Sunday, November 21, 2010

Stopping Silence Bell

temple bell3


If you practice mediation with a group, more than likely someone there strikes a bell to signal the start and end of each mediation period. I don’t know if there’s any other way people do it, although one time we used an empty wine glass and a fork to signal the start and end because we didn’t have a bell. 

In the Soto Zen style, we hit a bell three times to start zazen and once to end it. If we’re doing a couple of periods of zazen in a row, we do a period of slow walking meditation called “kinhin” in between the two zazen periods. Kinhin is done to give everyone a chance to stretch their legs and shake off any sleepiness between zazen periods. If we’re doing a session like that with zazen, kinhin, and then more zazen, we ring the bell like this:
three rings to start zazen
two rings to end zazen and start kinhin
one ring to end kinhin
three rings to start zazen again
one ring to end zazen
 
Believe it or not, the Soto temples in Japan have a term for each set of rings. The three rings to start zazen is called “shijosho” (止静鐘), the two rings to end zazen and begin kinhin is called “kinhinsho” (経行鐘), the ring to end kinhin is called “chukaisho” (抽解鐘), and the ring to end zazen is called “houzensho” (放禅鐘).  I don’t know if there’s an “official” English translation for those terms, but here’s the way I translate them:

In the first one, shijosho (止静鐘), the three rings at the start, the first character “shi” (止), means “stop” or “cease”, the second character “jo” (静) means “silence” or “calm”, and the third character “sho” (鐘) means “bell” or “chime”. So it means something like the “stopping silence bell”, or the “stop silence bell”, or maybe even the “cease, silence bell”. When I first saw this one I thought it must be the name for the one ring to end zazen, but actually it’s the one to start. (Maybe it’s a koan?)

The translation for the second one, kinhinsho (経行鐘), the two rings to start kinhin, is easy. The first two characters “kin-hin” (経行) mean, you guessed it, kinhin, and the third character “sho” (鐘) means “bell” or “chime”, same as in shijosho. So it means the “kinhin bell” or the “slow walking bell”.

In the third one, chukaisho (抽解鐘),  the single ring to end kinhin, the first character “chu” (抽) means “withdraw” or “pull out”, the second character “kai” (解) means “separate” or “solve”, and the third character is “sho” (鐘) which again means “bell” or “chime”. So you can translate “chukaisho” as the “(let’s all) withdraw and separate bell” or even the “withdraw and solve bell”. 

Houzensho (放禅鐘),  the single ring to end zazen, translates like this: the first character “hou” (放) means “release”, “liberate” or “set free”, the second character “zen” (禅) means “meditation” (bet you knew that), and the third character “sho” (鐘) means “bell” or “chime” like before. So you can translate “houzensho” as the “release from meditation bell” or maybe something a bit more poetic like the “liberating mediation bell” (which might make a good name for the bell to start zazen, but let’s not get into that).

I’m not sure how useful this information will ever be, but at least if someone asks you sometime when the stopping silence bell or the liberation meditation bell is, you’ll know what they’re talking about. Just remember which is first.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Gudo Nishijima Roshi on Buddhism and Reality



Nishijima Roshi Nov 13 2010 2



I met my Buddhist teacher, Gudo Nishijima, at his apartment in Tokyo yesterday. He’s 90 years old, but is still active for his age. He gives a Buddhist talk in Japanese every month in Tokyo, and travels to Osaka a few times a year to give a talk there. He’s also working on a new book in Japanese and he gets a lot of email from people interested in Buddhism. He told me he’s happy to be busy like that.

Physically, of course, he’s not as mobile as he used to be. This year the Tokyo summer was the hottest for over 100 years. The temperature got up around 35 Celsius everyday for about 6 weeks. Nishijima told me he tried to get out for a walk or to do his shopping each day during the summer. Unfortunately, he fell over one day on his way home with the shopping. When that happened he realized he’d have to be more careful. He said he realized he “was being too brave.” Nowadays he takes more care when he’s out and about. When I met him recently he told me he’s “training to be an old man”. He still feels young inside, but his body won’t always let him do the things he’d like to. 

He was in good spirits yesterday, and always is as far as I can see. It’s a real pleasure to meet him. He’s always willing to discuss Buddhism, and I learn something every time we meet. It's great to meet someone who's cheerful and upbeat all the time. That's another thing I learn when I meet him. I get to see how someone is after studying Buddhism for more than 70 years!

I recorded some of our chat yesterday. It was a discussion about what Buddhism sees as the difference between matter and reality, or what Buddhism calls the "dharma". We also talked a bit about the reason to do zazen and about what Buddhists refer to as the "balanced state". Nishijima’s idea is that when we do zazen our body and mind become more balanced, and that balanced state is the natural state of humans. So when we do zazen we notice what it means to be human. Our talk went something like that anyway. Here's the mp3 file. It lasts about 12 minutes (11 mb). 


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Early Morning Meditation

Peter's pony

An Indian friend of mine is interested in Zen Buddhism. He knows about meditation and other practices in India and tells me some ideas the Indians have about meditation. The other day we were talking about good times during the day to do zazen (zen meditation). He told me the Indians consider early morning to be the most auspicious time to do meditation. I don’t know if “most auspicious” means “best” in this case, but I think it probably does, or at least it means “very good”. Of course it’s nice to do meditation any time during the day, but the yogis in India seem to have noticed that there’s something particularly good about meditation in the early morning. My friend said they’ve even narrowed the most auspicious time down to between 4 am and 6 am.

That actually made sense to me. I’ve worked some jobs in the past where I used to have to get up around those times to go to work. Even though it was hard to get up that early (and it still is), I noticed there was something about going to work at that time that felt alright in some way. So recently I’ve been getting up earlier than usual to give early morning meditation a try and see if it feels any different. My impression so far is that it's a bit different alright. The zazen itself doesn’t feel too different when I'm doing it, although there’s a lot less noise about. I do notice, though, that I feel more active afterwards than I usually do, and the rest of the morning has a slightly different feel to it too. That’s so far anyway.

One thing I’m not sure about though is whether the “auspicious” time is between 4 am and 6 am for everyone all over the world, or whether it depends on where you live. My guess is that in most countries around daybreak might be an “auspicious” time  for meditation. But I might be wrong about that so I’m going to stick with the “between 4 am and 6 am” meditation for a while and see how it goes.

By the way, when I was back in Ireland during the summer we did a 3-day meditation retreat at a small center that’s right on the coast. We did some early morning meditation there. After the meditation we had time to walk down to the shoreline and look across the bay to the Clare hills. It was all calm and quiet. I grew up in that area, but never really noticed how nice it can be in the early morning there, in summer anyways.

So if you’re one of those people who doesn’t mind getting up a little early in the morning, then try a bit of early morning meditation some time. See if you notice a difference. 

 
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