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What to Do When 'Just Sitting' Isn't Enough?


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.