Today, I sat in meditation on a wooden bench at a Quaker meeting for worship. There are different sects of Quakerism, but I belong to one where people sit in Silence and speak out that Silence. I was pretty physically tired, the drowsiest I’ve been in sitting meditation.
Meditation Poem #18
the deepest silence cannot
hold the infinite emptiness
There’s form of Zen, where teachers stress shikantaza, or just sitting. If we just sit fully, then we just are, nothing special. Zen teachers like Kosho Uchiyama teach this sort of zen that embraces the everyday life, in his exploration of Dogen’s writing on the cook of a temple, Uchiyama writes:
The most important point to bear in mind here regarding the buddhadharma is the expression mantoku enman, or perfect harmony. To have goodness emanating naturally from your character is living more truly by Buddhism than having had some so-called kenshō or satori experience. There should be no doubt that living out your life, acting and being in perfect harmony, is indeed living out the life of the Self. A satori which is unrelated to your personal character is nothing more than a kind of drunkenness. It is no more than the elation you might get from taking drugs. Needless to say, this has nothing to do either with religion or with the buddhadharma.
We are not practicing for some goal, even for a goal of enlightened. We do zazen to do zazen, and in just sitting, we are just being.
Needless to say, I have not been able to just sit, I am distracted by a myriad of thoughts and feelings. But I try to keep coming back to the practice of sitting meditation over and over. Uchiyama says of zazen:
Your practice of zazen must not be something separate from your own experience of your day-to-day life, nor from the overall direction of your life. Rather, in constantly working to refine and clarify your everyday life, or the life of your total Self, your practice accords with the dharma.
I hope I can live this way of being, and live in a way that spiritual life is not a theory but a lived out experience in each moment.
The Buddha’s last words to “be a Lamp unto yourself,” and some translations of the Bible has Jesus saying “kingdom of God is within you.” We don’t have to look far for wisdom. Quakers believe that each person has the Divine Light within them, and part of sitting in silence is to truly listen and nurture that inner Light.
Buddhism makes sense to me on a practical way that sometimes my own Christian faith does not. It asks us to trust our experience that there’s no other authority or teacher than what’s happening right now, Charlotte Joko Beck beautifully captures this idea:
There is only one teacher. What is that teacher? Life itself. And of course each one of us is a manifestation of life; we couldn’t be anything else. Now life happens to be both a severe and an endlessly kind teacher. It’s the only authority that you need to trust. And this teacher, this authority, is everywhere. You don’t have to go to some special place to find this incomparable teacher, you don’t have to have some especially quiet or ideal situation: in fact, the messier it is, the better. (16, Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck)
So this is what I have been trying to do as I keep coming back to my practice. My meditation practice deepened about 6 years ago, but my daily sitting practice shifted with the birth of my daughter 3 years ago. I was no longer able to sit first thing in the morning…but I’m slowly reestablishing my daily sitting practice.
I am trying to work with the messiness of my life. There’s a lot I can learn from Buddhism as a Christian. The Christian monastics also live this reality of authentically encountering life, but for them they are encountering Christ in each other on a daily basis in community. What good is prayer, if you can’t love the brother who burnt your lunch?
Centering prayer and meditation seem similar and yet the intentions are very different. However, I personally find both practices deeply enriching and help me live a spiritual life as opposed to just believing in it as a theory.