Many people come to meditation very troubled about how to do it successfully. Many of you here want to learn meditation in the Chinese Pure Land tradition for the first time.
Many people tell me that they do not know how to deal with their thoughts, or whether they should calm the body first, or whether they should hold their hands this way or that way. All of this is about technique. For Westerners and those influenced by the West, we are very drawn towards technique. We are technical people. There are also many well-meaning groups that aspire to this or that technique in meditation propounding that their technique is superior or leads faster to enlightenment. However, if we become hooked on the technique train then we are going to go down a slippery slope and become derailed in our practice.
Meditation is not about technique. Meditation is about life. In our Pure Land practice we base our meditation practice upon the Meditation Sutra concentrating on the visualization of Amida Buddha while inwardly with each breath reciting his name. My dear friends, this is not a technique. This is a relationship. I know some of you here this evening are in relationships. Some of you are married. You may remember the first time you looked into the eyes of your partner with a deep sense of love and joy. Did you concern yourself with technique? Did you wonder about if you were doing it right or not? My guess is that you didn’t. We are all in relationship. We have relationship with the entire Cosmos. Have you ever watched a breath taking sunset or sunrise? Did you stand there wondering if you did it right or not? Of course not! You just simply immersed yourself into the beauty of the moment. That is meditation in its own right, because to truly appreciate something means to meditate on it.
There is a wonderful story from Japanese Shin Buddhism about a devoted Pure Land saint, Shoma. Shoma walks into a temple and lays down in the altar area in front of the statue of Amida Buddha. Everyone is shocked and they demand to know why Shoma feels able to be so disrespectful. But Shoma replies that Amida is his loving parent and the temple is his home. As he has come home to see his parent he can put his feet up and relax. For a deeply awakened ordinary person like Shoma, there is an emotional warmth to his trusting, and there is no separation between himself and Amida. This story clearly illustrates the relational aspect of our meditational life. When we hold Amida in mind in meditation we just do what comes naturally. We gaze into the eyes of a long lost lover. We embrace him as our soul friend. We let go, comfortable and relaxed. We do not try to remember the number of times we have recited Amituofo. Have you tried to remember the number of times you have said “I love you”, to your wife or partner? You just love. It is natural. It is relaxed.
Also, there is no separation between Amida Buddha and ourselves. In this relationship we are one. Wherever we are during the day, the essence of a strong marriage or relationship remains. So it is even more with our relationship with Amida Buddha. It does not change even when we are not sitting in meditation because meditation is the whole of life. Meditation is our walk. Meditation is our activity.
Many of us have forgotten how to relate to each other. I wonder sometimes if this is due to modern technology. We spend an inordinate amount of time texting on WeChat, Whatsapp, and more without the face-to-face sharing. We are too busy. We are too self concerned. Recently in a gathering here in Shanghai, I sat next to a young man at a table in a restaurant watching him text. We smiled at each other and I remarked something about this technology and the brand of his cell phone. He smiled back and replied: “Yes, I am asking my girlfriend what she would like to order.”
“Oh, that is good,” I replied, “You will bring something back for her?”
“No!” he laughed. “That is my girlfriend,” he said, pointing to the young woman sitting opposite him!
I was astounded! What happened to human contact? It is no wonder we have problems relating.
However, relationship is also about just being in the moment with another without agenda, without words, without effort. I recall when I was working in a psychiatric hospital in Australia I would visit a particular patient, Peter, every Friday afternoon. It was not an easy task, as this man would rarely speak. I found it difficult to engage in conversation with him. I struggled. I thought about what techniques I could use to engage him. One afternoon I found him sitting on a park bench overlooking the expansive lush gardens. It was one of those ideal sunny, blue-sky afternoons. There I was in my role as psychotherapist trying to engage this man in some conversation. I realized I was getting nowhere so I sat silently next to him. I must have sat for more than forty-five minutes. Gradually a peace and calm overcame me as I gazed with him across the gardens. I could hear the sounds of birds. I could smell the fresh grass. My mind began to unwind like an elastic band. I began to realize that I was sharing Peter’s space in peace and enjoyment. Suddenly my contemplation was broken as Peter slowly turned to me and spoke: “Beautiful, isn’t it? Thank you for coming today to be with me, doctor.” I was immensely moved.
But can you hear that voice inside of you? Can you hear the still voice of Amida Buddha saying: “Beautiful, isn’t it? Thank you for being here with me.” Because if you can, if you can just a little bit capture that, then you will have had a beautiful meditation.
And if you can walk away from this meditation hall tonight and say to yourself: “World, you are beautiful. Thank you for being here with me”, then your meditation was worthwhile. Amituofo.