Formless Practice: Just Sitting

Formless Practice: Just Sitting October 4, 2017

I’m writing about a formless meditation practice.

This is a practice that doesn’t involve reciting a mantra or visualization. It doesn’t involve focusing on anything. This is the practice of just sitting, just being here now. It’s founded in the belief that Enlightenment is our true nature and we can get there just by being here now.

Dogen said, “Sitting is Enlightenment.”

This practice we’re talking about is the practice of actualizing our Enlightenment. Dogen famously called it the gateway to total liberation. It’s said that this practice is the one that the Buddha was doing when he became Enlightened.

The first step is counting the breath while seated motionless. Stilling the body, quieting the mind, and training in concentration. Following with the breath with the mind, but just breathing naturally. Our intent is to use the breath in the beginning but then to let it fall away after a few minutes and then to focus on nothing at all, just being here.

This practice is designed to free us from everything; all distractions, thoughts, and imaginings. It can bring us to a state of total Emptiness, which is where we can see our true nature. If we keep engaging in this practice, it’s said that it will transform us. Our rigidity and self-centeredness will become warmth and compassion.

This formless practice is said to bring into sharp focus the three marks of existence: Impermanence, Suffering, and Emptiness.

When we’re sitting we see how our thoughts come and go all the time, so in this way we experience impermanence directly. And the fact of the matter is our suffering comes from our grasping at things all the time, our obsessive wishes for things to be different than they are. This is the mark of suffering and when we look at ourselves and our behaviors honestly, it’s obvious. And Emptiness bursts forth in our minds. We can come to realize that existence is really a voidness out of which all things rise and fall. Enlightenment is like a swallowing of the universe, and destruction of our feelings of separateness and opposition.

Dogen said, “To learn the Buddha way is to learn about oneself. To learn about oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to feel the dropping away of body and mind.”

This practice isn’t the means to attain Enlightenment. The act of formless meditation is the act of dwelling in Enlightenment. We aren’t trying to attain Enlightenment, but just to uncover the Enlightenment that’s already there.

The Buddha devoted himself to practicing wholeheartedly. He sat for a very long time and one day he looked up at the morning star and he attained Enlightenment.

The Avatamsaka Sutra says that he cried out: “Oh wonder of wonders! All beings are Buddhas, endowed with wisdom and virtue, but because their minds are clouded by delusion they don’t realize it.” This declaration is the ultimate teaching of Buddhism, the beginning and the end. Practice and Enlightenment.


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