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Commentary on The Method of Sitting Meditation
: : The method of sitting meditation is extremely simple and easy…
6) The spirit should be ever alert in its calmness and ever calm in its alertness. If it leans to torpor, refresh the spirit; if it lapses into idle thought, restore it with right mindfulness. Rest in the realm of your original face, which is effortless and spontaneous.
[ Be ever alert in its calmness and ever calm in its alertness ]
“Ever alert in calmness and ever calm in alertness” has been the true standard for the practitioners of meditation since ancient times. The phrase “ever calm” refers to tranquility and the phrase “ever alert” refers to clearness of mind. When tranquility is attained by calming all the mind-disturbing wandering thoughts, achieving one-pointedness and clearness of mind, it is being “ever alert in calmness.” When clearness of thought is attained by one-pointedness, through which all the mind-disturbing wandering thoughts are calmed and the state of tranquility achieved, it is being “ever calm in alertness.” This is the realm of sitting meditation, in which you are ever calm in alertness and ever alert in calmness. Ultimately, there is no distinction between “being ever calm in alertness” and “being ever alert in calmness,” but only the state of being steadfastly settled in the genuine realm of samadhi. In this orientation, sitting meditation is not trapped in mere alertness and does not fall into torpid calmness, but enters into the true samadhi state of our original nature.
This state of alertness and calmness may frequently be misconceived. As stated in the Ven. Sotaesan's
teachings from early on, resting in calmness without right mindfulness is erroneous, as is being distractedly alert. He cautioned us against following the incorrect way of meditation.
It is generally the characteristic of the human spirit, when it is tranquil or calm, to easily lapse into drowsiness or to fall asleep. When we are alert, on the other hand, many mind-disturbing wandering thoughts tend to surface all at the same time, causing the mind to be distracted. In order to avoid falling into these two wrong tracks, special efforts and accumulation of practice are required.
To prevent the spirit from falling into those pitfalls and to break away from them when trapped, the Ven. Sotaesan instructed, “If it leans to torpor, refresh the spirit; if it lapses into idle thought, restore it with right mindfulness”. He thus cautioned us against the leaning of tranquility to drowsiness and the collapse of clearness of thought/mind into distraction.
[ Refresh the spirit ]
Not only in sitting meditation, but also in everything else, there's a high likelihood of its ending up in failure when your spirit leans to torpor or lapses into stupefaction. It is like tending to household affairs under a stupefied mental state influenced by anesthetic; the effort will naturally be led to failure. Therefore, it is vital to awaken from this dim state immediately. This is what “refreshing the spirit” means.
Falling into drowsiness and stupefaction, and not being aware of the fact or correcting the situation, you will be dragged even deeper into the pitfall. The deeper the fall, the harder it is to climb up. Therefore, the best way is to not to let yourself be lulled into drowsiness in the first place. If you fall, the next best and indispensable thing to do is to refresh your spirit and promptly climb back up. After a while, alertness will settle in its rightful place.
[ Restore it with right mindfulness ]
It is said that the saddest thing for an ascetic is the scattering of the spiritual energy. Even in daily life, wandering thoughts and idle thoughts serve no good purpose, but are only harmful. The more the spirit is disturbed by needless mental functions, the more energy it consumes, which causes the fire to ascend and the water to dry up. The power of right mindfulness the power to abandon irrelevant thoughts and focus on the right way of practice, will be undermined and wisdom will be buried under. There's no positive aspect of which to speak. It is written in the Principal Book that even justifiable thoughts must be used sparingly.
If this is true for daily life, it holds truer still for sitting meditation. Idle thoughts and right thoughts are both undesirable. No matter how justifiable a thought is, it is merely an idle thought if it surfaces while in sitting meditation. The only right mental activity while in sitting meditation is being aware only of the meditation. Everything else is just an idle, irrelevant, and disturbing function of the mind. Hence, “to restore it with right mindfulness” is to revive one-pointedness in your mind.
There is one peculiar thing that every dedicated practitioner at sitting meditation has come across at one time or another. When in meditation, past events from one's childhood tend to be recalled more clearly?things that have been forgotten amid one's daily routine seem to find their way back. Although the purpose of sitting meditation lies in resting in the Danjeon, not in reviving those forgotten events, they revisit as uninvited guests. Many practitioners are troubled by this phenomenon, but it is not something to be concerned about. It is merely a proof that your spirit is clearing. There is no need for apprehension; it's just a phenomenon that appears in the process of mind clearing. Instead of being troubled by its presence, you should pay closer attention to letting go of those recollections. These thoughts should never be held for long. They should be let go as soon as they appear and relinquished at the first sight of reappearance. As you repeat this process of letting go, your spirit will become familiarized with resting in the Danjeon and its power will grow stronger.
If you persistently cling to thoughts and allow yourself to be afflicted by their presence, your meditation will be hindered not only by all kinds of irrelevant and idle thoughts but also by worrying about having these thoughts. This is time wasted. Therefore, it is imperative that you resolutely restore your spirit to right mindfulness and rest in the Danjeon. Under no circumstances should you fail to do so.
[ Rest in the realm of your original face, which is effortless and spontaneous ]
“The realm of your original face, which is effortless and spontaneous
” is the ultimate goal in sitting meditation. Hence, it is the most difficult realm to understand and, at the same time, the most enjoyed by the practitioners. “Effortless” means no doing, and no thoughts. Upon entering the effortless realm, there is a cessation of all our mental concoctions and fabrications, our plotting, our habit of weighing the pros and cons in everything. Even discernment and knowledge cease to exist. The state of original nature is void of all things and everything, so that there's nothing else to be discarded; naturally pure and undefiled, so that there's nowhere to go to and nowhere to come from; disengaged from anything and everything. This is none other than “the realm of your original face, which is effortless and spontaneous.”
All too often, the effortless state is misconceived as a state without purpose or reason where one does nothing. This is where the need comes in to differentiate the “true void” from the “false void.” The “true void” refers to the realm in which pure and clear life force is at its peak, attainable through repeated filtering out of impurities. The “false void” refers to a state void of pure and clear life force, resulting from the repeated accumulation of impurities that have not been filtered out. It is crucial to overcome the false void of resting in calmness without right mindfulness. If a practitioner falls into this false void, irrevocable misfortune will result. This is where the so-called “dark hell” starts to sprout.
After a long period of disciplined, single-minded focus, all the mind-disturbing wandering thoughts and idle thoughts will vanish of themselves. Your spirit will be securely in the realm where there's not the smallest margin for an idle or delusive thought to creep in. When you reach this stage, the mind will approach a climax by entering into the genuine realm of sitting meditation, the realm of your original face, which is effortless and spontaneous. There exists only the experience of full contentment to rest in peace in that realm, and nothing else.
The six passages cited above give a comprehensive approach to sitting meditation. Discussion of a seventh, eighth, and ninth passage follow, dealing with points to beware of in the course of sitting meditation.