The Two Truths of Meditation

An excerpt from Zen Master Hakuin’s Praise of Zazen reads:

“Thus one true samadhi extinguishes evils;
it purifies karma, dissolving obstructions.
Then where are the dark paths that lead us astray?
The pure lotus land is not far away.”

If you join a Zen temple or center you may even hear a spiritual lecture called a teisho given on the meaning of the above-mentioned verse.  And although I do not claim to be a Roshi, I understand there to be striking similarities between Ashtanga and Zen.  In fact, if the form of yoga which I teach had a mission statement it would sound a whole lot like Zen Master Hakuin’s observation.  As I’ve said in my opening post about 7 months ago, it’s really important to cultivate awareness throughout our entire life, as much as we can manage.  So much so, that if I only blogged about the seventh limb, dhyana, it would still be well worth it for me, hopefully for you too.

A classic ink brush portrait by Hakuin depicting his idol Bodhidharma rising from the mountains of China. Hakuin lived in the 17th century while Bodhidharma is thought to have lived in the 6th century.

I consider meditation to be a skill of particular importance because it takes us beyond the limitations of ordinary introspection.  Yet, when Hakuin wrote about zazen, the meditative style he was embracing looked different from other varieties which came before or after.  To the best of my understanding, zazen requires both single pointed, laser focus, but also ample relaxation to sustain the super-aware state of samadhi.  Indeed, it’s a direct path, so direct that without preparation one may experience it only to forget how to return to the “Pure lotus land.” I essentially believe that practitioners of yoga should explore multiple meditative modalities and then practice the one which serves the whole individual best.

I believe that classical yoga was invented in order to equip ordinary people with all the provisions they need to experience samadhi firsthand, again and again.  Our own yoga practice can be similar to zazen, that is, a true moving meditation.  Oftentimes, I find that deep relaxation, without thought or worry, to be a much more approachable method.  More to the point, I have even felt a heighten sense of awareness while relaxing in shavasana, similar to what I feel when I meditate in a highly concentrated fashion, on a cushion.  Whether your own meditative style incorporates a greater proportion of focus or equanimity, both roads lead to samadhi.



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