2020-1-19 Twenty-eight Benefits of Meditation
7:32PM Feb 21, 2021
Roshi Bodhin Kjolhede
This is January 19 2020. And I'm gonna go back this morning to an old Buddhist text teaching of the Buddha it's it's called 28 benefits of meditation. And I'm sorry to say I can't find the book where I where I photocopied this from, I just found this in my files. And so, there we are. So, so it. The introduction is typical of one of the old Buddhist sutras. King Melinda once asked the sage Naga Naga Cena, why if the Buddha's have already obtained full enlightenment, Buddha's just means the enlightened ones. If you've already attained full enlightenment, they can nonetheless continue to meditate. Naga Cena told him that the Buddha's continue to meditate, not because they have anything left to do, or anything to add to what they have already accomplished. But because they have perceived how numerous are the advantages of meditation i think it's it's it's really a sign of genuine awakening. If someone continues, sitting earnestly afterward, it's just there's no doubt that there's still work to do. I never quite made this point in yesterday's workshop. But awakening doesn't just eliminate all of one's flaws, one's blind spots and, and problems. What they do, what awakening does is it reveals the emptiness, of all of one's flaws, that is the that they have no roots to them are our, our personal failings, he could say our weaknesses, have no roots to them. And so there's nothing that we have to resign ourselves to. So when, because awakening reveals that then we find ourselves in a position to want to continue to, to do things. This is what masters and China and Japan Korea have, have reiterated over and over, over the centuries that a awakening experience still leaves, habit forces, habits and habits who don't just mean personal habits like smoking or things like that. overeating but but the the forces of reactivity that have been ingrained in the mind and the body, our tendencies, our dispositions, our propensities continue to operate after awakening, or maybe not after full awakening, but who knows about what that is through experience. These things continue to make the present themselves. I think of the story of how did Roshi How did a Roshi in Japan was Russia capital's first primary, primarily his first teacher. He spent six months with another one first, but then he spent three years with how to de Roshi. And at that time how to do Roshi was in his 80s, I think, and he told the younger capitalists on that as a young man he had had terrible anger. He just he said he was afraid that he would have killed someone had he not got into Zen practice. But he used that energy and anger always anger is just a form of energy. After beginning learning to sit, he used that energy to probe the mind to two he channeled it through Zen meditation. And as a result was had a first awakening experience kensho experience and but he said after that kensho experience, it took him another 10 years before he felt free of his anger.
Who wants to hear that they really want to want to hear is that we have this awakening experience and then we're home free, no more problems, no more forms of ill will, or greed or delusion. It just didn't work that way. But even though it doesn't, it doesn't transform awakening doesn't transform our life, it does establish the basis of trend of transforming our life for transforming our life, the basis being, that there's nothing to these habit forces, as persistent, and troublesome as they are, and seemingly intractable. These tendencies we have, whether it's anger, or, or problems, or sexuality, or depression or anything else. They ultimately have no substance to them. And therefore, we can if we continue, we can work through these things Little by little, usually. There's so many stories of great masters like Hakuin, we just recited that chant and praise of sitting, praise, those are Zen by Hakuin, and other truly illustrious Chinese Korean Japanese masters, who went on sitting hours a day after even quite substantial enlightenment experiences. Because they just they knew that it's a matter of going on and polishing one's understanding. So no one can move through life with this. This true nature of ours in with greater luster. Remarkable stories of these masters hacohen, I always think of after a dozen enlightenment experiences, he would sit through the night. You can be sure it wasn't sitting half heartedly with Hakuin. All right, then. So in this old text 28 benefits of meditation. These are the 28 good qualities of meditation listed that by this Naga Cena and these, these 28, there's some overlap, maybe you could, you know, whittle them down to 22. But we'll get to that. The first is meditation preserves the one who meditates and I'll just pair it with a second, it gives long life. It preserves the one who meditates Bye, bye by doing this on a daily basis, it we, we preserve our physical and mental health by harmonizing the body and mind, body and mind. It's not something we do. It's something that happens through long sustained meditation over the years, is the body and mind come into harmony. And probably there are 50 studies now that you could find if you google them, that show the physical and mental benefits of long term meditation is also were a phrase that sprang to mind when I read this line preserving the one who meditates is the phrase conserving energy. This is something I'm not seeing that very translation in Japanese texts. But in Chinese texts, more than a few of the Chinese masters have this refer to this in their talks. It conserves energy conserves energy, because, well, to put it another way, that our habit of unnecessarily thinking saps us of energy. And so if we're, if we're doing good meditation, we're less less bound by thoughts. And as a result, we have more energy.
This is you can confirm this by going to sesshin, especially a long session. By the end even though you may be tired from sleep deprivation, there is a way in which our batteries are charged. And it's because we're less bogged down by thoughts. Mind is streamlined. It's it's, our energies are gathered together. Through concentration, that's what concentration means it means to gather together or to collect. And the second one, it gives long life well, but maybe someday there'll be statistics long about the length of life of long term meditators. just casually, I think back to, again, how to do Roshi was in his 90s Roshi Kapleau is 90. And, and you you read about others, but I don't know. Then there's Dogan, one of the greatest so the Japanese masters who died at the age of 53. From they say, from tuberculosis. But, but anyone who's done this for a long time can appreciate that it gives you it has to give you a greater vitality and, and by integrating the body and mind, and not to mention just settling the mind. No, no doubt, blood pressure drops and all kinds of things happen as a result of the calm. Number three and dows. One with power. Well, this is somewhat related to the phrase I just said about conserving energy. That anytime we are, we are acting with greater concentration, we'll be doing so with greater power. But then there's also the power of the power we experience when we're not caught in thoughts about ourselves. See the power of no self, the power that's released. When we say it was at William William Blake, he referred to had this phrase mind forged manacles. When we are released from these mind forged manacles of thought, and ideas and concepts about our self, then there's great power that comes from that. Getting out of the way of the self.
Number four cleanses faults many of you have heard from from the seat, you've heard me speak of the close connection between meditation and morality.
It is it is through a meditation practice that we we fortify our resolve not to cause harm. And, and, and even maybe in a more fundamental way, through long term meditation, we we snip the tendrils of what are called the three poisons greed, ill will and delusion. In other words, we think long term meditation, we we little by little dissolve this sense of a self standing apart from others. And in process of that, we are less inclined to want to act self in a self centered way in any of these three ways. The many, the many forms of greed, the many permutations of ill will hostility, anger, irritation, annoyance, resentment, rage. And because all of those things are grown out of a sense of self and other other standing apart from oneself, and that that gets softened. As we go on. Let me just make sure it's clear. All these benefits are not just it's framed here in the introduction as as why the Buddha and the enlightened ones continue to meditate after enlightenment. But these are these are benefits for anyone short of a short of enlightenment. And then next to remove removes bad reputation and then number six and replaced Is it with good reputation? I see this is just related to the previous one cleanses one of faults. That when you're when you're hurting people less when you're acting less out of greed, ill will and delusion or you're causing harm less that's if you're going to have a better reputation. Number seven destroys discontent.
And then then the one the next one and and fills one with contentment. This is a really basic one, that anyone who can stick with this practice long enough will find is true. There is a Taoist Sage by the name of Wei, Wu Wei, who said, Why are people so unhappy? Because 99% of what they think about is themselves. And there is none. No, fixed, unchanging self that we're stuck with. This, what we call the self this, this conglomeration of thoughts and memories and associations is, is something we can reform but something that changes through our discipline. daily meditation
destroys discontent to the degree that we are less driven by our our cravings and are seeking. Another the great Taoists shrugs that said happiness is the absence of striving for happiness. It's true that that happiness is a byproduct of long term meditation, but so long as we're trying to get it, get happiness for ourselves, then our efforts will be contaminated and we're going to probably be dis discontented.
Next one, meditation releases one from fear. And one following ideas and endows one with confidence.
Well, let's first suggest that fear and anxiety have, I'm told to snow small degree, they have biological causes, that some people are just wired to have more anxiety and a kind of lumping anxiety with fear. So there's not a lot we can do about the basic physiological reactions that will cause us to feel anxious or frightened. But, but what I have found is that whenever whenever our kind of our baseline of anxiety or fear is, and the the the emotion is reinforced by thoughts by thinking, thinking binds us to fear and anxiety. There's the just the initial reaction, the anxiety or the fear. And and then it is it is it's, it's reinforced to the degree that we are dwelling in our thoughts that we are ruminating about it, and then this can be in the future. Of course, we can have anxiety or fear about future things.
So many people are live with anxiety because of just thinking about what could happen in the future. revising, do when it comes down to dwelling in their thoughts about the future. Now, we, this is different from a sort of natural startle response that is, seems to be wired in our, again in our biology. No matter how enlightened you are, I would be surprised if if a high koan or a dog and we're walking down a narrow, narrow alley at night and someone jumped back. That's just that's we're just wired that to be startled for a minute. Well, that's one thing, just the biological startle response. But then, it's very different from getting caught in one's thoughts about what could happen, and how long one, one dwells in that in those states.
I love this, these words of David Mamet, the playwright, he said, worry, is just interest paid on a debt that never comes due.
Fear also is going to, we're going to be more vulnerable to fear. To the degree that we see ourselves as separate from others, or from the outside world, then we're more likely to see the outside world as menacing, threatening, in some way.
What springs to mind is this. This guy, who and they made a documentary called free solo, about this wild man, young man who climbed is the first to climb El Capitan. This this sheer cliff out in one of the national parks, Yellowstone or Yosemite. And he did it without but but this is the first one to do it without any kind of, of safety devices, just himself on a sheer cliff, for hours. It's it's an absolutely stunning example of someone and they did as part of the documentary, they put them in a MRI thing, and they looked at his brain. And he was speaking of biology. He was remarkably, his brain just didn't react the way our brains react to fear and anxiety. So there's that as always, the biological
confidence releases one from fear and doubt, one with confidence. The opposite of confidence, we could say is self doubt. And what is self doubt, but I thought, This is what I'm always telling people who are getting ensnared by self doubt and sesshin It's a thought. That's all you're not seeing yourself. As you are. You're, you're, you're snagged in a in a in a thought and, and like, it's like every other thought, just don't dwell in it and you'll be alright.
11 and 12 removes, removes sloth and fills one with zeal. And this may be somewhat related to what we said earlier about, when you can be freed from thoughts that cling to the mind, then you have more energy, thoughts, thoughts, create resistance to acting. thoughts create resistance to fulfilling our intentions. We just began another term intensive five week term intensive. This is for you who don't know this is a period of time where people who participate pledge to step up their discipline, starting with with sitting and then can be other things diet or exercise or study and What What is the resistance to following through with what we commit to it's, it's thoughts mostly. What's the resistance to getting into a cold shower? thoughts. Maybe a little experience too, but
and then the next three refer to what we said earlier, the three poisons. To take takes away, greed takes away ill will and takes away dullness.
the word that is used here in this old text from who knows the fourth century before Christ is takes away last. And this would be especially salient to the monks who practice at that time. But let's go with lust for a minute. lust is a form of greed. What I would say is it takes away the compulsive element of sexual desire, not the desire itself. That capacity to feel sexual desire does not disappear with Zen practice, but the compulsiveness behind it to whatever degree there is compulsiveness is relieved. But then in a broader sense where I would I would save especially for us householders, it takes away greed, little by little greed is so all three of these greed, ill will and delusion, these are things we're going to have to as far as I can tell, contend with, until full enlightenment to one degree or another. But it it daily practice is a way of just sanding away these three poisons, little by little, and then with an awakening experience, it's a bigger bite into them. And then one goes on with still more to do. It takes away ill will,
well, ill will.
reactivity, reacting with anger or annoyance, irritation, hostility, rage, resentment, wrath. What happens is that we we find through long term of meditation, we find a little space opening up between the, the, the provocation, such as we see it, between the stimulus and the reaction, we get a little freedom in that space. We're not just reacting immediately out of out of our habit forces blindly reacting, but we have just a split second there, where we have some ability to choose how we're going to respond. That's enormously significant little space that opens up. In other words, it's a little a little, a little daylight of self awareness. Okay. Here we go again, here's my tendency to react. And then there are all kinds of things you can do to settle down when you feel the anger coming on.
It takes away dullness. The other word is delusion. We become more clear through a lot of sitting years of sitting. We're not what did Shakespeare say? We're not lost in the pale cast of thought, are more alert or more in touch with things and the direct experience of things rather than our thoughts. 16 it puts an end to pride.
There are two kinds of of what he calls pride. One is thinking that you're some How better than others. And the other kind of pride is thinking that you're worse than others. In Buddhism, these are both seen as as pride that you're this, there's something special about me. I'm worse than others, I'm inadequate, others are better others are smarter others or whatever. That's a kind of pride when you drill down to what's underneath it, and then the more obvious kind of feeling of superiority
and both, both come from a sense of separation. separation from others. 17 breaks down doubt. Doubt is considered the, the worst, the most the most formidable of what are called the five hindrances. Because the other four, desire, aversion, restlessness and torpor, these will be dissolved through ongoing meditation but, but doubt can can derail our meditation that can throw us so that we're not meditating. But then doubt, doubt diminishes through the experience of finding that it passes. Right by, by facing our self doubts and doubts about others, and passing through them see that they are just thoughts that pass, then this builds faith, faith that nothing, we're not stuck with anything that stuck with anything. Number 18 makes one's heart at peace. And the next one makes the mind tender. It's a wonderful word for what happens over years of practice, Dogan as asked what is the what is the purpose of Zen practice and he said, to develop a tender heart. It's not the first thing many people think of with Zen practice, it seems kind of rigorous, and you're acquiring a lot of discipline kind of Spartan and spare. And, and yet out of that, out of that, if it's if it's valid, we'll come I'm a tender heart tender, because we increasingly see others as ourselves or and, and even a deeper sense we we see that the people, everyone is suffering and her or his own way. And if anyone thinks they're not suffering just look more closely. There's so many kinds of suffering. And, and in a way, it all comes from ignorance, ignorance of the true nature of things can also feel a kind of through practice and increasing poignancy of the fact that we're all on the same in the same boat of impermanence. We're all moving inexorably toward death. And this itself inspires, feeling of tenderness, the fragility of life.
Meditation makes one glad I think of glad. Okay, I think gratitude might be more of what I'm grateful for through practice. makes one sincere 21 makes one sincere. I see the word sincere as meaning we do things. We respond and we do things completely with an undivided mind. not holding back something in the mind having thoughts of, of not being split in our responses and what we do wholehearted pure enough next one, it creates advantages. I think it's too broad and vague. I'm just going to skip over it and interest of time. 23 and makes one worthy of reverence. Now for all the reasons the foregoing reasons, we develop these qualities of character, and dignity and, and virtue, you have an x one, it fills one with joy. Here, maybe there's some, some, some deficit with the English language because joy can be understood as a kind of wild on unrestrained, almost a delirium, like the joy, one of those old commercials, Publishers Clearing House where they show up at the front door and they say you've read the cameras, you've won, and people go insane. That's, that's not what we're talking about here. Joy here is a kind of quiet, deep, centered, centered joy. That's beyond the the poles of joy and ordinary joy and despair. 25 fills one with delight by by freshening the mind every day, with meditation, we see things even ordinary things in a fresh way, and even with delight 26 it shows the transitory nature of all compounded things. This is just an old, old Buddhist language, vocabulary, seeing that everything that has everything, period, everything is transitory, it's all passing everything is in flux. This becomes more and more clear, the longer we sit. And there are great implications things that come from that. If we have a sense of, of the fragility, the the, the impermanence of everything, it's a little harder to get really become captive to old reactions to people and situations, we develop a little detachment, little distance, we tend to see the big picture, which is always a good thing.
27 it puts an end to rebirth. Well, if you think of rebirth as like reincarnation, something that happens after the death of a physical body, then since none of us can remember that happening, I guess. If you do remember, let me know. But it but read that part. If you think of rebirth that way, then we just take it on faith, but that but but if we think of, of rebirth as something that's happening moment by moment, this is what in Buddhism we call a continuous rebirth. The rebirth rebirthing rebirth thing of the mind body then then we see that that there's always there's there's always here puts an end to rebirth. Yeah, I think there's only one way to take that, that, that Nirvana and I'll have to pass on that. No experience of that 28 it obtains for one the benefits of renunciation, the benefits of renunciation? Now, he may be referring to the monastic life, renouncing the world, worldly the householders life. But I think the best way to understand renunciation is renouncing one's thoughts, one's one's random, irrelevant thoughts, that keeps sticking to us, renouncing them. This is the the ultimate renunciation because you can you can be living as a monk, and have your mind clogged with thoughts and with with the various forms of greed and hostility and delusion. But the real job and this is what We all have in common, whether we're ordained or not, is moment by moment, letting go of our thoughts letting go, that's renunciation. And it's a secret of living and dying. They they say people who work with those who are on their deathbeds report that that's really what it comes down to being able to, to let go. And we also know this is we learn this in sesshin. We it's all it's all training the mind in letting go. renouncing thoughts, unnecessary thoughts, of course, whenever I say thoughts, I mean, not thinking problem solving, thinking that we may often need to do. That's just, that's that's a resource, thinking in an incisive way. But no thoughts, thoughts that just just cling to the mind and do us no good at all, renouncing those. This is the secret of living a rich life just as it is the secret of dying. And then it just ends here and this old text is saying, the Buddhas devote themselves to meditation because it is the road to all noble things, and has been praised, lauded, Exalted, and magnified by all the Buddha's and as you all know, the probably the word Zen means meditation. Zan, Chon in India, it's Deanna sand is the meditation School of Buddhism. Whether or not one is practicing as a practicing Buddhist, I will stop here now and recite the forebodes
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