Dogen’s 6th Awareness: Control Your Mind – Cultivate Meditation Concentration
Meditation: engage in contemplation or reflection; taking charge of one’s mind
Concentration: deep reflective thought; an inner seeing that transcends the intellect
Dogen’s Awarenesses – Having Few Desires, Being Content, Quietude, Diligence, Unfailing Recollection are not commandments or rules to be memorized and slavishly followed. They are qualities to be lived not just something to think about or observe in other people. These awarenesses are like seeds in our minds, when we water them with practice they can break through our ignorance, like seedlings breaking through the dirt to become plants.
So what Dogen intends, I think, is to bring all of these awareness’s directly into our daily life.
When I began my Buddhist practice I joined a Zen sangha. A group of us met every Wednesday and Saturday to do sitting meditation for 40 minutes, followed by walking meditation for 10 minutes, followed by another 40 minutes of sitting meditation. I was taught to sit still on a cushion and not scratch an ear or ankle, quiet my body and mind. And for many years, cultivating spiritual practice…concentrating and meditating meant sitting on a cushion. The problem was that when I got up from sitting and began to do things this spiritual practice did not go with me.
So…knowing that Dogen intends for us to bring spiritual practice…meditation concentration into our every action I ask ‘how do we do it? how do we actually do it?’ It takes practice.
Quilt making is a practice for me; a spiritual practice of taking care of my mind and reflecting on spiritual teachings.
A couple of months ago, I finished a quilted chair covering and wanted to start something new. I decided to use up everything in my cloth box and make a large quilted spread. I was eager to begin because I knew when I got to the quilting part my mind would settle down into a contemplative, meditative state. I wanted this calm practice.
AWARENESS OF THE HINDRANCES
What happened was that when I’d begin my sewing-work I found I was irritated Every day I became obsessed with trying to figure out if I had enough material. The design was complicated…I needed over 900 small squares not to mention needing yards of material for the frame. Every day I wanted to get to the quilting place…AND there was just so much to do.
Finally, I woke up and saw that what I was practicing wasn’t controlling my mind…I was practicing worry.
AWARENESS OF RELIEF
So now here is my practice…each day as I come to work on the to-be quilt I focus on turning my mind to the tasks at hand, not look to the future. Will there be enough material for all the squares? What should I use for a backing? Do I need to get more thread? I need more chalk markers…and on and on my mind goes. My practice is slow, deliberate work to turn my thoughts away from what I want to do or judging the progress I am making or not making. Now, when the irritation starts, I literally say to myself…drop the irritation. Just drop it and focus on what I am doing now. It is a practice of moment by moment awareness…to have no desire to want to be further along than I am…to be content with just cutting squares…not worrying about there being enough, just being with this task.
So, I have found how to meditate off the cushion. It is to know that every moment is an opportunity for spiritual practice. To really know this is to first see where my mind is at any moment and then turn away from my life-long habits of not paying attention…to multi-tasking…to thinking about the next day or next hour or next minute.
Once we see where our minds are…what do we turn them to?
When I get here, I turn my mind to reciting chants or a line from a chant I have memorized. This is taking control away from the mind of irritated thoughts or the mind of worried thoughts and giving it something to do. When I do this, I find concentration. I am present with what is in front of me.
Dogen is encouraging us to take control of our minds all day long by watching the mind both on the cushion and off.
Author: Lao di Zhi Shakya
Zen Contemplative Priest of the Order of Hsu Yun
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