Posted inBasic Buddhism, Dharma, Koans, Other Teachings

Substance of Practice

March 31, 2022

Under the shadowless tree all people are in one boat.

from Case 18, Blue Cliff Record; case 85, Book of Serenity

When National Teacher Nanyang is about to die, his devoted student, Emperor Daizong, asks how to honor him in the years to come. Nanyang responds, “Build a seamless tomb for this old monk.” The emperor has the means to build a magnificent monument. He asks his teacher for a design. The case says, “The national teacher remained silent for a long time.” Then he asks, “Did you understand?”

Nanyang, or Echu in Japanese, puts this question to us. What is the design of this all-pervading silence? What is zazen? What is the substance of your practice as you sit there breathing in and breathing out?

Is it seamless? Is it timeless? Is it the full and free expression of who you truly are?

At Mountain Cloud, we explore four methods of practice that point the way to the heart of this question. While these four resonate and intersect, each carries a distinct nuance within the constellation of meditative practices. Each is anchored in some way in the ancient tradition of breath practice; counting the breath, resting in the breath, or simply letting breathing breathe. And each offers a path to cultivating awareness and realizing the peace, humility, and compassion that are intrinsic to the true human heart. 

The four methods include…

Mindfulness, drawing on traditional early teachings in Buddhism;

Zen, with its emphasis on the possibility of sudden awakening;

koan practice, an outgrowth of Zen that plunges the practitioner into great wonder and points directly to fundamental reality;

and “just sitting,” the barest form of practice, often thought to be the most advanced.

When we commit to practice and cultivate a method, the invitation is to realize for ourselves the resounding silence the national teacher presents. There we may encounter not so much a “design” as a pointer to the world we embody and explore in sitting. This world. 

Under the shadowless tree all people are in one boat.

Image by Cindy Lever from Pixabay

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