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What to Do When ‘Just Sitting’ Isn’t Enough?

There are other ways to end suffering.

Charlie Martin


October 13, 2013 - 4:57 pm
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Last week we talked about suffering and the end of suffering, and about looking for that space in between the times when you dwell on the roots of suffering — desire for pleasure, desire to avoid pain, the desire to make everything perfect. Ultimately, I think the best practice for this is shikentaza, “just sitting”, but that’s hard to do as a beginner.

In fact, sometimes that’s hard to do when you’ve been practicing for years. Sometimes you sit down and your mind is capering like a drunken organ-grinder’s monkey, shaking his tambourine and stealing people’s hats, and generally just making an obnoxious spectacle of itself. What then?

Something I’ve found helpful is mantra meditation. Now, this is practically heretical in Zen, the tradition I started in and largely follow today, but — here’s a Buddhist saying for you — it is what it is. Sometimes you need to interrupt the little sonuvabitch and get him settled down, and sometimes shikentaza doesn’t do it.

So here’s how you do meditation with a mantra.

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All Comments   (9)
All Comments   (9)
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Thanks for this column (wish I'd read it when it was first published). I've been hesitant to take the first step towards Zazen because all my previous experience with meditation has been mantra meditation and that is hard enough. Now maybe the psychological security of knowing I can fall back on a mantra without 'doing it wrong' will help get me over the initial hump. Also love the monkey metaphor--identify with it fully.
46 weeks ago
46 weeks ago Link To Comment
Be honest, this entire series is just so you could use that monkey/duhkha line, isn't it?
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
No, but if I'd have thought of it back then, it would have been.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
1. "Maranatha" means "Come, Lord" (referring to Jesus' presumed return), not "Lord of the heart".

2. From Eastern Orthodoxy comes the "Jesus Prayer," which is probably the one true mantra in the Christian tradition. Given in different forms of varying lengths, it reads:

"(Lord) Jesus (Christ), Son of God, have mercy upon me (the sinner).

The shortest form is "Lord have mercy" (which is also in the Kyrie you quote). I use "Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me."
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Unfortunately, some of these have found use elsewhere with distracting meanings. No doubt you've heard "Lord have mercy!" as a generic exclamation of exasperation. (It may help if you imagine a Southern accent.)

The Hebrew "Ribono shel olam" is sometimes used similarly.

If you're open to an alternative, try this: "oseh shalom bim'romav". It's the first line of a prayer/song every Hebrew-school student learns. Loose translation: "God creates peace in His heavens".
48 weeks ago
48 weeks ago Link To Comment
Some guys handle snakes, give that a shot.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I like snakes a lot, but that isn't ending suffering.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Something I’ve found helpful is mantra meditation."


Yep. 100%.

It is all dimestore.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm sure that's all very clever, but I'm afraid I don't understand it.
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
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