It is said that meditation is the most essential tool in our spiritual growth. In my own limited experience, this is because there is within us an aspect of our being that will not blossom unless we create the conditions for it within us. Something unfolds with time as we make meditation a part of our lives, and slowly, we come to understand ‘it’ for what ‘it’ truly is.
Of all the meditation methods I have been taught, Zen meditation is the one I have found to be just right for me. It is simple, easy to learn and I found that if you made the zafu a part of your sadhana as much as your yoga mat, regularly and diligently, it would bring you to ‘places’ you’d never have imagined existed within you. Well, that’s been that way for me. If you are living here in Singapore, and you are wondering which meditation might suit you or want to learn, there is a whole list to choose from. It all depends on what you are looking for and probably to some extent on karma, fate, or ‘yuen fern’ as well. I tend to think that the teacher always appears when the student is ready and your inner wisdom will bring you to where you need to go.
Wooden kneeler vs cushion
Very early on, way before yoga and Zen, my journey with meditation began on a wooden kneeler in a meditation room in a convent looking out on some lovely grounds. Because I was boarding there for a spell, I could go to the room whenever I could while at other times I sat cross-legged under a tree outside in the back garden. Meditation was just that, simple and uncomplicated, no breath counts or meditation objects whatsoever. Just simply some quiet time spent with oneself.
I remember how ergonomic the kneeler was in that meditation room in the convent. The seat slanted downwards at a perfect angle and it kept my back straight without strain for a long spell. There’s little chance for my back to slouch or for my legs to go to sleep. As time passed, I have settled nicely into a comfortable half-lotus position on the round zafu. If you sit near the edge, it has the effect of lifting the back with the knees slanting down nicely to the front to rest on a small rug. You just need to adjust how you sit on the edge of the round zafu, that’s all.
Venerable Chi Boon
This is a photo of my Zen teacher and he is the abbot of Kwan Yin Chan Lin. The way I encountered my teacher for the first time was when the year was coming to an end in December 1998 and a friend asked if I would be interested in joining her for a 7-day Zen Buddhist residential silent retreat with 3 days of fasting. It would be held in a back-to-basics building in a rustic kampong across the causeway in Pengerang, Johor Baru. I said, sure, why not. Even with the first 3 days fasting, no food, only water. No bed or mattress and cold showers. I actually enjoyed it.
That’s how I met my first meditation teacher whom I will always fondly remember for facilitating such a memorable experience during those 7 days. After the retreat, I did go for a couple more meditation sessions at the Lavender Street Center. And during my last visit there, he basically gave me his blessings to take wing where I saw fit. By the way, there is a lot of Zen in Raja Yoga and so his sending me off was propitious because what I started with Shi-fu continued and bloomed in my yoga sadhana. To-date, I must report that yes, it actually happened. I have relinquished my teachers and set myself free.
Taste the tea for yourself
Shi-fu is a great believer of ‘just do it’. Instead of us running around looking for this teacher or that teacher, he would say, just sit, everything is there, no need to run around looking everywhere else but here. He also discourages lengthy cerebral discussions that detracts us from the doing. During the retreat, he had no hesitation shutting off all unnecessary thinking questions. Often his answers are succinct and to “taste the tea for yourself”. I think what he was really saying was that if you would just take yourself to the zafu, the answers will come.
There is already plenty said about Zen meditation so I am not about to add anymore here as such. That’s not my intention for this article anyway. What I could say is that it’s been worth it even though the practice demanded much discipline because it’s true, you won’t know until you have tasted the tea for yourself. You won’t know what meditation is about unless you are willing to make it a part of your daily spiritual practice. With that said, yes, find a teacher. If not, get a zafu and just start. It can’t be more simple than that.
~ ॐ ~