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The First Phase of Meditative Development by Master Sheng-Yen

There have been many new and seasoned practitioners of the Buddha Way that have struggled and continue to struggle with Zazen/Meditation. Teachers of all traditions do their best to help us along, but because they are coming from a different perspective than we are, we struggle. If you are like me you just want some information that is simple to follow yet explains it a little more than just 'Shut up and Sit!' I believe I have found such instructions from renown Chan Master Sheng-Yen in his book, 'Hoofprint of the Ox’. This essay will be the first of eight. Master Sheng-Yen gives seven phases of Meditative Development. Each will be copied as they are written in the aforementioned book and then a brief commentary by me, to share what I have learned in my own experience by practicing the instructions.

SEVEN PHASES OF MEDITATIVE DEVELOPMENT 'By far, the biggest problem faced by meditators is the condition of a scattered and confused mind, and the majority of the techniques for taming the mind are designed to address this problem', writes Master Sheng-Yen. He continues, '...these methods share the common aim of bringing the scattered mind to a condition of one-pointed concentration and, finally, to the realization of no-mind. For the sake of the present illustration, I will discuss the phases of meditative development in relation to the method of counting breaths.' Master Sheng-Yen states this because he believes '...counting breaths, is particularly effective for counteracting a scattered, distracted mind.’

1. The Scattered Mind Prior to Meditation

Before taking up the method of counting breaths, there is no consistent object on which to focus the mind. Thoughts ceaselessly turn and stir.Attention is fragmented from one instant to the next, as it darts off in countless directions, in pursuit of one object after another. We hanker after sensory data and sensations from our surroundings, reminisce over the past, and anticipate the future.

Master Sheng Yen makes an excellent point when he says that we, 'hanker after sensory data and sensations from our surroundings, reminisce over the past, and anticipate the future'. Isn't this what we do as soon as we sit down on the black cushion? Or even as we go about our day to day activities? Our mind races out to meet the guests that come to the five doors of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body, just so we can sit and entertain them. Or we go to the door of our mind and jump into the stories that concern the past or future. Why do we do this? Because we love mental stimulation, and know nothing of the contentment residing within stillness. We are brought up that way and the majority of the things we encounter within so-called civilized society on a moment to moment basis are geared to keep us in this mental slumber. Chasing after our random thoughts causes our stream of attention to be fragmented and therefore we experience suffering. Just look to how you go about your day. How many times have we gotten all of our things together to head to the shower only to realize once we get there that we left something? Even when what we left behind was something that we JUST took out to take with us! How many times have you asked yourself, 'Where is my mind at today?' This is what Master Sheng Yen is explaining. However, the important point of this first phase is to be aware of your scattered and distracted mind to really see during the course of your daily activities including your meditation period how the mind runs around like a monkey going from one fruit to another in a tree. How do we cultivate this awareness? We will discuss how to do this in phase two, but for this month, just practice being mindful of the thoughts that come up and how you run after them. I bet that if you REALLY look, if you really stay mindful, then when you see just how fragmented and unfocused your mind is, it will amaze you!

In gassho, Horaku

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