Thursday, September 20, 2012

The first two pages of my Zen notebook

Zen is not intellectual. There is nothing to hold on to.

* * *

What, if not thoughts, will bring us to realization? Something deeper than thoughts. You will know it when it happens.

* * *

There is no right and no wrong in zen. What is right today may be wrong tomorrow, depending on circumstances.

* * *

Everything will pass away. So don't fool yourself.

* * *

The ultimate liberation is: no conflict, no struggle.

* * *

Real masters are decisive.

* * *

Discipline. Strong mind. Strong will.

* * *

In morning silence
is everything, and nothing
but the white stillness

* * *

Zen is the mind's poetry
It is the soul's poetry

* * *

Sitting is catching a moment
Sitting is owning a moment

* * *

From gray,
the wall

* * *

When you silence the mind,
you silence the body
And when you let the mind fly,
the body grows wings

* * *

And the story that came out today on Rappler:

* * *

And the full, unedited text here:

Everything and nothing but the white stillness

To be happy, all you need is a cushion and a wall.

I believe I came up with this statement at a time when I was into Zen meditation around 2009. It was a trying time, personally, and I needed peace in my life. I found a zendo in Marikina. Or perhaps, the zendo found me.

I met Rollie del Rosario, who was to be my sensei. And I met Ada Javellana Loredo, who became a friend. Ada is a talented painter, a professor in Ateneo, and an aikidoka for all of 22 years. I have always marveled at her lightness. And I think she has that genuine smile—the kind that lights up a room.

For this short feature on Rappler, I met her at a cafe. On the day of our interview, I gave her a few purple vanda blossoms which, to our delight, matched her shirt. Over cups of Cafe Americano, we talked about how zen meditation has helped us and some of the people we know.

Just like magic

“Internally, there are changes,” Ada explains. “But people probably won’t see it. I rarely get mad now, I would still get angry once in a while, but it would go away quickly. I could blow the anger away.”

Is that a conscious effort, I ask her.

“It’s effortless,” she clarifies. “I can let go of the annoying things, minor irritations. I don’t worry about those anymore. It would take a lot to hurt me. Sometimes I also surprise myself!” Ada laughs.

As a professor, Ada usually checks essay tests, which is a challenge for many teachers. “I used to take lots of breaks to finish checking a set of test papers,” she confesses. “But one day, I finished all 35 papers in one sitting and I didn’t even notice the time! Before that day, it has never happened to me, ever.”

“It was like magic. The focus was there so I wasn’t thinking of anything else. I was very mindful of what I was doing.”

The monkey that is the mind

Zen meditation is not a religion. It is not a movement, nor is it a philosophy. Ada says that Zen meditation is a practice: what you do (one’s practice), and what you often do to master something (as in, practice makes perfect).

In Zen meditation, mindfulness is taught. “The goal is to be mindful of every moment of your life,” says Ada. One is supposed to form this habit of mindfulness by sitting in meditation for at least thirty minutes every day (zazen). One helpful technique is to focus on and count your breath from one to ten, and then count back to one again. Do that over and over for thirty minutes and you would have practiced Zen meditation.
This is easier said than done, and both Ada and I agree that we’ve rarely, if at all, managed to reach up to ten breaths without the monkey mind wandering off to God-knows-where.

Physically demanding

Zen meditation does not stop at taming the mind, it also works on the body. As a practice that originated in Japan, it strictly requires its practitioners to observe proper posture. The spine should be straight, the legs folded underneath, or held in a lotus or semi-lotus position, the shoulders thrown back, the gaze straight and softly focused on a blank wall in front, and the hands in a certain mudra (spiritual gesture of the hands).

“There was a time during a sit when I tried to stand up for kinhin (walking meditation) while my entire leg was still numb from sitting,” Ada recalls. “I injured my ankle and I had to use a cane for a time because of it.”

Zen practitioners are encouraged to take up tai chi or yoga to prepare the body for long sits, especially sesshins. A sesshin is a period of intensive meditation inside a zendo. Ada defines one sesshin day as “excruciating pain for nine hours, with breaks.” But she continues to go on these retreats anyway, for at least three times a year.

A glimpse of Zen

Founded in 1976 by Sr. Elaine MacInnes, OLM, and Yamada Koun Roshi, the Zen Center of Oriental Spirituality in the Philippines (ZCP), where Ada and I met, belongs to the Sanbo Kyodan (Three Treasures Teaching Group) lineage of Kamakura, Japan. According to its website: The Sanbo Kyodan zen sect combines the best of the Soto (sustained zazen) and the Rinzai (koan practice) schools of zen. It was founded by Yasutani Haku’un Roshi on 8 January 1954. Unlike most other schools of zen, the Sanbo Kyodan does not require its followers to embrace the Buddhist religion. Some of its masters and teachers are, in fact, Christian priests, pastors, or nuns.

Those who are interested to learn more about zen meditation are invited to attend Glimpse into Zen (introductory talk) on September 23, 2012. The event will be from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. at 34 St. Claire corner St. Catherine, Provident Village, Marikina. For more information, please contact Lisa M. Pilapil through 0920.570.9709 or email her at lisa_pilapil@

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