Sitting Zen: Questions and Answers with Zen Master Dae Kwan
Learn to Relax
A group of social psychology professors from different universities in China visited Zen Master Dae Kwan. They asked many questions about practice.
Professor: I joined a retreat in China, and they taught me to meditate by counting my breath from 1 to 10. I followed the instruction and put all my strength into counting each breath from 1 to 10 without any thinking for half an hour. At the end of the retreat, I got a headache and a hemorrhoid. Now I am afraid to sit again. What shall I do?
Sifu: Have you ever sat down to watch a movie and half an hour later you get a headache and a hemorrhoid?
Professor: Never, Zen Master.
Sifu: Same as that. If you watch your breath like watching a movie, then you will solve your problem.
Upon hearing that everyone started laughing.
Commentary: One of the most important parts of practice is to relax and be natural. It is like playing a stringed instrument: too tight, the string will break; too loose, the string cannot make the correct sound. Counting our breaths is a means to regulate our mind so that it can return to its original not-moving, relaxed and natural state, which means clear and centered. Most important is that we breathe naturally. If the breath is clear, our mind is clear. Applying this clear mind moment to moment to help ourselves and others is the true meditation.
Just Open Your Eyes
After the introductory class on sitting meditation, everyone tried to apply what they had just learned to the sitting session. Many students were experiencing the same problem.
Student: Zen Master, you taught us to sit with eyes half closed, looking down at a 45 degree angle. After a few deep breaths, my eyelids just closed very naturally in a split second. How do I stop myself from closing my eyes? I don’t want to close my eyes during meditation.
Sifu: [pointing to the blinds in the dharma room] Please go open the blinds halfway.
Student: Do I really have to do it?
The student couldn’t stop laughing while pulling up the blinds halfway.
Sifu: From now on, every time that your eyes close, please remember how to roll up the blinds halfway. This will surely help you. You don’t have to stop yourself from closing your eyes; just roll up the blinds halfway.
Commentary: The Platform Sutra says, “Inside our mind we have delusive, ignorant and suffering beings. We use right views to save them.” It further says: “Let the fallacious be delivered by correctness, the deluded by enlightenment, the ignorant by wisdom and the malevolent by benevolence.” So if we close our eyes and fall asleep, we just open our eyes again—that is already training us to wake up! Very simple.