Anchoring Concepts


“…you should train yourself like this: Whenever you see a form, simply see; whenever you hear a sound, simply hear; whenever you smell an aroma, simply smell; whenever you taste a flavor, simply taste; whenever you feel a sensation, simply feel; whenever a thought arises, let it just be a thought. Then “you” will not exist; whenever “you” do not exist, you will not be found in this world, another world or in between. That is the end of suffering.”

I like this piece of scripture from the Pali Canon because it just lays out that genuine basic practice does not require much beyond what effort you can give it.  It does not need benchmarks, goals or empowerments.  There is no requirement to be spiritual or non-spiritual.  There is no need to be monotheistic, polytheistic, deist, agnostic, atheist or meh-theist.  Robes, implements and idols are just cloth, metal and stone.  The heart of practice isn’t the manipulation or creation of those tools; is the realization of the intense and fleeting moment between your perception and your reaction.  The moment after you register the sight of a tree and right before your flood of conceptualizations about it. 

Maple or dogwood.

Living or dead.

Needles or leaves.

Pinecone or pod. 

Birds in the branches or squirrels.  

Those branches are too large, too small, overhanging my porch, a potential liability.

All you registered from your senses is a tree – a simple form with a boat-load of  baggage that you throw onto it.

Rather than entering into that rushing torrent of thought we just allow a tree to be tree, without any embellishments or contrivances.  We see, hear, taste touch and smell without attaching our *meaning* to it.  Does this mean that I should not think, conceptualize or criticise?  Without attaching a preference to the taste or a desire with the sight, I just sense a form and leave it as that – I experience something in its simplest sense.  Our practice can be a simple engagement with the moment but our life is not that simple – we need to stay in the clouds but keep our feet firnly rooted.  This is not a scientific or inquiry-based engagement; this is just a direct experience and conceptualizations arise eventually.  What is needed is to avoiding the trap of believing that my concept is the true or simplest form – it is not.  This is a hallmark of Zen…your spiritual life is not removed from your daily life.  There is just a clarity that you can bring to both.  Concepts will arise, develop and evolve but we allow them to not get anchored or anchor us down.

From Affirming Faith in Mind by Chien-chih Seng-ts’an

The Great Way is not difficult
for those who do not pick and choose.
     When preferences are cast aside,
     the Way stands clear and un-disguised.

But even slight distinctions made
set earth and heaven far apart.
     If you would clearly see the truth,
     discard opinions pro and con.

To founder in dislike and like is nothing but
the mind’s disease.
     And not to see the Way’s deep truth
     disturbs the mind’s essential peace.

The Way is perfect like vast space,
where there’s no lack and no excess.
     Our choice to choose and to reject
     prevents our seeing this simple truth.

From the Bahiya Sutta

Where water, earth, fire & wind have no footing:
There the stars do not shine,
     the sun is not visible,
     the moon does not appear
     darkness is not found.
And when a sage through wisdom and insight
     has known this for her/himself,
then from form and formless,
     from bliss and pain,
        he is freed.


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