One of the more fascinating developments of Buddhism in the West is the meeting of varied schools and traditions which in Asia had no contact with each other. Many Western students have taken advantage of these unique circumstances by studying in different Buddhist schools, and some even seem to mix and match skillful means, creating a kind of melting pot of practices for themselves. An especially fluid boundary seems to exist between the Zen and Theravada schools, a condition quite evident in the San Francisco Bay Area where many people study both vipassana and Zen.
On the surface it would seem that the contrast between these two approaches to Dharma would be great. Zen practice came from the Mahayana Buddhist countries of East Asia, while vipassana practice comes from the Theravada Buddhist countries of Southeast Asia and India. Most of the Zen centers in the West were founded by Japanese priests and are rooted in monastic forms, while vipassana was brought to the West primarily by Western lay teachers who established meditation centers without a a monastic orientation.
In order to explore the meeting and interpenetration of these two traditions, Inquiring Mind brought together senior Soto Zen teacher Reb Anderson of the San Francisco Zen Center and senior vipassana teacher Jack Kornfield from Spirit Rock. Interviewing the two are Zen priest and vipassana teacher Gil Fronsdal and Inquiring Mind editors Barbara Gates and Wes Nisker. The conversation took place at Zen Center’s Green Gulch Farm over tea, with nut bread baked by Reb.
Gil Fronsdal: There are a lot of students in the San Francisco Bay Area who go back and forth between Zen Center and Spirit Rock. The two traditions seem to have enough in common that I find a lot of people are interested in knowing the differences and similarities between them. Is it possible or useful to compare zazen and vipassana meditation?
Jack Kornfield: It is not possible to make a general comparison between zazen and vipassana. Within the Theravada tradition there are fifty different styles and ways of practice that are as different as Rinzai and Soto Zen may be from each other. In trying to compare zazen and vipassana, the categories are much too broad to be meaningful. So, we can only discuss particular practice lineages, for example, Dogen’s Soto zazen with Mahasi’s form of vipassana, or with Ajahn Chah’s forest style of reflective practice.
In framing our discussion, let’s explore what we have to learn from these differences in style, not how one compares to another, since to compare is like asking how an apple compares to an orange.
Inquiring Mind: Perhaps we could start, Reb and Jack, with each of you describing what you teach.
Reb Anderson: [after a long silence] Mostly what I feel I’m doing is responding to what’s happening in the moment. When I meet people, what I trust the most is the presence in that meeting. And usually in meeting with people I feel some pain and anxiety. I try to open and be present with that anxiety and listen to it and feel it, to be aware of any strong impulse that may arise to do something to modify or escape from the pain. In that willingness to be present, there is a settling. Then in that settled place, in the middle of all this apparent activity, the conditions contributing to the pain start to reveal themselves.
What is revealed to me in this situation is that the primary condition for the anxiety and pain and fear is belief in the independent existence of the self and that, conditioned by that belief, is self-concern. The self-concern leads to an the impulse to fix or ameliorate or escape the pain that can be felt as a driving force for self-improvement and gain. But again, if I trust just being present with the situation, there’s a relief from enslavement to these impulses for self-improvement and for escape.
JK: Let’s be specific. If a student came to you and said, “Teach me how to meditate,” what would you say?”
RA: The first thing I would say to them is, “Do you want to practice zazen?”
JK: Yes, I do!
RA: What is your motivation for practicing zazen?
JK: Self-improvement, getting out of pain, finding peace, learning about myself.
RA: If you want peace, in the long run, then I think zazen would be appropriate, but if in the short run, you want to run away from your experience of pain, then I think the zazen that I’m teaching would not be appropriate.
JK: Alright, I want peace.
RA: If you want a final reliable peace then I think you have to start by sitting still. If you do sit still, then probably you will start to open to pain. I am not just talking about the pain in your knees or in your posture, but rather deep heart pain. Deep anxiety about the “other” all around your “self “will start to press in upon you and may become almost unbearable. Then if you can settle and accept this pain completely—in other words, if you are so still that the impulses to escape it or fix it don’t reach you, they’re just flying around you like birds in the trees—then that acceptance of the pain will be the door to peace and bliss. But in the short term when you practice stillness in being upright, you are going to go into some fire.
JK: When I sit, should I concentrate on anything? Should I try to do anything? Or do I just sit down?
RA: In what I consider to be zazen, you do not concentrate on anything. But if you are practicing concentration practice, you just sit still in the middle of your concentration practice. If you are not practicing concentration practice, you sit still in the middle of your not practicing concentration practice. Many people attempt to practice concentration practice and what they experience is successful concentration. Others attempt to practice concentration practice and, according to their own definition, are unsuccessful; they get very upset. Zazen is neither concentration practice nor not concentration practice. Zazen is not to prefer concentration practice or non concentration practice. Zazen is not to prefer success over failure. Zazen is not to prefer enlightenment over delusion. So if we are enlightened, we sit still in the middle of enlightenment with no preference for it, or if we are deluded, we sit still in the middle of delusion.
JK: So there’s no place that you try to put your mind?
RA: There’s no place one tries to put one’s mind in zazen.
JK: By contrast, in teaching vipassana, most commonly, I first encourage a quality of awareness through attention to our natural breathing. Then this mindfulness is expanded to include the states of body, feelings and mind when these arise and become stronger than the breathing. One either notes them gently by naming them or simply acknowledges them with mindfulness as they pass through the field of awareness. Eventually one discovers a freedom in the midst of all that arises.
What I teach draws on what I have learned from the Thai Forest master Ajahn Chah and the Burmese master Mahasi Sayadaw. The retreat form is modeled on the style of Mahasi Sayadaw and follows the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. However, I present the practice in a less goal-directed fashion. In Mahasi’s monastery, there was a very strong emphasis on attaining high states of concentration and then deep levels of insight. I believe that these come naturally as inherent freedom when we let go in each moment rather than strive after them.
I also emphasize that true mindfulness requires compassion and lovingkindness. I teach students to allow all experience to be held in kindness, to deepen this compassion through knowing, in every cell of the body and every dimension of being, the impermanence, the emptiness, the ungraspability of life. Like Ajahn Chah I also direct students to be aware of the arising of suffering from grasping and clinging, and to be aware of its end.
GF: It seems that a key word in Jack’s description of meditation is awareness while for Reb one of the key words is stillness. Do you think this represents a difference between your practices?
RA: No. Stillness does not simply mean stillness, but to be present in stillness. There is no messing around with what’s happening. It’s a physical and mental nonmeddling, a noninterfering with experience. The stillness is flexible so it can adjust to new situations all the time. Through nonmeddling and flexibility it harmonizes with all situations. That is the awareness of being upright and still.
While this stillness is definitely an essential awareness, it is not the culmination of Zen practice. This upright stillness is an initiatory awareness. It opens the door to an even fuller awareness of how the self and other coproduce each other. So this stillness in being upright is the entrance into the awareness of the Buddha.
GF: I wonder if you, Jack, recognize in Reb’s description of awareness something similar in vipassana, or whether in vipassana, awareness has a more cognitive flavor, where the cognition—the recognizing what is happening—plays a more important part than the kind of stillness that Reb mentioned?
JK: I recognize a great similarity. Awareness is a gate to the opening beyond our small sense of self. It is a quality of presence that can “bow” to whatever arises in each moment, without wanting it to be other. Even if there are reactions, wanting experience to be something different, it can bow to that and sit in the middle of that. In this way, I think we speak of the same quality. But stillness alone is not necessarily an expression of wisdom. I have seen people sit for many years focusing on stillness without understanding the nature of mind, without discovering true freedom. Ajahn Chah said this was like seeing chickens sitting on their nest—sitting without understanding.
The quality of mindful presence requires both understanding and compassion. It’s an openhearted relationship to all things, a heartfelt respect for the suffering that will inevitably show itself in our lives, for the anxiety and fear that Reb speaks of, and also for love and joy. With compassionate presence, one rests in the ground of Buddhanature, in one’s true nature.
But often vipassana gives much more elaborate instructions for awareness training than Soto Zen. Many years ago when Reb introduced me for a dharma talk at Zen Center, he said something like, “Now, Jack will explain in words what you have taken ten years to learn on your cushion.” I proceeded to talk specifically about how to be aware of body energies, pleasant and painful feelings, thoughts, self-images, and the process of mind itself.
In the training of mindfulness there is also a cognitive quality of awareness. It comes in very particularly when one uses mental noting or naming as a technique in meditation, in which you would acknowledge, “fear, fear,” “sad, sad,”or “tingling, tingling” as those experiences arise in practice. That cognitive quality is an intermediate step. It is used as a powerful tool in some vipassana practice to refine that attention so we actually know what is present and are not lost in our ideas or daydreams. With deepening presence, eventually the names drop away. That cognitive quality is like a booster rocket, if you will, to make attention really alive so what was fear or pain or tension or tingling becomes a thousand tiny instants of experience of throbbing, tingling, pulsing, dissolving floating in pure mind. So this cognitive step is a vehicle to establish the power of presence just as the stillness of Zen is a vehicle to establish presence.
IM: In basic zazen instruction, is counting the breath or attending to the posture similarly used as a “booster rocket”?
RA: My understanding is that zazen is not limited to concentrating on the breath or your posture. As Dogen says, “Zazen is totally culminated enlightenment. Traps and snares can never reach it.” In other words, you cannot trap it into mindfulness of the breath or of the posture. It cannot be trapped by any activity of the human mind. Zazen doesn’t start when we start making effort, doesn’t stop when we stop. However, if you are practicing zazen and you are breathing, you very well might notice that you are breathing. It’s not that your ordinary awareness isn’t going on; it’s just that the practice cannot be defined by the things you are aware of at the moment, and the practice is not a focusing on a particular object, like the breath.
IM: So what are the beginner’s instructions at Zen Center?
RA: First, I want to say that the instruction that is given when people first come to Zen Center is instruction for a ritual, a ceremony about zazen. The Chinese character for ceremony that’s used in these instructions is a character which is made of two other characters, one meaning “person” and the other “justice.” Together they become “ceremony” or a ritual. So the instructions are basically established procedures for a formal meditation ceremony that you do in the zendo or at home. But Zazen is not just that ceremony. Zazen happens all the time everywhere, but we do the ceremony to celebrate it on certain occasions. Sometimes, in monasteries, they do this ceremony a lot, like all day long, but it is still a ceremony .
So in this ceremony, you enter the zendo in a certain way, even stipulating which foot you enter with first. You bow. You walk in a formal way to your cushion. You sit on the cushion according to instructions on the seven points of posture that you find in meditation texts throughout Buddhist history.
In Zen Master Dogen’s description of this ceremony, he says, “Take a deep breath, inhale and exhale and then just sit still.” Then he says, “Think not thinking. How do you think not thinking? Nonthinking. This is the essential art of zazen. The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. “ In other words, it is not a concentration practice. However, that doesn’t mean people don’t practice concentration practices in the zendo.
If I give beginner zazen instruction, I do not tell students to follow their breath at the beginning. This is partly because, in my experience, they get very upset. It activates a gaining idea of trying to concentrate on the breath. Gaining ideas are antithetical to the whole project of Mahayana Buddhism, which is to be concerned for others’ welfare rather than your own self-improvement.
JK: The way you describe zazen is close to Ajahn Chah’s instruction for vipassana, where he would say “Rest in the natural state of mind. Then notice if the mind or the heart becomes entangled in any way.” This acknowledgment is a kind of letting go, letting it be. Eventually the natural mind will resume. In my own teaching I also express what Reb is saying by reminding people that their body and mind are fundamentally trustworthy. We learn that it is possible to sit in the midst of life with an open heart, an open mind. This trust is a reminder of one’s Buddhanature, of the essential freedom that is there in every being. What matters in practice is the depth of letting go, the discovery of the deathless. We must come to the place where we are unafraid to die, and therefore unafraid to live.
I do see one difference in my approach to concentration practice and Reb’s. We agree that one can get caught in gaining ideas and struggle against their actual experience. However, as I see it, sometimes choosing to concentrate or having a “gaining idea” is a fine way to practice. For example, in lovingkindness practice or breath practice, it is possible through effort and repetition for the mind to become very concentrated. Out of that comes rapture and bliss and light and stillness. When properly guided, the collected mind can perceive very deep wisdom. It is another way of breaking open the shell of the small sense of self. At times I have engaged in gaining practice, and at the end of it, something popped the bubble and with the intensity of all that concentration, what was left was emptiness and selflessness.
RA: I also have the experience that when you push personal effort to the limit in a wholesome way, as in concentration practice, you realize the futility of it all and then find another entrance into zazen.
IM: Is there a role for goals in zazen?
RA: The goal of zazen is the liberation of all beings from suffering. That’s the goal, but it is exactly the same as zazen, also. The Bodhisattva vow is definitely goal oriented, but in order for the goal to be realized, namely for everybody to be free, one has to become selfless.
So zazen practice is selfless.The meaning responds to the arrival of your energy. The meaning arrives at the same time as the ceremony, as your devotion of your energy to the ceremony. And enlightenment appears right at the same time as you do this ritual. But also it appears before and after, too, if you devote your life energy to being present with what’s happening.
GF: I’ve been in monasteries both in Japan and in Southeast Asia, and in both places it seems like the monks love to rake. However, in a general sense there was a difference in the practice instructions for raking. In Zen monasteries are told that when you are raking, just rake. In Southeast Asia, you are told that when you rake, watch your mind. I wonder if this difference might point out a distinction between the two traditions that has not come out yet in this discussion?
RA: In Zen we would say, “If you want to be aware of your mind, just rake.” So the instruction to just rake is a selfless instruction by which you can really be aware of your mind, rather than be aware of your mind according to the way you would think you would be aware of your mind if you tried to be aware of your mind.
JK: It is much the same if you go to Ajahn Chah’s monastery in the forest and they hand you the rake, and then you spend four hours in the sun and the dust. At first, maybe you enjoy it and then four hours later you’re tired and it’s hot and you keep raking. You’re thinking, “Why am I doing this? I could be doing sitting or walking practice.” When you finish, Ajahn Chah says, “Well, how was it?” And you say, “I liked it and I didn’t like it.” And Ajahn Chah would just laugh because in the raking you see everything.
RA: I sometimes associate sitting still with the Bodhisattva of Infinite Compassion, Avalokiteshvara Bodhisattva in Sanskrit, Kannon, or Kuan Yin in Chinese, which means “listen to the cries,” or listen to your suffering. There’s another name for Avalokiteshvara in Chinese, which is Kanjizai Bosatsu, which means “contemplating the existence of the self.”
First of all, by listening, you settle, and that’s the sitting still. Then that naturally leads you to the other aspect of compassion which is to contemplate the way the self exists. When you see the self as separate, there’s misery. When you see it existing interdependently, there’s the end of suffering. So first of all you have to listen and feel the suffering, be compassionate with yourself and others. Then as you settle into that, you open up spontaneously to this other aspect of compassion which is compassion with the way the self exists. That leads to liberation.
So these two different names for the compassionate Bodhisattva correspond to the two different dimensions of zazen.
JK: Yes, without compassion and a release from the illusion of self, there is a shell or a resistance, a pushing away of the world. Only with compassion can we truly open to our own life and the life of the world. We offer compassion as a sacred container for people as they go through the fire of opening and find an inner freedom.
RA: I really appreciate how posture can help people develop compassion. When people are sitting during the ceremony of zazen I go around the room sometimes and I adjust, or comment on, their posture. When I am open to myself, I feel like everybody’s posture is beautiful. It’s beautiful to see people make that effort of sitting there as they do. But I do have some suggestions.
If the spine is curved or humped backward, the chest is caved in, the lungs are collapsed and the heart is inward. Whereas if the person moves his spine deeper into the body so he or she sits up straighter, this makes more room for the breathing and opens the heart. The person becomes more alive and by becoming more alive usually one experiences an opening to more suffering, too, and is put more deeply into the fire.
Sometimes when a person accepts the suffering she has by assuming this upright posture, she feels released. So working with posture encourages people to fully experience what it means to have a body, to fully enter their physical presence.
JK: This is a wonderful practice. In many forms of vipassana, there is much less emphasis on posture. We let people take any relaxed but upright posture, and then pay attention in that posture. However, some styles of vipassana do emphasize the power of posture and the practice of sitting through pain. Teachers such as Ajahn Dhammadaro and Goenka have students sit motionless for hours. When you don’t move in that stillness, eventually an inner fire arises and powerful states of mind and body appear and you find that place of the Buddha in the midst of them.
No matter whether emphasis is placed on posture or not, there are many cycles. At the times of deep stillness or natural concentration, people can’t slump; they sit up quite erect and open; the posture of the Buddha arises spontaneously.
IM: Another ritual which is prevalent in the Zen community is bowing. Why do you bow?
RA: Before I give a talk I offer incense to the Buddha and to Manjushri Bodhisattva, to my bosses, to my parents. I bow down to them and I say I’m just a little humble, loving, devoted disciple to these wonderful beings that these statues remind us of. Sometimes when I give a talk outside of Zen Center where I don’t bow before speaking, I wonder if the people give too much importance to, or focus too much on, me. When I bow first, the bow says we’re doing this together. I’m Buddha’s disciple, and also now I play the role of Buddha, even, as his disciple. So bowing is important to convey that we are the life of Buddhism, but we are also children of Buddhism and the disciples of Buddha.
I would say that when there is not bowing, there is not Buddhism.
JK: It makes me so happy to hear you talk about bowing because I love bowing in the same way and I talk about it at every retreat. As a young monk in Ajahn Chah’s monastery, I was instructed not only to bow to my teachers but to everyone who had ordained before me in the order. After some struggle, I learned to bow to something beautiful in each being, to the wrinkles around the eyes of the old man, the vitality in the swagger of the young monk. I learned to bow to what is there and to acknowledge, “Yes, this too is who we are.”
As Western vipassana teachers, we have chosen to teach bowing inwardly. As Americans coming back from training in Asia, we started teaching retreats twenty-some years ago. We felt that for our culture, where bowing is so unfamiliar and awkward, it might interfere with people’s entry into the practice of awareness and compassion.
IM: As teachers, what are your views on students who try out Spirit Rock one week, Zen Center the next, and then take trip to IMS the week after that? Do you have anything to say about choosing a teacher and then working with her or him?
JK: The more deeply a person is committed in their spiritual practice, the more directly does their spiritual life develop. For some it’s natural to shop around, but at some point you must take a practice and really work with it in a deep way. I like to work with people whom I see at retreats over many years, whom I get to know. I understand their temperaments, their styles, the ways they get entangled and what is useful to them. When I see someone over the years, a relationship develops, and in knowing them I can be a mirror and a guide.
Like the meditation, the student-teacher relationship can also be a commitment, an intimate relationship with another person that reflects what is going on in your spiritual life.
IM: Jack, I never had the feeling that in the vipassana community, we were encouraged to have a capital “T” Teacher!
JK: That’s correct. That is because during our first ten years teaching, we teachers were traveling all the time, so any ongoing relationship was difficult. To encourage someone to stick with a teacher was to say, “Here, we recommend this good idea, but we are not available to do it with you.” Currently, the student-teacher relationship builds primarily when people come to a succession of retreats, particularly longer retreats, working with one or two teachers over years. To do more than that would serve our community well, but we can’t encourage it until we’re actually available. So for now the primary commitment has to be to the practice, to the dharma itself.
Sometimes too a student will say, “I really need something that is found at Zen Center. I am going to do that for a few years.” And I will offer them blessings. Or the student may say, “I’ve gone down the road of vipassana practice as far as I want.” I honor that also. However, the element of giving oneself to a dharma practice and following it is what is most critical over the long term.
RA: Because of the ritual or ceremonial aspect of zazen practice, a lot of people who come to Zen Center develop the sense that there is a right way and a wrong way. And so they get uncomfortable entering the meditation hall. They don’t want to do the wrong thing. For such people the complex of thinking in terms of right and wrong can be undermining and distracting. I might refer some of these people to vipassana so that they can relax into sitting and walking practice, putting aside this complex, which can be dealt with at some later point in practice. In vipassana there are so few forms in comparison to Zen that people aren’t going to feel that they are doing it wrong.
JK: I love the Zen forms, just as I loved the robes and bowing and chanting when I was a Theravada monk. Probably the biggest difference between Zen Center and Spirit Rock is that when you go into Zen Center, there’s a feeling that you’re entering a Japanese temple, a temple that has the Japanese culture and religion along with the practices of presence and zazen. When you come to Spirit Rock, it feels pretty much American. There isn’t anything other than an image of the Buddha at the end of the room that would remind you of another culture. In contrast to the Zen students, we don’t wear robes, do daily chanting or bowing practice.
GF: It seems that another important difference between Zen Center and Spirit Rock is that in Zen practice a student negotiates the Way, discovers herself in the context of ritual forms and the demands of forms. At Spirit Rock there is very little demand on the student to commit themselves to any outer form, maybe only to undertake the practice of a kindhearted attention and basic ethics. So on a vipassana retreat, a student who feels tired or a little headachy might well take a break from the schedule, whereas the general expectation at a Zen retreat is that the student stick to the schedule and deal with the discomfort, perhaps learning a great deal of letting go in the process.
JK: In contrast to American vipassana, the monasteries in Southeast Asia where I practiced were filled with ritual practices, there were hundreds of rituals, exquisite ways to fold one’s robe, to ask forgiveness and to wash a bowl. Ajahn Chah was a master of using these forms to bring awakening. Practicing these forms required a deep surrender, and the rituals became the mirror for all of one’s mind-states and struggles.
In American vipassana, we mainly offer form within the retreat context. It’s not the ritual forms of robes and chanting, but it is the powerful form of twelve to sixteen hours of sitting and walking daily, of mindful vegetable chopping and careful eating meditation. The practice of a retreat is a profound form of silence without a break, and of regular personal interviews with a teacher. These become the sacred container within which all the reactions, responses and fears and sorrows of one’s life are seen and held with presence and compassion. This is the main form that we have and it’s the one that has brought people back for twenty years again and again. Tens of thousands of people have found this form compelling. It doesn’t alienate those who have religion abuse in their background, and it welcomes all, even those who are allergic to religion. On the other hand it doesn’t offer the poetry and the beauty of Buddhist religious form itself as a vehicle of awakening.
RA: The most inner and intimate part of the training in Zen is in the form realm. Zen is completely free; it’s formless, nobody owns it. But the training in Zen is in the context of form. There are people whom I love, with whom I have a relationship, who come to Zen Center to practice meditation, to take classes and to talk to me. I do not consider that alone to be training. They have made no commitment. When someone enters into a training situation, then one enters into a dialogue of working on the forms. The basic way I work with people is they tell me what they want and I’ll help them do what they want.
When people come for a training period, I ask them, “Do you want to be trained at these forms. If you do, fine.” If they do the forms differently from what they are taught, I ask, “Did you think that this is the way that we taught you?” And they say, “No I am doing it differently.” And I say, “Fine. What ‘s the reason for that?” Once they have made a commitment to practice in a certain way and to learn certain forms, then everything they do gives me a chance to say, “Hi, what’s happening?”
Part of the form of the teacher/student relationship is that all decisions that students make, vis-á-vis their Buddhist practice, they discuss with me. They wouldn’t make any unilateral decisions, and if they did, they would know that that was a direct going against our agreement. If they wanted to go do retreat at Spirit Rock or they wanted to go to Japan to study Zen with some other teacher or to study Tibetan Buddhism, it would be understood if they are training with me that they would discuss it with me. If a lay person in training with me is going to get married or divorced, or they’re thinking of having an abortion, or they’re going to buy a car, or they’re going to change their job, or they’re going to sue somebody, or even if they are going to do their hair differently, I would expect them to discuss all these things with me.
This does not mean that they can’t do it. Sometimes, you disagree with your teacher and you go ahead and do it. That can be very helpful.
IM: In the formal training your describe, it sounds as though you as a teacher become the reference point to help clarify what is actually going on with the student. The student cannot do things freely without any clear conscious thought about it. He or she is in a sense accountable to you.
RA: The accountability is in terms of an agreement and a commitment. I do not say what the students are supposed to be accountable for. They tell me. But once they say, and make a commitment, then I am there to remember what they said, and if they veer off, then there is something to talk about.
GF: So the forms become a kind of mirror or a place where the person is reflected back to you.
RA: Yes, and I can reflect that back to the person.
JK: In our extended community, students who want to work with Buddhist ritual form can go to Ajahn Amaro’s new monastery in Ukiah and find exactly the same training. In fact, if Ajahn Amaro were here with us, a lot of what Reb is saying would be indistinguishable from the beautiful way Amaro uses the Vinaya or monastic forms to clarify one’s mind.
For me, the form that I have primarily chosen is simplicity. It’s the simplicity of not creating bowing, chanting, robes, mudras or things that were used in the Theravada monasteries. Rather, we use the simplicity of just sitting and just walking and coming into an interview and saying, “All right, in this very simple activity in which you’re not trying to do anything special or to be anything special other than be aware, what is your experience? Were you sitting and walking in awareness or not? If not, what was going on? If you were, what happened? What is there to learn in that situation? Where is the freedom in it?” In an extraordinarily complex society, the stark simplicity of the retreat acts as a mirror to bring liberation of the heart.
RA: If somebody is training with me, I would also ask, “Are you present?” As that is clarified, we have something to work with. I would say also that the ultimate is simplicity, and the ultimate simplicity is just presence.