, about four hundred years
before Christ, life was hard, disease was rampant and life expectancy was
short. A young, privileged, rich man
came to the realization that regardless of his station in life he was going to
die like everyone else; that he would not be able to avoid the infirmities and
debilitation of old age; and there was a possibility that he could suffer a
disfiguring accidents or terrible disease.
He tried to find solace in religions and failed. He eventually fell in with a group of ascetics. Their religious belief was that through self-denial and discipline they could reach some understanding of life and death. The young man lived in the wilderness and suffered from exposure and starvation. With his body emaciated and near death he managed to sit under a shade tree and determined to meditate until the end.
The story goes that a beautiful young girl came by and saw his state. She offered him water, and the water was cool and wonderful. She brought him rice, and the rice was delicious and restorative. At this moment the young man was awakened. He realized how wonderful it was to view a beautiful girl and drink cool water and eat a bowl of rice.
From this point the young man was known as the Buddha.
Zen venerates wisdom above all else. Zen tells us that we fashion ideas of how things ought to be and how we aught to live, and so we are constantly at war with our environment and ourselves. Zen reminds us that if we do not see the beauty and mystery of our present life, our present moment then we have wasted a beautiful gift – a time of conscious living that is too soon gone and can’t be relived.
Besides our ego, the biggest barrier to conscious living is our monkey mind. When we try to focus on an action or a concept our mind monkeys start screaming and running and swinging through the trees. Random thoughts arise and then recede taking us away from the moment. How often do we lay in bed at night trying to get to sleep only to have our minds jumping from one aggravating thought to another?
Zazen, or meditation can still the monkeys and improve focus. Contrary to Zen teaching, the purpose of meditation is not meditation…it is to discipline the mine and improve our concentration in order to allow us to truly experience each moment.
To practice Zazen it may helps to read and study or be guided by a teacher – but contrary to Zen doctrine it is not a requirement. The Buddha said to believe nothing, no matter where you read it or heard it or who said it, unless it agrees with your own reason.
It is also said that everyone has a Buddha nature, which means to me that we are capable of awakening, or understanding the values of life on our own.
I believe that each individual is responsible for his or her own life and how it is lived. Obsessing over the past or fantasizing about what might be in future is of little or no benefit to our peace of mind. The best we can do is to live each day consciously and when we come to a crossroad make a decision and move on.
Meditation helps still the discontent caused by a monkey mind. Meditation does work: in a stressful situation (or just at home) I can lower my blood pressure at least ten points in one minute through meditation. Meditation also calms and relaxes – I always feel stress free after meditation. Just taking a few minutes - and sitting quietly – and emptying my mind relaxes me.
I believe that the Buddha’s experience taught that the basic things in this life are a beautiful gift, and if we drive ourselves or obsess over what we have no control over we are squandering precious time of our existence.
It is raining now
On our metal roof
And it is a wonderful sound.