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Commentary on The Method of Sitting Meditation
: : The method of sitting meditation is extremely simple and easy¡¦
7) Novices at sitting meditation may suffer from aching legs or invasion by idle thoughts. If your legs ache, you may occasionally switch their positions. If you are troubled by delusive thoughts, merely recognize them as delusive thoughts and they will vanish of themselves. You absolutely must not become vexed or discouraged by their presence.
[ Aching legs and invasion by idle thoughts ]
Aching legs prove that your body is alive and the invasion by idle thoughts proves that your spirit is alive. Legs that are used to being stretched out will obviously ache when left bent for a long time. Likewise, when you have coexisted with all kinds of idle thoughts in your routine daily life and have not recognized them as idle thoughts nor been burdened by their presence, it will be difficult for you to simply remove them from your mind just when you want to. Hence, it is only natural, not strange, that your legs ache and idle thoughts bother your mind. What is important in sitting meditation is how to manage this natural phenomenon. You need to approach this problem rationally and wisely.
If, without considering the principles of sitting meditation, you are captivated by some biased view of meditation and persistently cling to this partiality, meditation for you will only be laborious and fruitless. You will only be drifting further away from entering its genuine realm. Hence, for this point, the Principal Book prescribes the correct direction for you to follow.
[ If your legs ache, you may occasionally switch their positions ]
For anyone whose body is not familiarized with sitting meditation, legs are bound to ache during meditation. Those who have been routinely trained in seated posture will be able to endure for some time longer; others will feel the pain sooner and be able to endure less. The younger generation in Korea and elsewhere who are used to sitting in chairs will especially find the pain hard to endure. However, while such ¡°aching of legs¡± may vary in degrees depending on a person¡¯s condition, it is universally experienced. It is never the case that everyone else is just fine and you are the only one that feels the pain. It is important to note that everybody feels the same.
This is where the matter of choice comes in. It is only a common choice, but it could control your success in sitting meditation. You have a choice of one of three possibilities. You may choose to give yourself up to despair, feeling that you are not cut out for sitting meditation; you may decide to endure the pain of your aching legs; or you may switch the positions of your legs whenever the pain is felt.
Simply deciding that you are not cut out for sitting meditation just because you feel pain in your legs every time you practice meditation is too hasty a judgment, lacking in perseverance. One with such a tendency is the type of person who needs sitting meditation the most. We often neglect to pay attention to weakness in our character since it is not something which can be physically seen. But one cannot be helped if one refuses to confront a weakness in one¡¯s character. Whenever the desire to forsake sitting meditation is stirred, you must try a little harder to overcome it.
One who tries to endure the pain of aching legs maybe a person of considerable fortitude. It is true that through training you may be able to enhance endurance. However, it is important to know that sitting meditation is not a confrontation with suffering. Endurance is not the main goal of sitting meditation, though it may be gained as a by-product. Our purpose is to cultivate the spiritual strength, to ¡°focus with single-mindedness¡±, to concentrate the myriad thoughts scattered in every direction into one focal point. Therefore, you must be able to prudently counteract problems that interfere with achieving that goal.
Another person might switch the positions of the legs whenever the pain is felt in order to cope with the aching legs. When we suffer pain, whether physically or mentally, we are naturally bothered by it. The more bothered we are, the harder it is to focus with single-mindedness. Hence, if you desire to conduct meditation in the right way, you must pay close attention to maintaining good physical and mental health. You also must be able to appropriately control how much to eat, sleep, and work. Excess or deficiency in any one of the three will certainly work against sitting meditation. So spending all one¡¯s effort to endure the pain of aching legs cannot be called wisdom, but mere suppression and ignorance, like ¡°grass pressed under a rock.¡± On this point, Ven. Sotaesan instructed, ¡°If your legs ache, you may occasionally switch their positions.¡± By quickly switching the top and bottom positions of the left and right legs whenever the pain is felt, you will promptly counteract dispersion of the spirit and enter into the genuine realm of sitting meditation at once. After a period of frequently switching the top and bottom positions of the left and right legs whenever the pain is felt, constant daily practice of sitting meditation will eventually train your body to naturally persevere longer. After a while, you will be able to sit in one position for quite a long time before you feel the need for the leg switching.
If you ignore the laws of nature and think that enduring the pain is a virtue to be pursued at any cost, you will be afflicted with greater suffering, such as muscle spasms. If it comes to this, sitting meditation will become repugnant and you will lose interest in it and thus drift away from it. ¡°Endurance at any cost¡± can never be called wisdom.
[ In case you are bothered by delusive thoughts, merely recognize them as delusive thoughts, and they will vanish by themselves. You absolutely must not become vexed or discouraged by their presence. ]
The more fertile the soil, the more it is invaded by weeds. The higher up a being is, the more thoughts it has. Therefore, the invasion of delusive thoughts is proof that there is hope for you in the practice of sitting meditation. If you didn't have obstacles to overcome, how would you be able to enhance your ability?
The path to sitting meditation is a long journey, with these delusive thoughts as unwanted companions along the way. Mere words fail to describe the long and complicated vicissitudes involved. It is a battle of life and death between ¡°right mindfulness¡± and ¡°delusive thoughts¡± which never forgives a fleeting moment of carelessness. It is a continuous battle of seizing and being seized, fought against delusive thoughts that in an instant would creep in without fail and take over, if given half a chance.
Then, what is ¡°right mindfulness¡± and what are ¡°delusive thoughts¡±? Speaking in general terms, their respective meanings are very easily defined. Right mindfulness refers to correct thought and delusive thoughts to impaired thought. However, the definition of those two phrases in terms of sitting meditation goes far beyond that. Right mindfulness refers to focusing the spirit solely on the Danjeon, while delusive thought generally refers to anything and everything that works against it. Whether good or bad, necessary or unnecessary, any thoughts that interfere with focusing the spirit on the Danjeon with single-mindedness are all delusive thoughts. Sitting meditation is the face-off between the subject that strives to rest in the Danjeon and the object that tries to interfere with that attempt. It is the battle over whether the subject will seize the object or vice versa. Seizing or being seized will ultimately come to an end when all the objects surrender and disappear into oblivion.
Such a confrontation calls for a high level of wisdom. It is said, ¡°If you know your enemy as well as you know yourself, you will win a hundred times in a hundred battles.¡± It is essential to be well aware of the respective properties of right mindfulness and delusive thoughts.
It is particularly important to know the intrinsic nature of delusive thoughts. The delusive thoughts have the following attributes: they are victorious over those who are easily discouraged by their presence; they intensify irritation for those who are vexed by them; and they retreat from those who are not discouraged or vexed by their presence but merely recognize them as what they are. They can never come out victorious from a battle fought against those who refuse to be discouraged under any circumstance, however difficult the situation may be; though they will wage war, they'll never succeed in complete seizure. On the other hand, they can completely take over those who are easily discouraged by their presence; once seized, you have no sure way to preserve your free will.
For this reason, it is vitally important to never get discouraged by the presence of delusive thoughts under any circumstance, however difficult. The delusive thoughts intensify vexation for those who are irritated by their presence. You want to focus your spirit solely on the one thought, but your mind cannot settle in one place due to the incessant interference of wandering thoughts. It is easy to be in conflict with yourself over this, but you must never fall into such self-conflict, no matter how incessantly the thoughts come. If you do, you will be adding another thought to already existing ones. You must absolutely be aware of the fact that, once you give in to one delusive thought, it in turn will bring about a new thought, one right after another. It would be like falling into a pit of quicksand set up by delusive thoughts. This is why the Principal Book prescribes that ¡°You absolutely must not become vexed or discouraged by their presence.¡± The word ¡°absolutely¡± was not an expression the Ven. Sotaesan often used. However, he did say ¡°absolutely¡± for this point.
Therefore, ¡°do not become vexed or discouraged,¡± but just promptly recognize them as delusive thoughts whenever they surface and stare you in the face. These wandering thoughts, when observed, tend to immediately retreat by themselves. There is no need for you to even lift a finger to drive them away. Since it is the intrinsic nature of the wandering thoughts to vanish by themselves through simply being recognized, there's no need to force them out.
In sitting meditation, simply be faithful to fulfilling the task of resting in the Danjeon. This is the correct way to counteract the delusive thoughts and the wisest thing to do.
[ 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.