A simple idea has come to mind while sitting and I’m finding it more and more useful both on and off the cushion. I want to explore it some, and see if anyone else finds it useful or knows of a buddhist equivalent for it. That idea is “Non-interference”.
Here is how this idea arose.
First, I had gained an insight while listening to Joseph Goldstein’s zencast entitled “What is the Mind?” In this dharma talk, he parses the delicate concepts underlying the Mind, such as Consciousness and Perception. In discussing consciousness, he says that consciousness is that which “knows” it’s object. I started pondering this, along with the sutras which mention eye-consciousness, ear-consciousness, thought-consciousness and so forth.
It occurred to me that when we bring our awareness to a particular phenomena, what we are doing is bringing the awareness to a particular consciousness that is already there – it’s already tracking that object by it’s very nature (that’s what consciousness does). This is a very subtle shift. Instead of bringing awareness to the breath as a thing, I experimented with bringing attention to the consciousness of breathing that was already there.
Is there really any difference between these two instructions?? Is attention or awareness different than consciousness? I think that there is a difference. Attention seems to have a property that is related to choice – we direct our attention to something – while consciousness suggests a facet of the mind that is simply and directly knowing that which it knows. This may take more philosophical exploration to work out, but it’s not really the point here. The point is that this was an experiment – and it yielded some results.
Bringing attention to the consciousness of breathing may seem on one hand like adding an unnecessary concept into the chain of meditation. Maybe so. But it also brought a very real sense of both “effortlessness” and “non-interference” to the meditation. By making consciousness the direct element to which I brought attention, there was a feeling that that consciousness was not something that could even be interfered with. And attention and consciousness merge so completely and fluidly, that there was no sense of effort or feeling of a “this” and “that”.. where one might get the sense that “one” is watching the “breath” and they are separate. Awareness of Consciousness of Breath broke the subject object duality by subtly changing the exercise.
I may be nuts, but this shift seems useful to my practice right now. Comments welcome – especially if someone is familiar with these concepts from established practices.
The modern day buddhist may feel that we’ve got access to an unlimited amount of dharma material – yet the structure and timing of our practice is left to us, it’s undefined. We can feel as if we’re homeschooling ourselves in a complex topic. Creating a structure and selecting the reading materials, dharma talks, teachers and retreats is entirely up to the individual.
Creating a sitting schedule for yourself is essential – at least I’ve found it to be so. Morning sits that fit into my routine at the same time every day become much more regular events than any sitting I might do outside of my routine. If the time slot is designated for sitting, then when the time comes the choice to sit is the default choice. Once some momentum is achieved, the choice to sit becomes a desire to sit, and the motivation takes care of itself.
Listening to dharma talks and reading continue to develop my intellectual understanding of the path, while sitting grounds that understanding in my experience. I highly recommend a blend of both for others who are on the path.
We have access to so much information today. Dharma talks can be downloaded freely (http://www.zencast.org) or (http://dharmaseed.org). Video webcasts of dharma talks are as well (see http://www.spiritrock.org/page.aspx?pid=575 for an excellent opportunity to hear Jack Kornfield speak live each week). These are links to materials from qualified teachers – but try them for yourself to see if they ring true to you.
Sitting groups are also very very good for creating regularity in the practice. I sit with a group on Tuesday nights (http://www.missiondharma.org). Sitting with others brings a sense of community, of course (Sangha being one of the 3 buddhist pillars!) but it’s the structure of the weekly sits that I find most beneficial. The solid 45 minute sit and the dharma talk is a classic format – great for letting yourself soak in a little stillness and wisdom. There is also the motivation that comes from a shared sense of commitment to the sit. You start to feel like others benefit from your showing up, since you certainly benefit from others showing up. You feed off of each other’s energy and practice.
Retreats are the gems of modern American buddhist practice. I feel this way because I’ve gotten so much out of retreats. Maybe it was the first Goenka retreat where one is advised to do a retreat at least once a year, which planted a very fruitful seed in my mind and practice, but I’ve averaged one every year and a half or so. The depth of practice – the immersion in the dharma – that can occur during a retreat lets you get a taste of it’s powerful effects. It brings the reading and dharma talks to life – your life. It lets you experiment with different techniques. It lets you be a monk for a few days, a week, ten days, or longer.. what a blessing.
If you feel like you’re homeschooling the buddha within and want some help setting up the curriculum- leave a comment, ask a question, or share what’s worked for you..