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Discipline, concentration, and wisdom: What we need and what we get.

by Fleda BrownOctober 03, 2011

We were fortunate to have Sokuzan Bob Brown, from Battle Creek, Michigan, with us in our local sangha for our 4-hour block sitting on Sunday. In his dharma talk afterward, he talked about sila, samadhi, and prajna. I’ll attempt here to give you a sense of it. Pretend now that you’re sitting, listening—while remembering that these are my words and I may possibly screw something up.

What are we doing when we sit? We are looking as deeply as we can. We keep our eyes open so that we don’t get lost in our own illusions. We watch the mind, we watch our ego trying all sorts of tricks, telling all sorts of stories, to avoid being seen. But eventually, we see that we’re looking into a mirror. We see that we invent our own world. What we thought was a separate mind and body aren’t at all. what we thought was a world separate from ourselves, isn’t at all.

So, okay, we need sila, or discipline, to do this. We must find the form that we, personally, need in order to do this work. We need to get to the cushion, or chair, regularly.

What we do there is just observe, with balance and equanimity. As our observation—as we—settle, we remain highly alert but also deeply concentrated so that the separations begin to fall away. This is Samadhi. Our mental separations have become like a wire net, trapping us so that we can’t see the true nature of our being. As Bob is fond of saying, “Don’t add.” Just see what’s there. Don’t pile judgments on top of that: “I should be able to quiet my mind,” “I should be a better meditator,” etc. What we’re doing is not about right and wrong; it’s about awareness.

What begins to emerge as we practice is prajna— insight, or wisdom. We begin to be able to see into the fundamental nature of things. We don’t—can’t—make this happen. It happens by grace. Or, if you want to be scientific about it, our minds reach a tipping point where the old structures no longer prove adequate, and a deep and permanent shift occurs. When this happens, you no longer need validation from a teacher or anyone.

A teacher can support your awakening. If you talk with a teacher, he/she can help you to see where you’re turning away, where you’re avoiding looking directly.

Q: “How do you know if you’ve reached such a point? It could be your ego talking.”

A: “You don’t “know.” Realization is not an experience. Experiences come and go. Realization is realizing what has always been the case. You just see it.

This is the gist of Bob’s talk, I hope. Next week we’re back to discussing Goldstein’s One Dharma, beginning chapter 6, “Acting for the Good.”


Poet and writer Fleda Brown reflects on the gatherings of her weekly meditation group, speaking to you as one who has long practiced meditation but still comes to the practice with a learner’s mind.

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