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Listen with the eye and see with the ear

April 28, 2012

by Stephen Damon

In a few hours our sangha will have our first half-day retreat at Sei Ko Kai Church in San Francisco, from 9 a.m. until noon.  If you’re up early this morning and would like to attend, please free to come to 2140 Pierce St. at the corner of Clay St.  If you can’t make it you might try this three step meditation based on the Shurangama Sutra that we will be doing.

Sit down quietly on a zafu or chair and let your gaze rest openly a few feet in front of you.  Let yourself settle into your body for a few minutes. It may be helpful to try to have a sensation of your body as you sink deeper into your posture.

Step 1: The first step is to let go of thoughts and images as you listen to the external sounds in your environment: a bus going by, a car door slamming, a bird singing. You don’t have to specifically listen. You don’t have to think about it. You just let the sounds enter your awareness and your body. You don’t have to search specifically for sounds — they are already there. You just observe them and let them be. You relax and pay attention to sounds growing louder and softer without doing anything.  You find that you hear sounds without identifying them.  Eventually you find that you can hear silence too.  Just as a car door slamming is an object of hearing so too is the silence afterwards.  They are both phenomena.  If you stay with this you begin to sense that there is very little, if any, difference between a sound and silence.

This is called “entering the flow of sound.” It’s the first stage of this practice. Anyone can do it because we do it all the time. But now we are being asked to turn it into a cultivation method. “Entering the flow” means letting go of the sound you hear. Let it arise, but don’t analyze it, just know it when it comes. After a while you will notice that your mind begins to settle.  This is the first stage of the practice.

Step2:  Gradually you stop trying to listen and the mind quiets down even more.  This stage is called all the sound that enters quiets down.  You let go of all sounds and rest in a state of cessation or stillness or silence.  This is the state of Samadhi. You are quiet in front of quietness itself.

Step3.  But there is one more step.  You need to see that silence is as much an object of hearing as are sounds. They are both sense objects.  So you need to let go of silence too.  Kwan Yin says, “When sense and the objects of sense both become empty, then emptiness and sense merge and reach a state of absolute perfection.”

It might be helpful to try this exercise, using a meditation bell. Gently strike the bell and  notice how the sound fills you; notice how your awareness grows as the sound dims. Follow the echoes fading into space, into nothingness.  Let the echoes fade without holding onto them, without trying to make them clearer or louder. Do not hoard anything for yourself.  

As the last echoes fade, notice the silence growing deeper and fuller…  Notice how awareness of the silence merges with the silence itself…  There is no silence and no you; no inside or outside… There is nothing to change and nothing to hold onto. There is just awareness…rest in this awareness.

Let that go and let yourself slowly rise to the surface… Slowly, open your eyes wider and take in everything around you.   




From → Zen Buddhism

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