Following up on my previous post about a charming little book by Stephen Batchelor and his wife Martine, which consists of talks they gave at a 2016 retreat in England based on the Korean Buddhist tradition (Son), here's some passages from What is this? that I resonated with in my pre-meditation reading this morning.
I liked this take on enlightenment, which is very much in line with Zen teachings. Son, which means "meditation," is the Korean equivalent of the Japanese "Chan" and Japanese "Zen."
So once we let go of the idea that to be enlightened means to understand the nature of reality as it really is, or to gain some privileged mystical insight into truth with a capital "T" -- the way of thinking Deshan and other Son masters are trying to shake us free from -- then we shift into a practice that that is inextricably tied up with how we respond to life in each moment, which is the foundation for engaging with the world in an ethical way.
And I also liked this description of how listening can be a better way of describing what meditation, and life, is all about, than seeing is.
When you are asked to watch something carefully, what do you do?
You tend to narrow the focus of your attention onto the object, thereby letting it stand out in the wider field of vision, in order that you can look at it more precisely. What you're looking at is invariably something outside of yourself, 'over there' somewhere.
What often happens in meditation is that we fail to acknowledge the metaphoric nature of the visual language being used. Quite unconsciously, we adopt an inner stance or posture that mimics the act of seeing.
You might feel, for example, that when you're meditating there's a bit of you, in the back of your head somewhere, that's peering in on your body and breath and mental states. You've created a distance between an observer looking in and an object being observed.
But if you think about listening or hearing it's often completely the other way round. Rather than narrowing your attention on a particular sound 'out there', you open yourself up to allow the sound to enter you.
When you listen to a piece of music in your living room, for example, what do you tend to do? Very often you dim the lights or close your eyes, then raise the sound so that it envelopes you. Then you relax and let yourself be completely receptive to the sounds that enter you from all around.
So the internal posture you assume is not that of a detached observer looking out onto something, but rather a completely vulnerable and open attention that allows sounds to stream into you from every direction.
Now that's a very different inner stance. Your physical posture might be the same, but your mental posture is the opposite to that of looking at something.
...To think of listening in this way can help us better understand how to attend to what arises in response to the question 'What is this?'. In posing that question, allow yourself to be completely open to whatever you 'hear' in the pregnant silence that follows, without any hopes or expectations.
Metaphorically, you're waiting to hear a response rather than expecting to find an answer. The point of Son practice is not to look for an answer, or to see the nature of reality. Again, pay attention to the metaphors we use unthinkingly.
You might find it helpful on our last full day together just to explore what it feels like in your body to be open to this question in the same way that you would open yourself to a piece of music or listen with total attention to the polyphony of the birds and wind outside, the occasional plane that flies overhead, the patter of rain on the windows.
Listen more carefully, and at the same time notice how that listening is not just an opening of the mind but an opening of the heart, a vital concern or care for the world, the source of what we call compassion or love, which brings us back into the world of relationships that we will be returning to tomorrow.