To take and give

Free lesson, but not to taken for granted.

Each week, I go to the green outdoor and get free standing meditationlessons from an integer and highly skilled Tai Chi teacher. Even though financially, this teacher is not living the high life, he refuses to take a teaching fee. Instead he gives all his knowledge for free, as well as his time to correct each student during the training.

This is as far as I know, an uncommon practise in the West.

His reason is to pass on the correct knowledge and skills, to honour the art as well as to friendship, and doesn’t see the combination with profitmaking fit. This is true freedom, as there are no responsibilities towards any customers due to receiving payment.

In comparison, many “spiritual” teachers ask large sums of money, whilst promising lifechanging excercises. However, many of these exercises are very basic, taken from excisting disciplines such as Yoga, Tai Chi or Qigong and other meditation practises.

Terminologies such as “natural movement”, “relaxation”, “mindfullness” and “energy”, have become increasingly popular as a sellingpoint. Unfortunatly, these are often empty words when promises are made by teachers who value income more than the quality of their skills.

To come back to this teacher who teaches for free; as much as there is the possibility of the teacher taking financial advantage of his students, the roll can be reverse; by receiving training for free,  the students easily falls into a comfort zone, like a teenager who doesn’t have to pay his parents, doesn’t have to cook and do the laundry.

“by receiving training for free,  the students easily falls into a comfort zone, like a teenager who doesn’t have to pay rent to his parents, doesn’t have to cook and do the laundry.”

The name of the danger is “unawareness”, which leads to possibility the student  taking the teacher’s lesson and care for granted.

… a free drink, or some fruit, an occasional present and above all, geniune respect and care. If there is truly no money, a simple thank you. It doesn’t have to be expensive, when it comes from the heart.

If we look about the ying yang symbol; then taking and giving co-exist in order to be one. In the same sense that any discipline for cultivating body-awareness is hollow if one doesn’t also cultivate the mind, the heart and one’s intention.

Be your own Buddha

So far my limited understanding on the concept of Zen in it’s purest form; One is not suppost to follow Buddha, but instead walks with Buddha as a friend.

This is an important objective, which runs like a thread through the growing process; By recognizing that you are your own Buddha and not a “follower”, you take ownership of yourself, your actions and thus your growth as an individual.

This doesn’t mean you don’t need a teacher, as a good teacher can guide you through the process of growth without yourself getting lost or walking the wrong way.

Now I can hear you say: “There is no wrong way!” (which, is a spiritual wisdom, and can be a way of seeing outside the limitation of duality. However, it is often used by some as an excuse to defend a descision made from the ego).

Let me give you an example of a wrong way and why it is important to recognise this, in order to understand the absence of right and wrong:

  • You have followed a Tai Chi teacher for more than 10 years, who has not got the right skills and knowledge to pass it on. Having paid a lot of money over the years; you have learned movements which leads to little or zero health cultivation at best, and injuries at worst. Then one day you start to give lessons too, because you feel you have the right to do so after all your hard work. Of course you ask a fair amount of fee, because your are told that you are worth it. Now you have put yourself in a powerful position as a teacher, and have influences over people who are searching. When a student asks a question which you have no knowledge of, you work your way around instead of admitting that you just don’t know. And when confronted with a student’s doubt (who might have experienced quality teaching somewhere else), you play the spiritual card by saying: “there is no wrong way”.

Can you say that this is not a wrong way if you are either the student or the teacher?

If we are going to make something good about this experience, then first we need to recognise it. Then we can learn that the wrong way is not necessarily a bad thing.

If the student can “see” it, he or she can decide to unfollow the teacher. And if the teacher is willing to “see” his own limitation, there is the choice for him to also change the path.

The key lies in the observation of oneself;

By observing the self, causes and effect are becoming more clear. Decisions based on impulses or emotions feel less sticky. From this point, wrong ways can be lead to right ways. To see the co-existence between wrong way and good way, leads ultimately to a “way”. Not good, not bad. But only if one observes the co-existance of the opposites.

First recognise the differences, then the unification.

By being your own Buddha and own your mistakes, you can learn and move on. This is a very powerful realisation of “there is no wrong way”. It is no longer used as an excuse to please the ego and do whatever it likes.

All senses are equal

If you drop the muscle tension of the neck and shoulders, those area will loosen up, you get more space around your upper back and this leads to further relaxation of your head and face.

This newly gained “physical  space” draws your focus away from unwanted thoughts and emotions, which in turn enhances your awareness of the other senses through your body;

Now start to listen, smell, look (but without projecting thoughts on what you see) and sense the surrounding.

Remember: all senses are equal (and yet, you have the choice to focus on one at the time).

This is something you can do anywhere, as long as you do not discriminate the difference between the sound and smell of (for example) walking in nature after it has rained or sitting in a city transportation going underground.

Pain as a phenomenon (Coffee after Zazen)

We have open talks after Zazen practise, even though this is not a common practise in Zazen groups. And on Saturdays, we would also have tea or coffee after practise, and these are moments where each of us can ask questions, or share their meditation experience.

A few weeks ago, during the coffee (or tea) talk, the Zen teacher said:

“Pain is a phenomenon, and when one can see it as such, there is no suffering (…there is even the possibility of joy, during the experience of pain)”.

Hold on to this reflection…

In the wikipedia, the explanation of the word “phenomenon” describes:

A phenomenon (Greek: φαινόμενον, phainómenon, from the verb phainein, to show, shine, appear, to be manifest or manifest itself, plural phenomena) is any thing which manifests itself. Phenomena are often, but not always, understood as “things that appear” or “experiences” for a sentient being, or in principle may be so.

The term came into its modern philosophical usage through Immanuel Kant, who contrasted it with the noumenon. In contrast to a phenomenon, a noumenon cannot be directly observed.

The Sound Of One Hand

“What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

Possibly one of the most famous Koan, a Zen riddle given by Zen masters to students to pounder on. Ask this question and see what answer one will give. Observe the use of rationality, eagerness and logic to find the answer of the riddle. One might know from the beginning that the answer does not lie in the use of logic. Actually, if one uses logic, one will always fail to sense the answer (“to understand the answer” is a misguidance of the mind”). If one thinks there is an answer, one fails again.

The key lies in the observation of how hard the mind starts to work to find that answer, and how the ego is eager to prove one’s intelligent and wisdom through deciphering the koan. It is a mind trap!

As far as my beginners mind interpretes the process: if the mind finally gets exhausted (but it doesn’t have to go that far…) , just sit down and be quiet. Be one with silence until you can give up the answer… (this might take years, or less depending on the individual progress) and when you reach the sense of nothingness, detached of all expectations; the sense of the soundless sound of one hand clapping should be felt as if it has always been there. It is like the Zen metaphor of explaining to a fish what the sea is.

I can be totally wrong on this one; As with all koans in Zen , it is about having lived through the process and living it outside the formal meditation space. Whereas I am just thinking out loud.


The monkey steps back

A Zen story

According to the Denkoroku, when Huike and Bodhidharma were climbing up Few Houses Peak, Bodhidharma asked, “Where are we going?”
Huike replied, “Please go right ahead—that’s it.”
Bodhidharma retorted, “If you go right ahead, you cannot move a step.”
Upon hearing these words, Huike was enlightened.


Dialogue from the movie The Grandmaster (2013) by Wong Kar Wai

Ma San: “Gong Yutian spoke to me about his last move: Old Monkey Hangs Up His Badge. He said the secret of that move was to turn back. I didn’t understand his meaning at the time, I thought he was unable to keep up with changing times…”

Some thoughts…

These 2 texts have strike a cord in my being the moment I came across them. The first one through reading a Zen story and the latter whilst watching the movie in the theatre, even though I didn’t understand (and perhaps never will) the deeper meaning of the texts.

But here we go; this is how I interpret it:

  1. If a child’s mind is regarded as a Buddha’s mind, and we try to retrieve it back (which, the idea itself is illusionary, as we have never lost it in the first place… rather forgotten somewhere down the line) as adults, through the practise of the beginner’s mind, (where the mind is in the state without the need to name everyday’s animated or inanimated object). Then the texts revers to taking a step back before one gets more lost.
  2. Even, without diving into a deeper spiritual meaning; It could be about not going too fast in life, and be led by impulse or fear of not belonging, the need to catch up with time and the expectation society puts on us. The neverending chase of the illusionary newer and better (and thus getting lost of one’s trueself). Think about the selfie-culture and the addiction with social media…
  3. Or is it just… redemption, the idea to be able to start anew, free of guilt and regret that makes these 2 texts so compelling?