Sunday, November 02, 2008

Prayer and Meditation

Perhaps because it’s Sunday today I have Prayer and Meditation on my mind, who knows. I’ve never been a fan of either of them; I find both meaningless, pointless, and an overall fruitless exercise.

When I speak to other followers of Buddhism they often talk about they’re Zazen (dhyana, meditation), and it always makes me think they’re missing the point. I'm reminded of the post below, "Buddha, on Belief". I can't escape the idea that people are just doing it out of tradition, or because it's "pop-religious" to do so. Going through the motions of religious tradition isn't what opens one's mind to the truth. Then again, perhaps I'm being a bit solipsistic, to each they're own right.

So as I was reading from Suzuki today and came upon something that led to me feel a bit justified in it, not that I needed the justification at all. Zen, God, (Quality if you will) exists in everyday life, not in sitting with your legs crossed or feeling guilty in prayer. Sure, meditation is a part of Buddhist practice, but it should never be separated from, or be seen as a different discipline from Prajna (wisdom, the power to penetrate into the nature of one’s own being, as well as the truth itself thus intuited). It shouldn’t be separated from everyday living….

In the eleventh year of Kai-yuan (723 C.E.) there was a Zen master in T’an-chou known as Chih-huang, who once studied under Jen, the great master. Later, he returned to Lushan monastery at Chang-sha, where he was devoted to the practice of meditation (tso-chan / dhyana), and frequently entered into a Samadhi (ting = inward meditation, not to be disturbed). His reputation reached far and wide.

At the time there was another Zen master whose name was Tai-yung. He went to Ts’ao-ch’i and studied under the great master for thirty years. The master used to call him: “You are equipped for missionary work.” Yung at last bade farewell to his master and returned north. On the way, passing by Huang’s retreat, Yung paid a visit to him and respectfully inquired: “I am told that your reverence frequently enters into a Samadhi. At the time of such entrances, is it supposed that your consciousness still continues, or that you are in a state of unconsciousness? If your consciousness still continues, all sentient beings are endowed with the consciousness and can enter into a Samadhi like yourself. If, on the other hand, you are in a state of unconsciousness, plants and rocks can enter into a Samadhi.”

Huang replied: “When I enter into a Samadhi, I am not conscious of either condition.”

Yung said: “If you are not conscious of either condition, this is abiding in eternal Samadhi, and there can neither be entering into a Samadhi nor rising out of it.”

Huang made no reply. He asked: “you say you come from Neng, the great master. What instruction did you have under him?”

Yung answered: “According to his instruction, no-tranquillization (ting-samadhi), no-disturbance, no-sitting (tso), no-meditation (ch’an) – this is the Tathagata’s Dhyana. The five Skandhas are not realities; the six objects of sense are by nature empty. It is neither quiet nor illuminating; it is neither real nor empty; it does not abide in the middle way; it is not doing, it is no-effect-producing, and yet it functions with the utmost freedom: the Buddha-nature is all-inclusive.”

This said, Huang at once realized the meaning of it and sighed: “These thirty years I have sat to no purpose!”

This then, reminded me of another such instance:

Observing how assiduously Ma-tsu was engaged in practicing tso-ch’an (meditation) everyday, Yuan Huai-Jang said: “Friend, what is your intention is practicing tso-ch’an?”

Mat-tsu said: “I wish to attain Buddhahood.”

Thereupon Huai-jang took up a brick and began to polish it.

Mat-tsu asked: “What are you engaged in?”

Said Huai-jang: “I want to make a mirror of it.”

Mat-tsu: “No amount of polishing makes a mirror out of a brick.”

Huai-jang at once retorted: “No amount of practicing tso-ch’an will make you attain Buddahood.”

Mat-tsu: “What do I have to do then?”

Huai-jang: “It is like driving a cart, when it stops, what is the driver to do? To whip the cart, or to whip the ox.”

Mat-tsu remained silent.


  1. I agree. I think meditation in the context of your definition is an action that is missing the point when the intention is some sort of self-elitism.

    Prayer on the other hand, I doubt can cause nothing but an unhealthy cognitive dissonance (when asking for help from something that did not prevent the dilemma in the first place). Unless prayer is an intentional act of confessing to one's self the truth. Self-awareness is the ultimate ideological concept in Buddhism.

  2. I'm not through with prayer yet. Often I can't help but be a bit solipsistic on the subject, and that's not fair.