I’VE HAD TRULY MIXED FEELINGS about writing this little meditation, but then it is not costumed as a dispensation. We apparently drown in discursive texts, lists of principles and, on occasion, turn in despair from recondite Buddhist studies to the poetry of Han Shan and Gary Snyder and many in between. I think it was a Zuni who said, “There are no truths, only stories.” Perhaps that is why we are drawn back to The Blue Cliff Record and The Book of Serenity. After all, we live within a story and our own story is true. This is only to say what I have to offer is a tad simple-minded compared to what has been offered to me.
Why sit? I tend to sit every morning in the Soto tradition because I was taught to do so back in the seventies by Kobun Chino Sensei and he appeared on an immediate basis to be the master of a superior secret. I have a zafu in the granary study of my farm in northern Michigan, also one in the loft of my log cabin in a rather remote area of the Upper Peninsula. There is a river right outside the door of the cabin, and other than being a truly fine river it is also a reminder of a Tung-shun quote Jack Turner, a student of Robert Aitken, sent to me:
Earnestly avoid seeking without,
lest it recede far from you.
Today I am walking alone,
yet everywhere I meet him.
He is now no other than myself,
but I am not now him.
It must be understood in this way
in order to merge with suchness.
I also sit on logs out in the forest, big rocks in gullies, stumps, three pillows in hotels, car seats, hard plastic seats in air terminals, soft cushioned seats in offices, while standing still for a long time—I would sit on my head if it were possible. I once saw a Chinese acrobat do this and was quite envious. I’ve always lived quite far away from a teacher so it is possible you will not think this is formal Zen practice. But then I am willing to call my practice “bobo” after a comic religion I’ve been inventing lately, or if you wish, just plain dogshit, an indication that a dog has passed this way. As a matter of fact, when outside I often sit with my dog. When you have reached the ripeness, or deliquescence, of fifty-five years, you are less concerned about what things are called. It is the liberation to be found in mouthy old geezers everywhere, and is uncomfortably close to the liberation in the energy of youth.
I have sat in all these places for twenty years because I didn’t want the act to become another version of the Lord’s Prayer or a private church service—in other words, to keep the ritual fresh. As a young man I was a Christian zealot and managed to suffocate my faith in theology and textual squabbles. Too bad the great Buddhist poet and scholar Stephen Mitchell hadn’t published his Gospel According to Jesus before he was born so I could have eaten the wheat rather than just breathing the chaff.
This article is available to subscribers only. Subscribe now for immediate access to the magazine plus video teachings, films, e-books, and more.Subscribe Now
Already a subscriber? Log in.