Not stopping and not going

During the 2016 Concentration Retreat, two different translations of a sutra were given and both became, for a time, great aids to my practice. The sutra in question is the story of the flood from the Samyutta Nikaya. The Buddha is asked by a deva how he had “crossed the flood [of craving and ignorance]” and in the first translation, the Buddha replied that he had crossed by “not stopping and by not striving”. This became a little post-it note sized reminder during meditation – don’t stop being mindful, and don’t push too hard or look too far ahead to the results or effects of what you are doing – just keep doing it one breath at a time.

Later in the retreat, another teacher used a different translation, wherein the Buddha’s reply became, “… by not stopping and not going.” This version of the answer, again a tiny cheat-sheet sized meditation hint – really struck home and brought great results.

Let me back up a bit.

Last January, Howie Cohn had taught a retreat at Spirit Rock where he also used the term “going”, or more appropriately, “not going”, to refer to simply not following the mind on any of it’s trips. Not getting caught up in the papaƱca of the mind. The phrase took on great significance at the time and became a whole instruction to essentially stay with what is real — stay with what IS as opposed to going with our thoughts about reality. Learn the difference between that which is arising NOW and thoughts about things that are simply… thoughts.

I’d spent a lot of time on the cushion and the sidewalk practicing “not going” — staying with what IS — during the last six months and it’s been great. Now, with instructions to follow only the breathing on this concentration retreat, I’m told the Buddha says he crossed the flood by “not stopping and not going”! Don’t stop being mindful of breathing and don’t let anything take you away from the breath. Continue on — and guard the sense gates!

This created the perfect little pocket for me to stay with the breath. It didn’t specify how to be with the breath – it’s not a demanding instruction. Just stay with the breath. Don’t stop and don’t go. Now, that’s a formula for concentration!!

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