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Zen Meditation

By Ron Martin

Part 6

Chapter 10: Practical Meditation (3)

The preceding chapter may not satisfy someone with very little knowledge of the Buddhist scriptures and therefore wants to approach the subject of meditation in a more direct manner.

Firstly, it is necessary to realise that what we are dealing with is the requirement for a pure experience, untarnished by concepts or, indeed, by any thoughts whatsoever. The ticking of a clock is as real an experience as the pain from a pricked finger and the only aim in meditation is to separate cause from effect (this being Karma at work) by concentrating on the effect and eschewing the cause. Bear in mind that we are so easily misled when thinking about causes as, for instance, when looking at green grass, in thinking that the greenness is actually in the grass. Zen sages over the centuries have stressed how simple this realisation is but, because of the huge mental blocks we have created in our minds, this realisation is by no means easy to achieve. Having attained it the only thing left, as one of them put it, is to have a good laugh.

Once the breakthrough to a pure experience occurs, even if it lasts for only a minute or so, we can become aware of the fundamental nature of what we are and what existence involves. Some Schools of Buddhism have attempted to put this experience into words, but to most people the ‘explanation’ can be confusing and not of much help. It is comforting to know that it is sufficient just to experience it, without attempting to analyse it, and so let the consequences happen naturally and unforced. This theme is developed more fully in other parts of this book.

Although we may not be able to analyse the meditational experience we can put it into the context of Western cultural tradition, because it is a genuine religious experience, which has been expressed in some of the greatest music and poetry produced in the West. It represents a spiritual dimension to our lives that is, at once, so real and yet so different from the materialistic and egotistic aspirations of everyday life. This is why in all religions, including Buddhism, there are those who withdraw from the conflict between the ego and the true Self and devote their lives to ‘purification’. The Buddha, in organising the Sangha (Order of Monks) charged this group with the “Yoke of Development”, whereas the other main group were required to perpetuate the Teaching. It was this “Yoke of Learning” group that kept alive the Dharma (Teaching) from which mankind has benefited right up to the present day.

Some further guidance on how to apply oneself to meditating on the ticking of a clock may be welcomed. At the start of each session it is helpful to spend a few moments contemplating on what actually happens. It should be realised that the sound is not coming from the clock itself; the clock is simply emitting pressure waves in the atmosphere. This is not sound, it is the means by which sound is created. There is no sound until these pressure waves are picked up by our ears, then translated into electrical signals that are passed by nerve cells to the brain. Only then does the conscious mind perceive sound; but this perception is not ‘in here’ either, since the mind does not have a spatial dimension. This is similar to the way we see objects, but involving sound waves instead of light waves.

After these moments of contemplation have prepared us for the next step it is important to concentrate on the ticking simply as sound, unaccompanied by a visual image of the clock. It would clearly be helpful to have ones eyes closed whilst meditating, although this does not guarantee the absence of visual images. There is no alternative but to keep trying until one gets this right.

Unless circumstances are unusually favourable it may prove impossible to exclude extraneous sounds, such as cars passing or aircraft flying overhead, but these should not be allowed to distract one from the ticking. These extraneous sounds are as much a part of everyday life, as is bird song in the garden, and should be accepted as such without discrimination. It cannot be stated too often that an experienced meditator would have no difficulty meditating in a tube train, or at London Airport. Whether a beginner gains benefit from meditation depends almost entirely on the degree of commitment and perseverance and this applies to meditation of any kind, including those of a more traditional form. However, it can be said that, unlike some forms of meditation, this one cannot do any harm, even without the supervision of a meditation master.

A practical problem is that very few clocks emit a sound loud enough to be heard from a comfortable distance. Anyone having a grandfather clock is ideally endowed, but others need to seek a way of amplifying the sound from the type of clock more widely found. A suitable solution is to record a clock with the microphone placed very close to the clock mechanism and this can then be played back at a suitable volume level. A hightech solution, which is equivalent to having a grandfather clock in the room, is to obtain a copy of the B.B.C. effects record (BBCCD 792) which can be purchased, by special order, from any large record shop. Although the grandfather clock recording lasts only a minute this can be copied to a mini-disc recorder, which is then put into repeat mode for playback; there is then no limit to the length of time it plays. It will be necessary to use the editing facility of the mini-disc system to ensure that there is no obvious break in the sound. In other words, if the recording begins with a ‘tick’ it must end in a ‘tock’ to keep the sequence intact!

Meditation need not be restricted to the ticking of a clock. People have different propensities and it could well be that this is not the best starting point for everyone. The only criterion for choosing one of the five senses on which to meditate is whether it enables us to escape from the trap of duality, which might be described as the ‘in here’ and ‘out there’ syndrome. What we are seeking is the experience and realisation of reality as it really is, instead of how it appears to be. This “interfusion of all particulars”, as it has been described elsewhere, is the unifying principle that has to be experienced to be understood.

Buddhist philosophy has attempted to go further than this by incorporating cause and effect into an overall conception of what existence involves. This is represented by the Ri and Ji of Jijimuge, formulated by the Kegon School. Christmas Humphreys regarded this as the climax of Buddhist thought, which has been developed in India, China and Japan; however, to most people it is a quagmire that is best avoided because, ultimately, reality extinguishes the world of duality, which is where a verbal explanation belongs and from which it cannot escape.

A very important point to understand about meditation is that, with most people and for most of the time, it will form only a small part of everyday life; only those who have chosen a monkish life under a “Yoke of Development” mantle can proceed beyond this.

Meditation must be seen in this context and there is no better way of doing so than to study a representative range of Buddhist, especially Zen, scriptures and writings (see the Bibliography for suggestions). However, without meditation, study on its own, being ego-centred, will achieve nothing, other than possibly intellectual arrogance, but a combination of the two could lead to a feeling of well-being, understanding and empathy with animals and fellow human beings. In arranging the Sangha in the way he did the Buddha did not intend that each part should operate independently of the other but that, by cross fertilisation and in combination, Buddhism as a whole should prosper.

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