By Rev. P.K. Eidmann
From the very times of the Buddha, a large number of meditation systems have been handed down within the Buddhist tradition. Each system has its own special aims and purposes as well as its own techniques.
The techniques of meditation differ less from school to school and sect to sect than do the goals which are sought. Thus, we often find members of different sects meditating together in the same hall, though the goals of their practice are radically different.
Because it is possible to separate the techniques of meditation from the doctrinal content of a sect, several Japanese schools have never had a special meditation technique of their own. The Flowery-wreath school (Kegon) and the Vinaya school (Risshu), for example, have always availed themselves of whatever Meditation Master (Zenshi) was near.
Probably the greatest number of those who have through the centuries in Japan practiced meditation under the masters of the Dhyana (Zenshu) have only accepted its meditation discipline and ignored completely the doctrinal content of the school. We find Shintoists, Christians, and Buddhists of every sect sitting with Dhyana Sect Masters; yet these meditation disciples reject completely the doctrinal basis of Dhyana Buddhism and put, instead, the content of their own positions into the traditional Dhyana forms.
Meditation within Buddhism, accordingly, is a distinct disciplinary practice. It is pursued in special places and at special times. It is not part of the ordinary worship service of a temple, but rather is confined to meditation cells or private quarters. It is an activity not of secrecy but of privacy, and thus its techniques and pursuit are not to be forced upon those who feel no need of it in their private lives.
Moreover, because the needs of each individual are individual; the content, certainly, and the techniques of meditation as well, must vary from person to person. What will be of use to one person will be useless to another; the goals of one are not what another may be seeking. For this reason one finds, within Buddhism, a great variety of attitudes toward the forms of meditation.
Within the Hongwanji tradition, for instance, there have been many who have never felt a personal need for any meditation discipline. Other individuals, however, have cultivated meditation with great earnestness.
Many systems of meditation and concentration have been followers of the Hongwanji tradition, including those preserved within the Terrace Teachings (Tendai) and the Dhyana schools. Furthermore, several independent methods of meditation have developed within Shin Buddhism.
The most popular meditation in Shin today is doubtless Quiet Sitting (Seiza), which has been practiced by such illustrious Shin leaders as Shugaku Yamabe, Daiei Kaneko, Ryotai Hadani, Joen Ashikaga. The techniques of Quiet Sitting, as Shugaku Yamabe has shown in his writings, are found throughout the Buddhist canon. Its wide propagation, however is largely a result of conditions in modern times. The peaceful and calm life of earlier generations has been rudely disrupted by the changes brought about by the industrial revolution in Japan. The noise and tensions of modern life have necessitated, in many places, a more serious effort at mental discipline preparatory to the hearing of the truths of Buddha's teachings.
Quiet Sitting seems absurdly simple, but it actually requires considerable discipline. Though it should be practiced daily in the privacy of one's own home together. Some, like the famed Shin educator Doyu Izumi, president of the Chiroda Girls College, expect their students to do Quiet Sitting regularly before the Buddha's shrine. But it seems better to undertake it elsewhere than in the chapel. Its fullest development necessitates its cultivation under the watchful eye of a teacher who can correct posture and offer advice in problems of failure.
In Quiet Sitting one sits straight but relaxed. One may sit either in the formal Japanese posture or in a chair, but the special sitting techniques of many Buddhist methods of meditation are not used. No counting of the breath is done, nor is any attention given to its inhalation or exhalation. One merely sits for thirty minutes or an hour, with the eyes closed gently and the hands folded in the lap. No effort is made to think of anything or not to think; if thoughts come, they come, and if they go, they go. No attention is given to whether the mind changes or not; no effort is made not to change. Thoughts flow freely through the mind.
When one sits this way, one will notice that the body's center is just above the waist; here the body seems to have all its power between the lungs. As one sits quietly, and successfully, this center shifts to the abdomen, which becomes solid, immovable. At the same time, the mind, no longer a center of movement, becomes pacified, quiet, calm.
Meditation is something like dusting one's mind. Once can send all the dust of a room flying out with a feather duster, or, with no less activity, once can just stir up the dust and let it settle down again in the same room. Once can also gather up the dust, put it in a flower-pot and plant flowers!
All too many people, however, are inclined to think that meditation is rather a remodeling of the room: they want to throw out the old furniture and put in new, or at least, they want all the furniture recovered and shifted about the room.
It is not the purpose of meditation to eradicate the passions and frustrations of existence.
Quiet Sitting, for the Shin follower, does not cut off the passions nor destroy frustrations. It is, rather, a little like some of the modern drugs for malaria and other illnesses, which control the manifestations of the illness without curing it. So Quiet Sitting enables the mind to become calm and quiet in its out-going activities; this quietude and calmness free the mind for more important concerns than the ordinary frustrations of everyday life.
Thus the practice of Quiet Sitting by Shin followers has the very practical and ordinary goal of living a better life. It seeks to gather up a little of the dust in the mind and, putting it in a flower pot, to plant flower seeds in it.