Practice Layer by Layer

Why do we sit?  Tony Doubleday from the London group has written an interesting article in which he examines Dogen’s commentary on the great stupas of India with the effect of sitting in our daily lives, and particularly on the cumulative effects of zen practice.  Here’s an extract:

The brick courses of the great stūpas were shallow relative to their final heights and, looking at the construction process as a whole, each layer of bricks on its own probably made little impression as it was laid. Nevertheless, each course was as significant for the whole structure as every other one, and no course could have been left out without diminishing the whole. Even though it was probably a very slow process to build a stūpa in early India, the task would have been accomplished little by little, baked brick by baked brick, each layer taking support from the one beneath and providing support for the one that would follow. 

To stand up, the structure of a stūpa had to be built according to a designed shape utilising the innate composite density of the brick courses resting in gravity on their foundations in the earth.

By analogy, our practice of zazen could be said to be no different from the building of a stūpa. The posture of meditation has a firm foundation on the cushion and an erect and balanced shape. It makes use of the innate somatic building blocks of which we are composed; and we work to build a resilient practice with them, little and little.

After a single session of meditation practice, it can sometimes feel as if it has made little or no difference to our life, particularly if we are sleepy or our minds are very busy. Nevertheless, if we persevere, there is a momentum to it that builds within us, as if from the ground upwards. In this way, even in the face of ‘wind and rain’ and ‘numerous frosts and flowers’ we begin gradually to discover the multifaceted positive feedback loop, which the Principles Conducive to Enlightenment lay out before us.

An important aspect, then, of the vitality of practice-realisation is continuity. If we are able to put our inherent vitality into continuous practice, it will feed back to us more vitality, even if our lives can sometimes be hard.

Read the whole article here: