Problems: In the Spirit of Zen

posted Aug 13, 2012, 3:57 AM by Interfaith WS

         Elliot had spent five years working for the U.S. State Department in Japan. Recently, he was transferred to a “primitive'' area in North Africa where he found conditions too hard to cope with. On leave for a few weeks, he was pulling every string to get out of his present post. In Japan, he had learned Zen meditation, but he did not know that life is a zendo, a field for practicing Zen.

         "Conditions are impossible," Elliot said. "When it's 100 degrees in the shade, the electricity goes off. Not a fan budges, let alone the air conditioner. I get into a shower and all I get is hot water. A minute later, all I get is cold water. Half the time I need the phone, it does not work. Worst of all is the fact that I can't meditate with the insects and the heat. For three months I haven't sat. I heard that if I didn't meditate for forty days I'd lose whatever progress I've made. True?"

         Darshani. Possibly, but that is not the issue. The issue here is that Zen never leaves meditation on the coat hook of a zendo. Zen means freedom from reaction, balance of mind, nonidentification with sensations, likes, dislikes, cravings, aversions, illusions, and preferences. Zen is the art of living, not the art of living well. Somebody asked the Buddha what real welfare means. The Buddha said, "Balance of mind in spite of all kinds of vicissitudes – victory, defeat, profit, Ioss, honor, or shame – with a smile.”

         Any Tom, Dick, or Harry can get along fine when life runs smoothly. Near-perfect circumstances provide no tests, no challenges, no soil for inner growth. Gene Tunney, the world champion fighter, said that he got to be world champion only by pitting his strength against resistance. Your post provides a rare frictional message for a Westerner.

         Biographies of all the great sages are replete with self-imposed austerities. To rise above the protests of body and mind, Swami Sivananda got into the icy Ganges at 3:00 A.M. every day and stood in the water up to his neck repeating a mantra. Who among us Westerners can practice austerities like that? Our latitude of tolerance is low, but that is not our fault. Push-button high-tech lives deprive us of the chance to use the muscles of tolerance that Third World people have. This is one reason why they are generally much more relaxed than we are. The higher the latitude of tolerance, the lower the tension.

         To progress on any spiritual path, we need to trust and surrender to the wisdom of the Universal Intelligence that put us where we are. All placement is purposeful. Try to rise above your mental protests. Accept your post as a challenge instead of a hardship, and start meditating again. In the true spirit of Zen, focus not on the provocations but on your reactions to them. Then you will see them for what they are. At the end of your sitting, you might repeat mentally the following axiom and contemplate its inner meaning. This will give you inner peace independent of your external world.

         “The worth of a man lies not in what he has but in what he can do without.”