the ability to accept situations in one’s life, evaluating them with whatever wisdom one can muster up, and moving through. Mindfulness.
Developing a schedule for myself to sit was key to being successful in this personal challenge. I incorporated it into a nightly routine we already had in place for my son. Most nights, as he would do his nightly reading, I would go into the office and sit. However, this was not always the case, if I was out of town, I would sit beside my bed before going to sleep. If I was at a friends home, I would find a quiet place to sit (and yes, this got interesting at times). There were even a few times when my wife and I would be out late and she would drive us home so I could sit in the car. Meditation in a moving car is a challenge to say the least, but, I’m very grateful she allowed me to do this. In summary, I didn’t allow my location to become an excuse for myself to not sit, I looked at it as a tool to work on my practice. I can always use improvement.
There is an old story that i would like to end with;
A monk, coming out of a monastery under the leadership of Rinzai, met a party of three travelling monks belonging to another Buddhist school over a river on a bridge.
One of the three ventured to question the Zen monk:
“How deep is the river of Zen?”
The Zen monk, fresh from his own interview with Rinzai, who was noted for his direct actions, lost no time in replying.
“Find out for yourself,” he said, and offered to throw the questioner from the bridge.
I’m no Zen monk, but I will offer to throw you from the bridge, into the river of daily meditation.
I would also urge you to read words from Venerable Master Hsing Yun on the topic. A great place to start is his ‘Buddhism in Every Step’ series, booklet 41 ‘Meditation’, which is available for free, or for a small donation, at http://blpusa.com/41-meditation.
(I wrote this for an upcoming edition of our Buddha’s Light Magazine, offered at Hsi Lai temple. As we are not yet launching the electronic edition, I decided to also post here. I hope you enjoy.)