TREATISE ON ZANDTAO
Let's begin with mind, mind is so little understood in the West. Our education system supposedly trains mind for years but in truth our minds are not developed but are filled with information as if we are computers - storage devices. Worse than this our education trains us to believe in a system that contributes little to any form of personal happiness, only giving us the skills to contribute to a society that is dominated by the greed of a few in business. In the Four Agreements this is described as the waking dream, our collective dream we are trained to follow - our minds are not awake but dreaming.
And that is why I begin with meditation because meditation is the tool Nature has given us to awake. Buddhism is one religion that focuses on the need for meditation. According to Buddhist gospels Shakyamuni Buddha was a Prince who rejected his affluent lifestyle and sought understanding. Under the Bodhi tree he achieved complete awakening - Buddhists call this Nirvana/Nibbana. In his lifetime Shakyamuni Buddha gave many teachings and it is these teachings that mostly form the basis of Buddhist religions.
Key to these teachings is meditation, and that is what I want to begin with. Throughout this treatise I will be examining changes in my life that have come about through meditation. I will explain the importance of meditation, how integral it has been in its different forms in bringing me to this point on my journey. I am going to describe the nuts and bolts. When I read them they appear tedious, completely un-exciting - almost a turn-off, yet meditation is far from that. Happiness is exciting. People wax lyrically about waking up the bliss of oneness and all kinds of stuff like that. Even though it was maybe true for them part of me was always cynical - a weakness, but you can wake up happy every day. When I think back to the misery of waking up in the morning early in my life, that happiness is more than enough. And meditation is the key, so please be patient if the nuts and bolts are tedious.
I have meditated using different methods - mainly Vipassana, better described elsewhere. To meditate you need a posture that is straight-backed. I would love to be able to do the lotus position but unfortunately I have a damaged cartilage due to a youth socialised in football - if I sat in the lotus position I feel my knee would lock. Fortunately a friend gave me a t-shaped stool, and using this I have a straight back. I read many discussions of minutiae with regards to posture, all say that you need a straight back but some make more demands. For some of these demands I might well end up in hospital, but I would use the lotus if I could.
With a straight back the next step in the meditation is breathing - or rather what they call following the breath as a meditation object. I didn't use this much. Basically you follow the breath as it comes in through the nose goes down to your stomach and goes out again. As your mind follows this breathing it will start to wander without you noticing, and suddenly you find yourself in different scenarios - thinking about work, relationships, planning social interactions, all kinds of things. Once you notice this clutter has happened, you gently return your mind to focus on the breath. This is not a stressful return, do not chastise yourself, just gently return to the breathing - follow the breath in through the nose, down to the stomach and out.
For me the following of the breath was a starter in meditation, then I moved on to insights. Now Vipassana meditation is translated as Insight meditation but the lynchpin of the system is the insights - as far as I understand it or at least it is for me. Once my meditation practice had started in earnest - some might describe this as going deep enough, I would sit there and have insights. What an insight is has led me into difficult discussions with intellectuals. After an insight in meditation I might write in a blog, this process I thought of as putting meat on the bones of the insight. I was somewhat affronted when someone described my blog as intellectual. Yet from the outside it is - when you read all you see is thoughts and ideas, it appears intellectual. But that is not what really matters. What matters in meditation is the process that reaches the insight; throughout this treatise I will try to convey this process. For many intellectuals they do not understand this process - one might even say they don't want to understand, and they cling to the ideas as being the purpose. They might say why is this insight more important than that idea, what is the difference. And the answer is meditation or the conviction gained therein, and that cannot be understood as ideals. For the mind cannot be understood through intellect only, there is a non-conceptual mind. Conceivably the most important insight in history was the Buddha's 4 Noble Truths, but look at them on paper - they are ideas. It is not the words that matter it is understanding and that is not an intellectual process. Comparisons of insight and intellect will occur throughout this treatise, maybe you can grasp the difference later - an important difference.
To experience an insight can be a light-bulb moment, but it is important not to let that interfere with meditation. How does it interfere? An insight happens and my intellectual mind wants to analyse, dissect, discuss, put arguments for and against, and so on ad infinitum. These conceptual processes are not the purpose of meditation, they have their place but not in meditation. So I have a notepad by me, insights I write down and then blog later. If I am dutiful about this then my intellectual mind leaves me alone, leaves me free to meditate, and get involved with the meditation whatever I am doing at the time - this will become clear in the treatise as I describe the different things meditation has brought me to.
One important point of the nuts and bolts of meditation is "how long do we meditate?" My time changes. At the moment I do 45 minutes in the morning and 40 minutes in the evening. This is not however set in stone for the reader, it would be good if it was set in stone for me but I am weak. You have to decide what time is suitable for yourself. A beginner might start with 5 minutes, 10 minutes etc. This is fine. But you must stick with your time. Decide on 5 minutes and stick with it. Then decide on 10 minutes and stick with it. Morning only? Morning and evening? Decide and stick with it. When you are meditating your mind will try to trick you to stop. "Oh, that was a good insight, time to stop and write it up," is one trick I have to face. Another one "your mind is going all over the place, this is a waste of time - may as well eat." Definitely not. Set your time and stick with it. Mentioning food, you will see in the treatise that food is very important to me, but I do not eat before meditation. If I have eaten before meditation I often feel disturbed, I believe the disturbance arises out of a mental reaction to the digestion process.
So my meditation is some kind of insight meditation. Some might argue that my process is not so good, mostly I don't care. What matters to me is not what they say, it is how I feel in meditation - some might say how my heart guides me. This process of meditation does not stand still, it changes. One meditation is never the same as the next, but one important lesson I have learnt is that I can stagnate, and when I have personally stagnated the source has been weakness in meditation. This was shown to me recently (Oct 2010). I found that my blogs were blocked. I was in the middle of writing an education book, and I stopped. This was strange as my writing had been prolific over several months - I still haven't finished that book. I began reading Brad Warner and suddenly began meditating Shikantaza. For me this means "sitting here and now". I will start meditating and when I do I focus my daily self on the hara (tantien or second chakra). I kind of centre my physical self there. Then my mind is wandering having thoughts, so I also try to quieten the mind and centre it on the hara as well. With the mind less active this leaves me open to being one with True Nature. At the moment I actively encourage this oneness but this is not what is recommended - just sitting here and now is the method of Shikantaza as far as I understand it. But for encouraging the oneness was good, so that is fine. Set your time for the sitting, and if the mind wanders gently bring it back to the sitting here and now. Long before this book is finished my meditation process will have changed, so it is important for you to recognise when you heart knows the process has stagnated. In me that shows with blocked writing, or I can feel disturbed quite often angry. Here is an example of that disturbance. I love the beach and swimming and my day at the beach - which I will describe later. Yesterday I couldn't get into it. Music, couldn't do my Chi Gung, annoyed with one of the people - just a general dissatisfaction. I came home, meditated and knew I had put off too long getting down to writing - put off because I was enjoying the beach. I was disturbed, now I'm not - meditation.
It seems strange to say, but meditation has an impact on your daily life. Why? Makes no sense, does it? You sit there, your mind wanders, you have insights, yet your daily life alters. To be honest I can't give a complete answer for you, that is something you need to consider for yourself. Here is something like it for me. In the process of quietening the mind, you go to a deeper place and this more fundamental place directs your daily life. One description of this would be that you have got in touch with your True Nature - the True Nature of the Global Mind and by so doing this starts to act through you. Daily meditation definitely affects your daily life - let people scoff at that no matter, it does, it helps, it brings happiness. Why? There are different explanations to speculate on. That is not to say that these explanations are not important - far from it, but you need to come to terms with them for yourself. Read what others say and meditate.
So I have begun with a description of my daily practice - it began daily maybe 10 years ago, but meditation began for me much earlier than that. Or in truth I should call the earlier stuff "meditation experiences". These were moments of affirmation that occurred when I was younger. Affirmation? Insight. These moments were very important - very powerful, and in some ways sadly don't occur now. I refer to these as the bells and banjoes, but to understand them I need to describe the mess my life was in then.
At university I learnt how to be a drunk, and in my first job that became a way of life. Very soon I hit bottom, and fortunately climbed out onto the Path - although at that time I was far from sensible. In terms of meditation it would have been good if I had started to practice daily - but such practice was far in the future. There is much that one might describe as regret - there is no doubt in my mind that practising the principles of Zandtao earlier would have led to a more stable life. But who knows what is planned for us? And we learn as we learn. Even though I consider I was on the Path, I was still addicted to drink. That addiction was stronger at different times, and at this initial stage on the Path I was drinking little. (Because I later learnt that the addiction could only be dealt with by complete abstinence, I refer to myself then as being addicted - drinking little meant just that and the little was not a problem.) At this stage I began to get what I perceive as affirmations, experiences that indicated the rewards of happiness for being on the Path. These affirmations were momentary and extremely pleasant. I want to stress the importance of these affirmations to me, and hopefully you can note them for yourselves. I described them as a presence although it was completely shapeless - I certainly don't mean it felt like a ghost-like presence; I thought of it as a "presence of life". During such experiences I felt happy, and in truth I have often tried to recreate them - but to no avail. I could not create them but I could feel the joy of experiencing them when they happened. My first such occurred soon after I had hit bottom, recovered, and started on the Path. I waxed lyrically about it then because I became involved in the art world where such experiences were hyped up. A pretentious presence?
I scoff a little because of the art world but these experiences came to me mostly when I was writing. I particularly remember one Summer when I wrote Kirramura, and these experiences occurred regularly. I would write late at night, and would wait the whole day for this writing and the experience. Great joy. Now why do I talk about this when I am writing of meditation. For me it was the nascent engine of meditation, the Path telling me of its existence. Once you are into the Path, it has an engine of its own. You have no choice. You stray, it brings you back. You ignore your Path at your peril, drink and other addictions are the result.
Sadly it took me a long time to understand all that the Path was telling me about the importance of meditation. I never had sufficient control of my mind, and whilst I valued these experiences I saw them as being too important. Rather than having the personal control to be a meditator, I sought the experience mainly through creativity. The notion of Path was still strong, I thought in terms of closeness to the Path, but sadly never understood that Nature had given us a tool to keep us on the Path - the tool of daily meditation.
I have described my techniques of meditation, and how meditation on a daily basis brings happiness into life. Throughout one's life there will be indications and affirmations that such a state can be achieved. Whilst these experiences are strong they offer little compared to the genuine happiness one feels through daily practice. The first principle of Zandtao is to feed the mind through daily meditation.