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.
Wooden kneeler, chair, zafu or supine
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 straight 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. You can also try a chair where you can sit with back straight and soles firmly on the ground. And if all else fails, try the supine position or what is known as the Corpse Pose (Savasana) in yoga. It is just as effective if you don’t fall asleep.
Venerable Chi Boon
This is a picture of my Zen meditation 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. Sleeping with the head on the meditation cushion. Cold showers. I actually enjoyed it.
By the way, there is a lot of Zen in Raja Yoga as well. Lots of Buddhism in Vedanta. Overall, what I started with Shi-fu continued and bloomed further on in my yoga sadhana. And that thing they say about relinquishing your teachers come one day? Well, that’s been true, too. It comes along on the day when you realise everything you have accumulated around you just has to go. And you start giving away almost everything because they are simply just things. Then you are happy with 2 pairs of shoes. A couple of sets of clothing. One fork, spoon and pair of chopsticks. One plate, two bowls, one cup. That sort of minimalist living. Not like before when you bought whatever took your fancy, or hoarded stuff ‘just in case’ because you’ll never know when you might want to recycle that cute plastic bottle, etc, etc.
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.
~ ॐ ~