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Buddhadharma : Summer 2018
32 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY time to let go of the counting and rest in the quieter following, but we need to stay tuned and see how it is now. We may have felt that we no longer needed the support of the counting. But judging by our state of complete distraction, it turns out we were wrong! I often recall Norman Fischer sharing with me his experience as abbot of San Francisco Zen Center, as he began meeting with more and more students and hearing the gory details of people’s actual practice of meditation. As I recall it, Norman noticed that most of us imagine we are practicing some subtle practice. But if we’re being honest with ourselves or our teachers, it’s clear that mostly we’ve been spinning our wheels. So Norman started telling more of us to stop kidding ourselves—stop trying to do the subtle practice and just go back to counting breath. This practice is not a one-way street. In the art of meditation, we need to understand this flow—when is concentration softening and opening, and when is it simply dispersing, fading into drowsiness or distraction? Yes, the trajectory of the practice is from effortful to effortless, but it’s not a single straight line. It’s a weaving and wander- ing—here more open and subtle, here more directed and intense. To stay honest, we need to stay aware of this. As the range of attention gets too broad, or the effort too subtle, we can, without noticing, slip away from our meditation entirely. That’s a good time to just come back to “one.” Or to come back to following. Zhiyi too is clear about this teaching: we must see what our practice needs and have the presence of mind and creativity to respond to it. the third gate: staBilizing, stopping Let’s assume that we’ve followed our breath now for a time, real- ized the fruits of that effort, and feel an exquisite fineness of mind, breath, and attention. Here we come into a deep rest, a deep stillness. We stop. Everything stops. There is not much to say here, but Zhiyi tells us, “As for the cul- tivation of stabilization, one puts to rest all forms of object-oriented thought process. One does not engage in either counting or follow- ing. One fixes one’s mind and makes it still.”