HOW TO COMBINE LIFE AND PRACTICE
After the previous article the following old parable would be worth mentioning.
One man decided that practice was necessary for him and started walking “sunwise” around a stupa. Master happened to pass by.
”What are you doing?” – asked the Master.
”Walking around a stupa” the man replied.
”It is good, - the Master said, - but practice is better”, - and proceeded his way.
Our character thought for some time and decided he had to start reading the Holy Texts. He locked himself in a temple library and went on with reading.
In a year the same Master walked into the library, he saw our reader and asked him the same question.
”What are you doing?” – asked the Master.
”Reading texts” the man replied.
”Reading Holy Texts is good, - the Master said, - but practice is better”, - and proceeded his way.
The man got seriously confused and puzzled. He went deep in thought and understood he had to try meditation. He retreated into the high mountains and started meditating. That was where he was occupied with when the Master saw him the following year.
”What are you doing?” – asked the Master.
”Meditating” the man replied.
”Meditating is good, - the Master said, - but practice is better”.
” What is this practice?!” – exclaimed the discouraged meditator.
”Do not get attached to this life, - the Master replied, - Make your consciousness to be your practice”.
PRACTICE IS THE PROCESS OF AWARENESS.
Often people are mistaken, they misunderstand the core of practice connecting their progress with the necessity of some additional activities and rituals, following some extra conditions.
”We have to grow spiritually,” - they say and make a decision to attend a service in church twice a month and give alms for the needy.
”Others decide that they have to buy Chinese folk dress - to buy incense sticks for meditation, special music and images of our Saints”.
”We have go on pilgrimage to special places two times a year: Shaolin, Vatican, Mecca or the deserted towns of ancient Inkas and Toltecs”.
”We have to go through initiations, follow our Guru, and during his preaching sit as close to him as possible”.
”We have to reread the Holy Books: Tao Te Ching, Vedas, Bible, the Koran”.
”We must not have sex”.
”We have to become vegetarians”.
At the top of this list of delusions – the decision to retreat from this world, isolation, and the idea that the best practice of spiritual development is found in a monastery.
Many Masters have warned of these mistakes...
We must not worship their words about practice, rewrite their statements in golden books, draw their portraits and build temples and churches around these icons. This would be the construction of some kind of a new artificial life that tends to suck you in.
You are merely to practice the Way and obey recommendations. It can be done at home in your kitchen. At you work place at the computer. In the bus, having lunch or even sleeping.
The worst thing to do is to join a particular religious community and allow oneself to be pulled into their life; to visit certain places on Wednesdays and do things together; to get together on Fridays so you can read some stuff; to collect money for ordering of meditative music CDs or books with latest teachings of Dalai Lama, and then to call each other every night to find out if the leader has received the materials. All this while your wife has no support in domestic chores or your family is left with microwave dinners every night. Is this the right way to go?
Do not get attached to this life. Practice does not depend on the time of a day, on place, clothes, location, faith, music, on scent or lifestyle.
Japanese Zen adepts combine their lives and practice quite successfully. They do not cloister themselves in monasteries or convents; do not retreat to forests or mountains. They stay active members of society and committed family people. They may be creative workers, scientists, businessmen, housewives, wrestlers, clerks or street-cleaners, - whatever they do, they do it properly because they act in awareness (meditatively).
Such an approach allows one to practice anywhere with no extra conditions for practicing.
There is one more story.
Ananda had a brother, not blessed with any smarts or skills. He wanted to be taught by Buddha too. On one occassion, contrary to Ananda’s warning, he approached Buddha with tears in his eye and started begging for the private instruction.
”But I am not able to do anything, - he said, - I unable to remember more then four words at once”.
”That will do, - Buddha said, - Four words are quite enough. We will even group them into two phrases with two words in each, and you won’t have to exhaust your mind… Here you are, take this broom and go sweep the floor. When you are sweeping leftward, say: SWEEPING FLOOR, and when you are sweeping rightward, say: GROWING SPIRITUALLY”.
This man achieved Enlightenment and, of course, earlier then his know-it-all brother, because, as we know from the legends, Ananda was the last who gained Enlightenment and it happened after the death of his Teacher.
Here we again speak about attention.
Or, in the other words, about vigilance or watchfulness.
”When Master of Zen is sitting, he is aware of his sitting; when Master of Zen is laying, he is aware that he is laying; when Master of Zen is drinking he knows he is drinking... and so on, and so on” – about three pages are devoted to the description of all the actions of Zen Master to let the reader finally grasp the essence: you should be aware of all your actions, watch them with your Mind. Awareness is the process of watching.
As it was mentioned before... the Japanese Zen adept does not isolate himself from the world. If he works as a clerk in some office and is writing some report on the job he is watching himself writing every letter... Concentrating, slowly, with no fuss… Just watching… he is constantly training his Mind...
Come back to the exercise descriptions, articles on meditation, and the last chapter about the practice of awareness...
The idea is that the same vehicle is involved: during such activity, during the meditation over daily chores, the mind is training all the time. That is what the spiritual development practice requires.
Such a person maintains a meditative state all the time in background mode and this ensures the progress.
Consciousness is inside us; it is an object of our work; and mountains or no mountains, sex or renunciation - it is irrelevant! Do whatever, as long as you observe yourself while you are busy doing it. You can practice in special sacred places as well as in your own toilet. And even if you travel to the "most special" sacred place - there is no guarantee that you will "get it" there. Thus you have to ask yourself whether you need to travel anywhere at all. if all you need is always with us, in our own head, and everything is in our power.
The state of silence in your mind is the practice of spiritual development, and constant background meditation (non-stop training of attention-perception-awareness) maintains the state of silence, the State of Qigong.
If a person is unable to keep up this state, and if he gets no result, he starts getting nervous and looking for some substitute.
He is lead to think that some initiation procedures, journeys through sacred sites, public prayers and special shoes for secret style Tai-Qi classes… Make no mistake, he will order these shoes directly from China…
Such people start blaming the entire world for their failures; they grumble that they paid money for a retreat workshop and got a chair with the broken leg… others get angry and cannot get over the 10 dollar price rise for the hotel accommodation…
It does not matter how long they have been practicing and how many steps they have covered; people with no result are clearly seen. It make no difference what they tell about their “visions”…Those who are relaxed do not care who they are sitting with during the classes or how far from the Master they are or whether they have Master at all; nor what room they get in the hotel and why the cost is a little bit higher then it was expected. When a person is relaxed, he will definitely get result even better then relaxation itself, if it can be... Such people are calm, they are as if shining within, you can easily recognize them… They have arrived …
When people have no results they get attached to some concepts, images, principles, physiology, they invent new rules, traditions and directions. At first, they had no success because they were attached to some concepts… now they are looking for the other concepts to stick to… invent more and more new objects to get attached to and there are even more idols then there used to be before practicing. And you can’t help thinking: gee, he used to be quite a normal person, now look what came out of him!
There are those who insist that you cannot meditate if you have not mastered the Lotus posture. But we are more then just our bodies and the soul can develop even if you don’t have legs at all.
Some people say meditation can be practiced only at a sundown. But there are worlds where stars cannot be seen but there are beings in these worlds who follow the way of spiritual development.
Do not get attached to this life, to different customs and rituals, to barely understandable words and stories, to some outward forms and attributes. Do not speculate about Te, that you do not know yet, or about karma you may never see…
It is important to understand that the main thing is to make your Mind your practice, and there, within, you may find everything: a teacher, a temple and… also THAT what we’ve just thought about together; but we won’t speak it out not to belittle it with words so miserable to express the meaning of it...
Everything that is “not it”– only interferes because it just occupies space!
What is “not it”? Is it clothes, rituals, markets, mountains? – No. This is our treatment of these things, our attachment to them, reflections and images related to them, emotions, expectations, disappointments… i.e. our further field of work, our practice of Mind, because all these things are to be removed from it… by awareness… It is OK that a person buys special clothes for meditation if it is comfortable clothes… But if this person, somewhere deep inside, is not content with himself, his origin, his results… and instead of calming down and relaxing, he gets pulled around by his images (“I want to look like Chinese Masters”), if he creates a special mood… even a peaceful mood… it means, he practices not the State of Qigong, not awareness, but his mood.
Mood is good, but practice is better. Have you grasped where it comes from?.. I mean this, with the desire for special meditation clothes? – eradicate it, clear yourself, break free…
If you’ve failed to do it, if you didn’t notice it… was not aware… overlooked… just bought and got satisfaction… it means you have seen your current needs fulfilled, tomorrow you will get new ones. Nothing is really changing, and you are not any freer...
In the parable at the beginning of this chapter, the adept meditating in mountains was sitting and shooing his thoughts away.
A Master who was passing by, noticed that this fellow was busy with something else other than meditation. He was not resting in a state of silence, he was just intensely whisking his thoughts and desires away, instead of simply observing them. This is not meditation. It may only resemble the state of meditation from the outside, but inside the student is tense; there is lots going on within.
So, why did he leave his usual life, his town, job, family and friends? He did not get any closer to spiritual practice. He only made his loved ones suffer. He foolishly decided that sitting in mountains was meditation.
Earlier he was captured by one life, the life of his town, and he was attached to it. Now he is captured by the other life with all its rituals and external forms – the life of a devoted Buddhist, Christian or Muslim.
Both in the mountains and in his town there was no place for the State of Silence, there was no place for Buddha’s Mind which is liberated from Attachment to any thing... In the mountains the Master found the same person that left the town: the same desires, same worries, same attachments towards the declared objectives. With this kind of attitude it really doesn’t matter where a person practices – be it city or monastery, there will be no result, no “State Of Silence In a Head Free Of Attachments”.
And the Master told him: “Do not get attached to this life AT ALL. Books, rituals, prayers, exercise… they are good. Offices and factories, money, women, children are also good…
But you are bound, you stay mentally and emotionally dependant on these phenomena, objects, and processes. THIS is bad. You are dependant , you are not for free.
There, within the city life you are afraid of women… pretty women excite you, and you escaped from them to practice Silence… Here you are afraid to miss the time of a regular practice, or you complain that you don’t understand why you have to do certain practice in this particular way, or what this practice will give you…
In either place you are constrained and there is a fear in your soul.
There you were afraid of everyday challenges and you felt pressured by your responsibilities for your loved ones. So you’ve escaped it.
Now you are scared and depressed by the fact that after so many years of practicing you still do not understand what soul is, what awareness is, what enlightenment is. And you are also scared that I can read your thoughts…
You were tensed up then, and you are tensed up now. This way you will never come to the State of Qigong, and without it you will not be able to develop yourself towards Wisdom and Awareness.
Start your way to relaxation, to liberation from your attachments; your work field is Mind itself. Just understand: you already have EVERYTHING for this practice, because where Mind is there is everything to work with it. All you need is to observe is your mind activity, your thoughts, reactions and emotions. Without participating in your own inside battle. Without attachment to any concepts and models. Without creating new tensions as your concepts and images prove insolvent. You are the one who creates all the tensions. But if you just observe without participating or creating - all mind fluctuations will just die, as they have no life of their own! And all tensions will resolve, as nobody will create any. And then the active mind will stop bothering your consciousness, and you will be able to free in your consciousness some space for… I do not want to say it aloud so not to diminish The Great… for It cannot be expressed by words…
A weak person will not be able to practice even in the mountains, while the one who is strong is quite capable of living in society, being successful person and at the same time practicing every moment.
There are special exercises in Wu Chan Zhong Qigong system that you can easily integrate into your daily life.
First of all, this is Yang-Qigong exercise.
It is easy to practice while riding a bus or sitting at the computer.
”Background” practice is not designed to replace “active” practice totally. You still have to do active exercises of meditation.
For example, you can devote 30-40 minutes in the morning for preliminary exercises and “Big Tree”. And in the evening before going to sleep you may do Microcosmic Orbit or Yang-Qigong for the same 30-40 minutes.
As it has already been mentioned, some processes cannot be sped up.
This resembles a bonfire in the autumn rainy forest that does not want to start up. The firewood is wet and all the attempts to start the fire end in failure, there is only heavy smoke, and all your friends are laughing as you sneeze from it.
But every new attempt, little by little, gradually warms and dries up the wood. Sooner or later it lights up. Once it is burning well, no heavy rain will manage to put out your fire. It is enough just to throw a few sticks on it from time to time.
This is how Qigong practice goes.
Everything will fall in place at the right time. The main thing is to practice regularly at least for 1-1,5 hours a day.
The rest of the time you have your “background” practice regime.
Sitting at the computer you may imagine the red hot ball (even with no hands involved) and then proceed with your work, and from time to time “watch” your Lower Dantian mentally. Your boss calls for you? Squeeze the ball into the dot (no hands again) and go to your boss… The main thing here is to start and complete the exercise in a correct manner, as you were taught…
You ride the bus, take your seat and, - again no arms and hands involved not to scare people around you - start doing Microcosmic Orbit, for instance.
You go to bed at night and before falling asleep you imagine a red hot ball in your abdomen. You fall asleep and in waking up in the morning you shrink this ball into a dot. That is how you are doing Yang-Qigong all night.
Here is an exercise you can do while eating:
Transforming material energy, you imagine that the food you are having is the most useful for you in the whole world... for instance, this is a fresh vegetable salad full of vitamins… You picture this once and forget about it… After that you start slowly chewing the food… with the complete attention to the process... After you have chewed it thoroughly you swallow it and mentally see it go along the esophagus and beyond the stomach into Sia-Dantian... You imagine the food’s Qi entering the Sia-Dantian... After the meal you have to concentrate energy in Sia-Dantian... You don’t have to use your hands if you are at your friends or in some public place like café or canteen...
You don’t have to do like a Yogi and chew your food slowly untill it reaches a soupy consistency. … Just have your meal without rushing. The main thing is not to gulp down big hot pieces, finishing your supper in five seconds. Otherwise in five minutes you don’t remember what you just ate, thus confirming once again that you lived this part of your life unconsciously.
You may practice while walking: when you step on the heel, you imagine the energy enters the heel and starts moving up the back of your leg and the side of your torso towards the shoulder. When you step on yours toes you watch the energy go down along the front of your side and leg down to the sole... So we walk watching the rotating rings – to the right, to the left, to the right, to the left… With a bit of practice it’s not as difficult as you initially think.
Just don’t cross the road while practicing!! Untill you have mastered good concentration and ability to multitask you are at serious risk of being run over by a car!!
Direct your attention to watching the energy flow according the same principle – easy and light, without any tension... “Seems to be, seems not to be”…
Energy going up, energy going down... at first you imagine it vividly... then you just follow your sensations: heel-shoulder-sole- heel – shoulder-sole… and with time you’ll get a clear feeling...
Let’ see now: you have the method for an active practice, you can do it even in bathroom. This practice does not require the expenses of special clothes, equipment and venues.
And you have the practice that you can do at any moment of your life: meal is the practice, sitting is the practice, sleeping is the practice, and walking is the practice too. Even standing in a queue you may practice, for example, Big Tree. Just don’t move your arms about trying to hold the ball, otherwise you can seriously freak people out!
There are no situations when you would not be able to practice.
This is called 24-hour-a-day practice which is a hundred times more effective than the monastic life of a monk who’s state of mind has not changed.
You do not escape this life, on the contrary, due to Qigong practice you become much calmer, healthier, wiser and more productive. You become free because you are master of your emotions, not the other way round. There are fewer and fewer of you attachments of Mind, and your consciousness keeps evolving.
All the things and objects we touch teach us Dao.
After we find Dao, we see it in all the surrounding things… When we DO NOT find Dao there are no things in the world that can help us understand it...
You are practicing in the thick of things, you always keep up an optimistic and positive spirit, - and it is not that you are indifferent to various aspects of the outside world, you just do not let yourself be totally overwhelmed with all of it. Every time you see this continuous round of events, you watch it from the outside, not getting attached. You are developing the good basis for what is to come sooner or later. You are a true Master.