Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Meditative Activity

Meditative Activity
by Scott Bradley

The last Zen master discussed in Hoover's The Zen Experience is the Japanese Hakuin (1686-1769). He taught, among other things, that meditation should not be removed from the everyday activities of life. Indeed, to consider meditation a 'leisure-time' activity is to divide reality into sacred and secular. He thus advocated an 'Introspecting-the-Koan' form of meditation wherein one considers the logic-cracking implications of a koan throughout one's daily chores. This certainly appeals to me from both a philosophical and practical point of view, though I do not follow the koan method.

Watts, in his The Way of Zen, draws attention to that very special way in which Zen makes the 'nothing special' (buji) special, by contrasting it with a celebrated Christian (Brother Lawrence: The Practice of the Presence of God) method for doing the same: "It is not about thinking about God while peeling potatoes, but simply peeling potatoes."

In other words, one is not doing something else while active, but fully involved with what one is doing. Like with Zhuangzi's butcher, the work becomes art because its necessary skills are allowed to well-up spontaneously through an open connectedness with the work itself. When the butcher explains this to his prince, the latter exclaims, "The butcher has told me how to live life!"

I'm not sure that Hakuin's approach expresses this same kind of connectedness since the mind is preoccupied with a koan while peeling potatoes -- there is another agenda at work. Still, there is something to be said for at least making all activity a meditative activity. I have recently put my boat 'on the hard' and am now on a ranch in the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas in California. I am here to work. I figured I needed a change!

And with so much physical work to be done (it was a hard winter with lots of fallen trees to clear, a vegetable garden to plant, fences to mend...) I am trying to put both meditative methods (thinking about something else and connecting totally) at work for me. What I think about are two thoughts from my (made-up) gurus: "Thankfulness arises" and "There are no conditions to meet (to experience Unity)." More on these later.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.


  1. This is somewhat consistent with my teacher's suggestion to be "always meditating." And the experience of Chinese painting or tea making in which spontaneity and presence are embodied.

    (I love it when the verification characters seem to mean something; just now, "readcha," like divination in tea leaves.)

  2. I try to do this as well. It is deceptively simple, actually really hard, for me at least. I can do it for a few seconds, but very soon my mind is spinning me elsewhere, and I'm back on autopilot.


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