Saturday, October 29, 2005

Day at an Intensive

Very similar to the "Day of Zen" I attended back in May, the intensive was also held by the local Buddhist group with which I practice under the guidance and teaching of the Venerable Shih Ying-Fa, the abbot of Cloudwater Zendo (our group, Ksanti Sangha, is an affiliate of the Cloudwater temple). Sitting meditation and walking meditation (which we do weekly) as well as work practice, a lunch service, dharma talk/discussion period, and a long chanting service (we normally do a short service in the weekly meetings).

One of the more interesting and revealing exercises was a test of attachment to concepts. We were each given a card with writing on it, with the writing placed face-down. We were instructed to flip the card over and focus our concentration on the word on the other side and observe our minds. I flipped the card and read saw the letters FISH written in print. My initial reaction was a flash of an impression of small dark shapes swimming in the ocean, then the pronounciation of the word FISH, followed by a brief image or impression of a person a boat fishing. Then the word just became letters, F...I...S...H..., and if I had continued concentrating any longer I believe the letters would have turned into lines. We were then instructed to flip the card over and focus on the other side. It was blank--a blank white card. My mind at that point was empty--nothing there to trigger a response.

It's funny, though, that while an intensive is intended to help people strenghten their practice, attempting to gaugue any kind of success or failure is counterproductive on the part of the partcipant as it reinforces some of the very habits, attachments, and midleading concepts from which were are attempting to free ourselves. Having just finished three decades (1978-2005) of being a student in a formal academic setting (elementary school through graduate school) I still sometimes find it hard to not dwell on questions like "I wonder how I'm doing?" or "How do I know if I'm doing it right."

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