Dharma Talk Summary
Stopping is an important aspect of practice. It allows us to step out of the prison of our suffering and see clearly. Without stopping, we run headlong from one iteration of suffering to the next, like a hamster on a wheel. Stopping is freeing.
To stop means to let go of the struggle. We don’t stop only after we’ve climbed our imagined spiritual mountain and grasped an exalted state. We stop where we are. We stop right in the middle of this moment, no matter if our task is unfinished, our battle unwon, our body uncomfortable. Our job isn’t to stop the circumstances of life; it’s to stop our delusion.
We’ve grown so habituated to our suffering that we think it’s ‘me.’ We grasp for something to cure our boredom, push away the uncomfortable, or most commonly, ignore what’s happening. In our habituation, we believe that the grasping, pushing away, and ignoring is all that we are. That is why in Zen we chant, ‘Greed, hatred, and ignorance rise endlessly. I vow to abandon them.’ We vow to stop our impoverished delusion and awaken to our True Nature.
Okumura Roshi wrote, 'Ordinary people are those who live being pulled by their karma;
bodhisattvas are those who live led by their vows.’
Suffering is only part of our experience. If we look closely, we see that anger is being watched by something not angry; fear is being observed by something not fearful. Stopping interrupts our delusion and lets us see our suffering for what it is: An impersonal experience arising from past causes and conditions. In other words, karma.
That ‘something’ that is watching our suffering is insight. Insight is already in us. We don’t have to bring it back from the mountaintop. Stopping stills the mental habits that keep us from seeing the insight we already have. Insight is our very nature. 8th Century Zen Master Deshan put it this way: What is known as 'realizing the mystery' is nothing but breaking through to grab the life of an ordinary person.' Stopping breaks through your delusion, grabs your ordinary life and sets you free. Stopping is freeing.
Karma has prevented us from stopping, but since karma is just cause and effect, we can create new karma to help us stop. And where better to begin stopping than in our preparation for meditation?
Look at your life in the hours prior to sitting. Find ways to stop within your normal routine. Stop before you start the car; when you see a red light; as you climb the Zendo stairs; when you take off your shoes. Water your stopping seed. Be willing to accept exactly what you see. Don’t grab for pleasure or turn from pain. The point isn’t to have a moment of Zen-like calm. It’s to be with your experience just as it is in this moment. That’s enough. That’s victory. Stopping is freeing.
When you take your meditation seat, rock gently left and right, front and back, until you find your body’s natural balance. Nod your head slightly until it finds its proper place. Move your chest up and down until it's neither slouching nor taut. Stop your body and let it rest there.
Now stop your sense of separation by taking refuge. Take refuge in the Buddha (your awakened nature); in the Dharma (the path to liberation); and the Sangha (the community of awareness.) Stop and notice each of these things. Don’t allow your mental momentum to convince you that this is trivial.
As you settle further, establish an ethical intention by calling to mind the 5 precepts: I vow not to kill; I vow not to steal; I vow not to misuse sexuality; I vow not to lie. I vow not to damage myself with unwise consumption.
Rest here. Watch. See for yourself that stopping is freeing.