Everything starts with questions.
Why are you doing this? Why are you interested? What do you want? Why are you meditating?
We might have dozens of different reasons to meditate. It calms us down, it sharpens our attention, it clears up our thoughts, and it can break the connection between stimulus and reward/punishment which can help us leave behind bad habits.
Those are all great reasons to meditate, and if one of those describe your motives, that’s fine. What isn’t a great reason is, “I meditate to become a Buddha. To Wake Up.” Siddhartha said on many occasions, that it’s typically better to have worldly aspirations instead of grandiose spiritual ones, because it’s easier to kick worldly attachments. Spiritual and philosophical attachments are tough to break.
With a worldly attachment, we can see how it’s dissatisfying and how clinging causes suffering. But when it comes clinging to ideas, it’s a different story. The mind can always make shit up, and keep the narrative going through thick and thin. And it can manufacture ecstatic religious experiences to back up its attachment. It can even trick itself into thinking it’s enlightened, that, “This is it!” and it’s difficult to get through that self-imposed dogma.
A rule of thumb is if we think, “This is it!” then it’s not. Well, yes it is, but mostly it isn’t. It isn’t because there’s still pushing and pulling in the mind, still gathering things together and slapping labels on them. Still comparing and contrasting and division. Still I-me-mine, just an inflated version with holistic intentions.
But it is because everything is, “This is it!” We can’t become what we already are, which is Awake. Trying to become something else is the only problem any of us face. Our minds metaphorically ask, “What is this?” This is me. “What is that?” That’s not me. “Who am I?” I’m John. From there, we build an ocean of ideas on those answers, and then we base our views and behaviors on them. This doesn’t just happen once, it’s an ongoing Q&A.
Meditation let’s us feel cool, calm, and collected enough to ask those questions without answering them in the usual way. Our true nature is that question mark, and Awakening is seeing that to question is the answer.
Today I described Chan meditation like this to a friend: Grass grows, wolves howl, Buddhas sit.
Meditation isn’t about gaining anything or losing anything. It’s just the mind’s natural function. When something doesn’t know or doesn’t perform its function, then there’s confusion and difficulty. We lose our place in the world, and search here and there trying to find it.
Our place is on the cushion, and in embodying everyday activities.
The teachings and methods came about when one wolf howled and another asked, “Why are you doing that?” “Because I’m a wolf; wolves howl.” “I’ve never howled before, and I’m a wolf. How do I howl?” “Start by stopping, stop talking. Then clear your throat…”
We spend so much time looking for meaning and purpose, building and rebuilding identities around those goals. Chan simply says, “Meditation is your purpose; sitting and doing nothing is the meaning. With that, you can just be yourself.”