Questions on Zazen and TM

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  • Kelly M.
    Member
    • Sep 2007
    • 225

    Questions on Zazen and TM

    Hello all,

    I have a couple ZenNewbe questions that I would love to hear your insights on. The first is very basic, but one I have yet to find an answer for it.

    Why, contrary to most other Buddhist traditions and meditation techniques, does Zen practice sitting meditation with eyes open, rather than closed?

    In my small city, the only meditation guidance available is non-denominational Transcendental Meditation (TM), which I have been attending in order to advance my ability to meditate and apply that to my Buddhist practice. There seems to be many similarities between TM and Zazen (from what I can tell), although it is performed with the eyes closed.

    This leads me to my second question.

    Although TM is founded on Hindu beliefs (and as such doesn’t always parallel my own views) is it still a fair means for a Buddhist to use TM to develop a daily meditative practice, especially when no other guidance is locally available (besides Treeleaf of course)?

    I would appreciate any wisdom you may have on the matter.
    Cheers!
    Kelly
    Live in joy and love, even among those who hate
    Live in joy and health, even among the afflicted
    Live in joy and peace, even among the troubled
    Look within and be still; free from fear and grasping
    Know the sweet joy of living in the way.
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39272

    #2
    Hi Kelly,

    First question is easy. We meditate in Zazen with eyes open for a couple of related reasons. First, we are sitting with open awareness to our surroundings ... not focused on any thing or object in particular, not thinking about our environment or any topic, not judging our surroundings ... but not shutting it out or avoiding it either. Second, if one closes their eyes, we will tend to just dream or see visions or ... horror of horrors ... fall asleep. Our meditation is to be awake and aware in this world.


    Second question, a little more care is required in answering. I would say the philosophy of TM (including the whole culture surrounding the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the objectives of TM as different 'higher stages of consciousness' and merging with a cosmic spirit) are so different from Zen that the two cannot be mixed.It is a bit like trying to study Karate by studying Judo ... they look a little the same on the outside, but the differences are great.

    Arguably, both practices (Zen and TM) can bring about similar experiences. However, our 'just sitting' is based on radical non-doing, goallessness, non-focused sitting which is 'just present'. We are not trying to do anything, or reach any 'special state' (with the proviso that 'non-seeking a special state' IS a very special way to experience life.) We are more about being present in this life, in our own moccassins, than about trying to escape this reality for a 'higher' reality or to merge with any god (with the proviso there too that, sometimes, both the Brooklyn Bridge and the Holland Tunnel will get you to the same 'non-places'). However, we are much more about being in the here and now, home right here, than about achieving any wild mental experiences (another proviso: although we get some wild mental experiences in our Zazen too, we tend to visit but not stay there, and return again and again to the 'here and now' of our life ... Hindu meditation tends to cultivate the wild mental experiences as the target).

    So, I would much prefer that you took a nice, non-sectarian Yoga class at the community center than TM.

    I hope that was helpful. I wonder if others will add anything.

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - TM folks use a Mantra. A Mantra, or focusing on the breath, is a good practice for a Newbie for the first weeks, maybe a few months, to build general concentrations and to settle the mind ... but soon, like training wheels, we take that off for 'just sitting' with non-focused awareness.

    PPS - I love your Emerson quote on your posting:

    "To different minds, the same world is a hell and a heaven"
    -Ralph Emerson
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    Comment

    • Kelly M.
      Member
      • Sep 2007
      • 225

      #3
      Hi Jundo,

      Thanks for the reply, I certainly see where you are coming from. In response to a couple things;


      I would say the philosophy of TM (including the whole culture surrounding the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the objectives of TM as different 'higher stages of consciousness' and merging with a cosmic spirit) are so different from Zen that the two cannot be mixed.It is a bit like trying to study Karate by studying Judo ... they look a little the same on the outside, but the differences are great.
      I agree that there are many facets of TM that do not parallel my beliefs, nor that of Zen, nor Buddhism in general, and my approach from the beginning has been to use TM as a source of practical knowledge only, and not philosophical/religious. So far, although some of what you have mentioned above has been mentioned, the class has had little in way of Hindu metaphysics, and has focused primarily on the meditation alone. I don't get the impression that anyone there has much of a desire to learn about a cosmic mergence but rather ways to promote relaxation, sleep, etc.

      However, we are much more about being in the here and now, home right here, than about achieving any wild mental experiences (another proviso: although we get some wild mental experiences in our Zazen too, we tend to visit but not stay there, and return again and again to the 'here and now' of our life ... Hindu meditation tends to cultivate the wild mental experiences as the target).
      So far, this class has been about nothing but casually focusing on the breath and promoting a complete relaxation. We are literally being encouraged to just sit, mind on the breath, without expectation of results and without even an attempt to meditate. When the mind wanders, we are encourage to neither promote nor prohibit it, and to only bring the mind back to the breath when easy. Perhaps more potentially psychedelic techniques may be in store later on in the course, but so far it has help my practice greatly.

      So, I would much prefer that you took a nice, non-sectarian Yoga class at the community center than TM.
      Haha, yoga is coming soon and I can't wait!


      Well, what you are saying here supports some of what I had suspected about TM, but my outlook from the beginning has been to approach it with an open, yet guarded mind. If you think is better not to dabble in it whatsoever then I will stop attending. Perhaps these couple classes so far were all I needed to teach me what 'just sitting' is generally all about; before them I use to spend most of my time on the cushion in frustration as I was attempting to achieve a sort of 'perfect concentration' on my breath with little tolerance for metal meandering. It was also refreshing to get to group meditate every week given my lack of other options.

      Thanks again Jundo for you wisdom.
      Cheers,
      Kelly
      Live in joy and love, even among those who hate
      Live in joy and health, even among the afflicted
      Live in joy and peace, even among the troubled
      Look within and be still; free from fear and grasping
      Know the sweet joy of living in the way.

      Comment

      • will
        Member
        • Jun 2007
        • 2331

        #4
        hmmm...I really only have this to add. I've tried other meditations tried this, tried that, but I always came back to zen practice. Now Zen practice is the only thing I prefer to practice. I think it might be good in the beginning to stick with one practice, however it sounds like you are using the TM meditation in a useful sort of way. It's really your choice.


        Gassho
        [size=85:z6oilzbt]
        To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
        To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
        To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
        To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.
        [/size:z6oilzbt]

        Comment

        • Jundo
          Treeleaf Founder and Priest
          • Apr 2006
          • 39272

          #5
          Hi Again, Kelly,

          Originally posted by Kelly M.
          So far, ... has focused primarily on the meditation alone. I don't get the impression that anyone there has much of a desire to learn about a cosmic mergence but rather ways to promote relaxation, sleep, etc.

          ... So far, this class has been about nothing but casually focusing on the breath and promoting a complete relaxation. We are literally being encouraged to just sit, mind on the breath, without expectation of results and without even an attempt to meditate. When the mind wanders, we are encourage to neither promote nor prohibit it, and to only bring the mind back to the breath when easy. Perhaps more potentially psychedelic techniques may be in store later on in the course, but so far it has help my practice greatly.
          Well, as you describe it, it does sound like a down to earth experience, not very different from what we do, in fact. If you are getting some benefit from it, follow your heart. At a certain point, of course, you will have to choose Karate or Judo. If the class does eventually evolve into something else (and they do have a reputation for moving onto other things down the line), you will have to follow your heart again. Please sit with us too, as there is no reason you can't do both until you find what's right. .

          Gassho, Jundo
          ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

          Comment

          • Kelly M.
            Member
            • Sep 2007
            • 225

            #6
            Thanks Jundo and Will, I will be cautious with the TM for sure. After spending time considering the two, I believe that I better understand their basic conflicts. In brief, TM encourages one to turn completely inward, into oneself, becoming lost in the moment. Zazen, on the contrary, encourages one to turn outward, incorporating all of this reality, and to find oneself in the present moment.

            Moreover, while both desire to develop a certain stillness of mind, TM’s approach is to set the mind free from all restraints, and let it return to you when its ready (like letting a dog off its leash so that is may run unbound, returning back by your side only when it’s satisfied). Zazen is perhaps more about gently guiding the mind, and building up its concentration and alertness like one would build a muscle. Zazen would be more like teaching that dog to heel while on the leash. Does that make any sense? Am I in the right ballpark?

            * * *

            OK, so here are my next couple questions.

            Where does Vipassana (Insight Meditation- such as that taught by Gil Fronsdal) fall into all this? How does it related to Zazen?

            Vipassana seems (at least to me) to perhaps be rather similar to Zazen, but with the eyes closed. If I’m not mistaken, although Gil is now a Vipassana teacher in California, he has a Zen and a Theravada background. I have also seen this elsewhere, a sort of mixing of Zen, Theravada and Vipassana practice. Could anyone comment on this? Is this a common theme for these traditions to mix and overlap?
            Live in joy and love, even among those who hate
            Live in joy and health, even among the afflicted
            Live in joy and peace, even among the troubled
            Look within and be still; free from fear and grasping
            Know the sweet joy of living in the way.

            Comment

            • Gregor
              Member
              • Apr 2007
              • 638

              #7
              Kelly,

              I'm a real newbie at this too, so please take anything I say with a grain of salt.

              I really like Gil Fronsdal, he's one of my favorite dharma teachers( after Jundo). I've never met him just listened to just about every talk of his on the Zencast podcast, including his four part introduction to meditation course. . . If your interested in trying Vipassanna you could start there (available on Itunes for free). But, I think you'll find that Zazen is more stripped down and simpler than Insight meditation, not relying on a lot of complex techniques or focus points, and less analytical too. Essentially in Vipassanna meditation you start with Samatta meditation to produce calm abiding, then after much practice start to work analytically with sensations or concepts in order to acquire insights into the nature of things. Zazen ends up in the same place just does so without a goal of doing anything. . . sort of ties into Dogen saying Zazen is enlightenment itself aka no need to try to do anything during mediation because the simple act of sitting is itself the destination. Do I make any sense?

              ps. Jundo, feel free to hit me with your dharma hammer if I'm preaching false doctrine here.
              Jukai '09 Dharma Name: Shinko 慎重(Prudent Calm)

              Comment

              • Jundo
                Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                • Apr 2006
                • 39272

                #8
                Hi Kelly,

                Let me try to answer as best I can ...

                By the way, I would like you to look on this insider's take on TM that I found when we were talking about Ken Wilber and such. I do not mean to imply that your local group is like this, just so that you can spot it if it is the case. Just keep your eyes open. ;-)

                http://www.suggestibility.org/

                Originally posted by Kelly M.
                Thanks Jundo and Will, I will be cautious with the TM for sure. After spending time considering the two, I believe that I better understand their basic conflicts. In brief, TM encourages one to turn completely inward, into oneself, becoming lost in the moment. Zazen, on the contrary, encourages one to turn outward, incorporating all of this reality, and to find oneself in the present moment.
                Zazen is not about inward/outward, except to say that they are not two. When we 'Just Sit', dropping goals, judgments, likes and dislikes, categorizations ... we also drop concepts such as 'inward' 'inside' 'outside' 'outward'. But, yes, we do not shut the eyes to the outside, do not seek to shut it out.

                Maybe I could also say that 'turning into oneself' proves to be 'incorporating all of reality'. And 'turning toward all of reality' is precisely 'incorporating oneself.'

                Now, don't worry about what the heck that means ... just sit.

                Moreover, while both desire to develop a certain stillness of mind, TM’s approach is to set the mind free from all restraints, and let it return to you when its ready (like letting a dog off its leash so that is may run unbound, returning back by your side only when it’s satisfied). Zazen is perhaps more about gently guiding the mind, and building up its concentration and alertness like one would build a muscle. Zazen would be more like teaching that dog to heel while on the leash. Does that make any sense? Am I in the right ballpark?
                I would not say this for the Zen part of the statement... (and I do not have enough experience with TM to be commenting on that part of it). In fact, I would say that our practice of 'Just Sitting' is 'setting the mind free from restraints' ... we might say, 'what dog, what leash?"

                Then we find that there a dog again, so it is like she came home ... except she was always there. Arf. :-)

                But part of our practice, part of this 'freeing the mind' is, definitely, to develop concentration and alertness.

                To give you an example of this, life in a Zen Monastery is like being a dog in obedience school ... not unlike a prison ... being told what to do, getting up before dawn, tedious tasks that need to be done precisely (and never can be done precisely). BORING Zazen. But, we finally start to ask, WHO is feeling things to be boring and tedious? WHO is resisting and WHAT is being resisted?

                Have you ever seen those dogs in somebody's backyard, bound by a self-tightening leash or chain? I mean one of those chains that get tighter and tighter the harder the dog pulls on it, the more the dog resists ... This is to be a human being, with a finite human body in this back yard we call the world. We want to get out, we want to get over the fence (where the grass is greener, I guess). Well, in our Zen Practice, the dog kinda realizes that the whole universe, all freedom, is found within each blade of grass in its own back yard. Nothing to resist, no place to go. Suddenly, the chain expands to infinity, and the universe comes to the backyard.

                And, by the way, a dog that did 'get loose' and ran ran ran ... would still be a prisoner, would still be in chains, with the wrong perspective on the nature of freedom. That's why some people are always dissatisfied wherever they go, while some are content even on a short leash.

                Something like that.


                * * *

                OK, so here are my next couple questions.

                Where does Vipassana (Insight Meditation- such as that taught by Gil Fronsdal) fall into all this? How does it related to Zazen?

                Vipassana seems (at least to me) to perhaps be rather similar to Zazen, but with the eyes closed. If I’m not mistaken, although Gil is now a Vipassana teacher in California, he has a Zen and a Theravada background. I have also seen this elsewhere, a sort of mixing of Zen, Theravada and Vipassana practice. Could anyone comment on this? Is this a common theme for these traditions to mix and overlap?
                My understanding is just what Greg said (he has made quite a project of comparing Vipassana Practice and 'Just Sitting' Practice because he has moved between both, and writes about both. (He is rather new to the Zen side, but his description rings right). In fact, Greg probably has more experience with Vipassana than I have, because I have almost always been a Soto 'Just Sitter'. I stayed with the one that brought me to the dance about 25 years ago). A key part of their Practice is analytical of the body, mind and experiences, while we are more about dropping analysis during Zazen.

                But, you know, it is like a discussion about Karate vs. Kendo. Two techniques, both with their own strong points, that have the same basic philosophy but different approaches. My feeling is that, in the West, "Insight Meditation" has become much closer to Zen in feeling, compared to its Southeast Asian origins. And there is now a lot of crossover. In our Zen too, we do quite a bit of analysis of how the mind works, the senses, the nature of experience (we have about the same worldview) ... we just don't do so DURING Zazen.

                And you can dabble in a little Karate and a little Kendo, but eventually you have to pick one as your main Practice and pursue it. I think.

                I hope that was helpful. Now, go walk the dog and let it off that leash!

                Gassho, Jundo
                ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                Comment

                • Kelly M.
                  Member
                  • Sep 2007
                  • 225

                  #9
                  Thank you Greg and Jundo. It is difficult for me to get all of these techniques straight in my mind when all I see of them is print on paper and font on screen. I think it is all coming together (slowly) for me though, and your replies have been of great help.

                  Jundo, as for that website you sent me above (suggestibility.org), I read over a good chunk of the large collection of literature put forward by that author. It is disconcerting to say the least. Much of it I had already suspect (I don’t easily buy into pseudoscientific jargon) but I countered the wild claims of grandeur with responsible scepticism, and tolerated the spiritual facets by simply chalking them up to residual Hinduism that inevitably would have remain attached to a Hindu derived technique.

                  Some of the accusations put forth on suggestibility.org however take this issue to a whole new level. It is only fair and responsible that I approach this site’s views with the same scepticism that I did the TM course; and I emphasise scepticism, which does not equate cynicism (scepticism is objective whereas cynicism is pessimistic). I notice that the structure of this TM class does not quite seem to match that which is described on the site, but I do notice enough similarities. Although a part of me would like to continue the course out of sheer curiosity (especially in light of its cult-like properties), I agree with you Jundo in that I believe it is best to simply avoid it all together. I will have to just sit someplace else.

                  Thanks for the heads up,
                  ‘nothin like a good cult from time to time :wink:
                  Cheers and Gassho
                  Kelly
                  Live in joy and love, even among those who hate
                  Live in joy and health, even among the afflicted
                  Live in joy and peace, even among the troubled
                  Look within and be still; free from fear and grasping
                  Know the sweet joy of living in the way.

                  Comment

                  • will
                    Member
                    • Jun 2007
                    • 2331

                    #10
                    You know how I started Zen practice? The other meditation center was closed (literally) I first went to some meditation place can't remember. There was nobody there. So I stopped by a zen center and it was open. I made an appointment and voila. Still practicing zazen.

                    Gassho
                    [size=85:z6oilzbt]
                    To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
                    To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
                    To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
                    To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.
                    [/size:z6oilzbt]

                    Comment

                    • FeMonky
                      Member
                      • May 2007
                      • 50

                      #11
                      how serendipitous!
                      or was it... DESTINY?!
                      OOOO WEEEEE OOOOO

                      I'm going to be honest. Brad Warner's New book had Godzilla on the cover. Thats how I came back to Zazen.

                      Comment

                      • Kelly M.
                        Member
                        • Sep 2007
                        • 225

                        #12
                        Originally posted by FeMonky
                        how serendipitous!
                        or was it... DESTINY?!
                        OOOO WEEEEE OOOOO

                        I'm going to be honest. Brad Warner's New book had Godzilla on the cover. Thats how I came back to Zazen.
                        Why, to ensure mindfulness during future Godzilla attacks or to prove to yourself that Godzilla does not inherently exist? :P
                        Live in joy and love, even among those who hate
                        Live in joy and health, even among the afflicted
                        Live in joy and peace, even among the troubled
                        Look within and be still; free from fear and grasping
                        Know the sweet joy of living in the way.

                        Comment

                        • will
                          Member
                          • Jun 2007
                          • 2331

                          #13
                          Haha. :lol:

                          Yes. Too bad our practice isn't as Hollywood.
                          [size=85:z6oilzbt]
                          To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
                          To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
                          To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
                          To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.
                          [/size:z6oilzbt]

                          Comment

                          • Marina S
                            Member
                            • Nov 2007
                            • 17

                            #14
                            Comparing Vipassana meditation to Zazen

                            The form of meditation that I practice is Vipassana, but as far as I know, Vipassana is not about analyzing anything, but about being mindful in the present moment. What goes on during a meditation session, is attention to breath, noting of thoughts, sensations, feelings, images, etc., but NOT an analysis of them. If one is a newbie, one starts with attention on the breath (this helps to develop focus), then moves on to noting and experiencing sensations, thoughts, etc. (this is the mindfulness part), but also using the breath as an "anchor". Sati, mindfulness, is like bare attention. In Vipassana, we witness the sensations, thoughts, feelings arise, change and pass away (hence insight/wisdom into impermanence).

                            Metta and Gassho,

                            Marina

                            Comment

                            • Marina S
                              Member
                              • Nov 2007
                              • 17

                              #15
                              I forgot to mention that if you want to get a little better understanding and clarification of what's involved in Vipassana meditation (aka Insight meditation) succinct instructions are given in Chapter 3, "Meditation Instructions", of a book titled Seeking the Heart of Wisdom by Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield. It's worthwhile reading Byt he way there are a few different forms of Vipassana, some more encompassing than others.

                              Metta and Gassho,
                              Marina

                              Comment

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