Introduction

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This course offers you an opportunity to encounter 18 classical Chinese and Japanese ink paintings and, by reflecting on them, to experience certain insights into human nature and the universe. Each picture is accompanied by a brief commentary focused on a Zen tenet and illuminated by haiku poems.

You can view the pictures and read the accompanying commentary and haikus. Or you are invited to use these offerings as a meditation instrument.

Here are some suggestions for reflecting on the pictures; please adapt these to fit your own practice:

Sitting

Choose an appropriate setting, one moderate in temperature, quiet, and otherwise suitable for a serene state of mind. Wear loose, comfortable clothing—or none.

If you are not accustomed to sitting zazen (zen meditation) you may follow the instructions in the Ashoka course Zen Meditation: Entering the Path more or at DharnaNet's zazen page more.

For a minute or so after you seat yourself, while the whirl inside you gradually slows down, let an awareness of the pleasure of being quiet—externally and internally--pervade you. Taking some slow, deep breaths will help.

Entering the picture

When you feel ready, take up the picture you have chosen for this occasion and read the accompanying meditation and haiku poems once or twice. Look closely at the picture so that both its general aspects and its details are imprinted on your mind. After you are tuned in to it, place it where you can see it easily.

Now enter into a more intimate transaction with the picture. As your mind plays with the ideas and images in the meditation, let your eyes roam around the picture. At this stage you may find that you're talking to yourself about the picture or about something you recall from the commentary. Try to keep your talk from being of an evaluating, judging kind. Open yourself.

heron

As you open yourself to the "message" of the commentary and to the picture, let your own verbalizings gradually die away. To reduce the chatter, you will find it helpful to let your eyes wander very slowly and patiently over each detail of the painting, even to noting how individual brush strokes were made. When the chatter starts up again, you may find it valuable to devote part of your mind to counting while you go through the breathing cycle of inhale, hold, exhale. Listening to the tick-tock of a pendulum clock or metronome will give a hypnotic regularity to your count.

If the transaction is developing well, you may begin to feel the alertness of the heron watching for a frog, the soaring quality of mountain peaks rising up out of valley mists into the sky, the quiet serenity of a sage sitting in a shelter looking out over a mountain lake. The Zen tenet, as developed in the commentary, may be exercising its influence either below or just above the threshold of your consciousness. You can be sure that the Zen orientation as expressed in picture, haiku, and commentary is to some degree restructuring your mind patterns.

After a minute or two—or more—you may find thoughts not associated with the picture or tenet arising in your mind. This occurs quite naturally. As Master Yasutani says, "[Zen meditation] does not aim at making the mind inactive, but at quieting and unifying it in the midst of activity."

kanji

Keep a pencil and paper beside you to record thoughts that you will want to recall later; this will free you from the effort of trying to remember them. Casual thoughts and reactions to the environment will pass through your mind and leave no effect. Judgments, beliefs, ideologies are not so innocuous; if possible, avoid them. It will help to keep your eyes open and fastened "idly" about three feet in front of you on the floor. It may also help to count as you inhale and exhale.

Strike a happy medium between floating with what happens in a relaxed way and keeping an alert awareness of yourself as an organism solidly poised in athletic tension.