I tell Kyodo Roshi I want to take my practice to a deeper level. “Deeper level?” He laughs again. “What do you mean, ‘deeper’? Zen practice only one level. No deep, understand?”

—Lawrence Shainberg, Ambivalent Zen

© R. Taylor L.M.P.A.
© R. Taylor L.M.P.A.

I AM, UNFORTUNATELY, an experienced meditator. From the time I stumbled into an introduction to Transcendental Meditation in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, in 1970, through multiple eras (including my present fifteen-year-old Soto Zen practice), I’ve sat and stared at many walls (and mandalas and candles, and the inside of my eyelids) reveled in sundry bells-and-whistles mental experiences, gotten bored, decided I was going crazy, become enlightened (no, really!), and now I’m ready to share everything I’ve learned. It won’t take long. In fact I can sum it up in one word: nothing.

Not that “nothing” is to be sniffed at. For years—decades!—I thought there was something to learn, and that all those thousands of hours on the mat were cumulative, that the more I sat, the more aware and compassionate and wonderful I would become. In a world where the attainment of goals is seen as a virtue, thirty-eight years of realizing nothing didn’t come easily or lightly.

By definition (mine), if I did think I knew something about meditation, that wouldn’t be meditation. Sort of like God—if you can describe God to me, that ain’t God. If, as I believe, meditation is simply awareness, then any past knowledge I have about it is not only useless, but slops over into my immediate experience. Knowing is antithetical to openness, and it’s the adventure of not knowing that’s the genius of meditation. Not for nothing (so to speak) are two of the most popular contemporary books on Buddhism called Beginner’s Mind (Shunryu Suzuki) and Only Don’t Know (Seung Sahn). I have this fantasy that next time I open my copies of these books, I’ll find only blank pages.

So what is meditation about? I’ve heard many claims for the practice over the years, that it’s about: gratitude; emptiness; deepened, (or if you prefer) heightened, awareness; compassion; spaciousness; the discovery/realization/dissolving of one’s true self (your choice); attaining liberation; self-realization; being present in the moment; opening to the wonder of it all; finding inner peace; encountering one’s Buddha nature; becoming one with everything; cutting through delusion; fill in the blank.

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