By Joshua Joshua@InteractChina.com
Yamada Mumon during his time was a monk of Mahayana Buddhism. In a collection of his words, Zen and meditation are explained in an easily comprehensible way that resonates with the broader masses of people. “Yamada Mumon Roshi’s Words” gives us insights into the role that Zazen (Engl.: sitting Zen meditation) plays in everyday life. It also emphasizes the hope that Zazen will not only be practiced for the benefit of oneself but also would come to benefit everyone. Lastly, his words even give detailed instructions on how to practice Zazen.
This article focuses on the meaning of Zazen and how Zen can help us to learn more about ourselves.
Zazen and the Role It Plays
Yamada wants to clarify that Zazen first and foremost describes a certain mentality, and actually, body posture has less significance. Yamada explains the mentality of Zazen humorously, telling an anecdote from the Second World War. It is said that there was a line of people and more continued queuing up, as everyone expected to find something interesting with so many people gathered there. It turns out, at the end of the line there was a stranger’s funeral waiting for them. This anecdote is intended to convey the need for investigating our own self. We should avoid following a way just because others before ourselves took it. How to find and walk your own way, that is the question Zazen starts with.
Answering this question is not about conceptualizing or taking a scientific approach. On the contrary, it is about surrendering instinct, habit, and intellectual judgment. The “real self […] sees, listens, laughs and cries”: emotions come without thinking. Meditation can give rise to an inner clarity in which the real self can be perceived.
Mentality and Physical Posture
As mentioned, mentality takes precedence over physical aspects of meditation. Provided we have the right mental practice, we can, in fact, do Zen-Meditation regardless of whether we’re sitting, lying, standing or walking. That said, a beginner’s preference should be to do sitting meditation. Out of the four postures sitting is the calmest, yielding an inner calm as well.
Yamada Mumon instructs us to find both physical and mental calmness. Just like clouds in water will only go away when one stops stirring, the real self can only become visible through practicing tranquility.
As for how to enter the right mentality, we are instructed to cut all ties with the world surrounding us. We must separate ourselves from our sensual impressions. The Chinese monk Hui-Neng said, “not to move from seeing self-nature inwardly is called Zen.” By detaching oneself from the outer world, one can find tranquility.
Lastly, Yamada remarks that one should not be tempted to believe a dark surrounding could ease the difficulty of practice. Rather, a dark environment can cause illusions, daydreams, and might also lead you to fall asleep unintendedly. So, we should keep our eyes slightly open and stay in a well-lit place.
How to Find the Self?
Yamada’s instructions on meditation go into deep detail describing the correct lotus posture and how to ease the breath and heartbeat, among other things. However, the core principle remains tranquility yields transcendence. Yamada’s advice to beginners simply is: pick a bright and calm environment and sit down in the lotus posture. Do this as often and committedly as possible and the inner fog clouding our view from our inner self will slowly clear. This practice might even become an inspiration for others, teaching them to stop getting in lines that we don’t really belong in.
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