Egg, Swallowing, Merit

Yoga and zen retreat at the zendo yesterday. Started off with chanting at 5:30. Gah! The chanting stuff. It always makes me feel like hell when we do it first thing. Not sure why. Though starting at 5:30 is much less traumatic than at 3 AM, which is when things kick off when it’s a multi-day retreat. After chanting, tea, then sitting. Ahhhh. Sitting instead of chanting. Already my preferences are kicking in.

Sitting is MUCH easier physically since I started practicing yoga. Duh, right?

After a couple of rounds of sitting, the yoga teacher drops in. We stand in a circle in the zendo and she starts talking. OH HOLY GOD, she’s using Vinyasa Voice! “Reeeeeach up to the beauuuuuuuutiful cloud-filled sky, oooooopen your heaaaaaarts to the grace that is streeeeeeaming down…”


I never expected this. They combine yoga and zazen in a retreat and here I am with a huge obstacle in my mind. Definitely did not expect this. Okay, so that begs the question: What WAS I expecting?

Nothing. I wanted to go into it with “no mind.” No preconceptions, just an openness to the experience. Easy, right? Because, after all, it’s about yoga and zen — two of my favorite things.

Except not THAT kind of yoga.

Apparently my no-mind wasn’t.



So I tried to work through my derision. And yes, that’s what it was, I’m very sorry to say.

Not sure what I was imagining (secretly, back there in my sneaky mind) but I suspect it was that we would bust out into some rarified version of primary practice, and then our zazen-prepped minds would launch us into a magical uber-series that transcended… well, everything.

Okay, so I can see why I was disappointed.


Breakfast, like all meals at the zendo, was silent and taken on the cushion. You get three bowls, and there is a form that is followed to allow the servers to interact with the practitioners with a minimum of fuss, noise or motion.

First bowl: a kind of porridge with pumpkin seeds and honey. YUM! Second bowl, some pieces of orange. Eh, whatever. Third bowl… Plop, into my bowl goes… Oh, damn, it’s an egg. I don’t like to eat eggs. The whole chicken situation makes me sad and I don’t want to play.

But eggs are precious items at the zendo, which runs on a shoestring. And when you are given food, you eat it gratefully.



I threw away my concentration for one sitting session (25 minutes) to satisfy my curiosity about how much the fellow down the way was swallowing. Yup, I decided I would keep count. Where is Hokaku when you need him? Hokaku sits in the corner and keeps order as necessary. “Wake up!” he yells, or, “No moving!” or, “No yoga breathing!” He has a big voice and it’s shocking as hell to hear after hours of silence.

“God, I wish Hokaku was here,” I thought when I first became aware of the swallower.

Then, of course, his persistence started to make me crazy.

And then I thought about how he was sitting there, thinking he was drowning in his own spit, which surely is unpleasant.

The thing is, though, the swallowing thing is like the itch thing. It seems overwhelming, but if you leave it alone and don’t respond, it goes away.

That’s how Hokaku rolls. He screams, “NO SWALLOWING!” and the offender then has to sit and NOT swallow. And after doing it for one, two, or however many sessions it takes, the person realizes that the sensation that one will DIE if they don’t swallow is just a nervous tic of the mind.

Sokai, who was running the retreat, is a more progressive sort, I guess. He’s gonna let the swallower swallow until he figures it out on his own.

Not sure which is more compassionate. I guess this is one of those same or different questions.

And not for me to say.

Swallow count (25 minute session): 15. After that, I gave up noticing, though I did check back at the very end of the day, and The Swallower was clocking in at more than one per minute. More practice is necessary. For both of us.


What do I “get” out of practice? Always an interesting question. In “real life” we tend to wonder what we’ll “get” for doing just about anything we think is worthwhile (i.e., exchangeable). How much should I get for doing my job? How much extra (bonus!) for going above and beyond? What do I get out of different interactions with people? Etc., etc., etc.

Expecting to get something — even ineffable things, is such a good source of disappointment! What did I think I would “get” out of the retreat yesterday? I thought I was going into it without expectations, with “no mind,” but I guess, since I was surprised when the teacher busted out with Vinyasa Voice, I must have had some kind of secret expectations.

C.K. recently posted a link to an article about Dharma Mittra. In it, he speaks about merit/benefit.

The mistake so many yoga students make is expecting benefits from their practice, Dharma says. “That is the natural tendency. People are always expecting. If you practice meditation, you’re always expecting to have some results. Even in your prayers, you’re always asking, asking, asking.” Expectations frequently give rise to disappointments. When selfishness is stripped from the practice, when the ego recedes, the benefits will come, and swiftly he says.

Let’s see. I know the zen fellows had much to say about expecting stuff. They were particularly derisive about the idea of expecting to get merit for one’s actions.

Huang Po, will you weigh in?

One should emulate the great earth. All Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, devas and human beings tread upon the earth, but the earth does not rejoice because of this. When the sheep, oxen, ants, etc., tread upon it, the earth does not become angry. Adorned with jewelry or rare fragrances, the earth does not give rise to greed. Bearing excrement and foul smells, the earth does not exhibit hatred or disgust. The unconditioned Mind is without mind, beyond form. All sentient beings and Buddhas are not different; the Perfectly Awakened Mind is thus. If Dharma students are unable to let go of conditioned mind suddenly, and instead practice in other ways, many kalpas may pass but they still will not have reached Bodhi. Because they are tied down by their thinking of the merits of the Three Vehicles, they do not attain genuine liberation.

Most people’s minds are hindered by the mind-realms and only perceive the Buddha principle polluted by and mixed with phenomena. Thus, they are always trying to escape the mind-realms and calm the mind. To attain Pure Mind, they attempt to eradicate phenomena and keep the principle, not realizing that the mind-realms are hindered by Mind and that phenomena are hindered by the principle. Without mind, the realms are empty; when the principle is tranquil, so are phenomena. One should not turn the Mind upside down for some personal use. People do not really want to realize the state of being “Without mind”, fearing that if they fail at their attempts at cultivation a one-sided emptiness would result. Foolish people only try to wipe out phenomena but do not wipe out mind. The wise man wipes out the mind and does not bother with phenomena. The mind of the Bodhisattva is void, having abandoned all and grasping neither bliss nor merit.

Hongzhi Zhenjue, what do you think?

Forgetting About Merit Is Fulfillment

Separate yourself from disturbance and face whatever appears before you. Not one iota seeps through from outside. The two forms (yin and yang) have the same root, and the ten thousand images have one substance. Following change and going along with transformation the whole is not clouded over by previous conditions. Then you reach the foundation of the great freedom. Wind blows and moon shines, and beings do not obstruct each other. Afterwards, settle back within and take responsibility. Wisdom returns and the principle is consummated. When you forget about merit your position is fulfilled. Do not fall for occupying honorable stations, but enter the current of the world and join with the delusion. Transcendent, solitary, and glorious, directly know that transmitting is merit, but having transmitted is not your own merit.


P.S. Entry:

The Cop just got up, had his coffee, and, as I discovered, read this post. As I walked past him into the kitchen, he burst out with, “Reeeeeach up to the sky, Kaaaaaren. Let the clooooooouds urinate in your ooooooopen moooooouth….”

He should be a yoga teacher.


6 Responses

  1. Oooh, such resources here. The last three sentences of the last quotation I like a lot.

    I feel like the gimme aspect of meditation practice was not even something I began to see until I’d been at it a little while. Becasue at first it WAS ineffable and transporting, felt like juicy transformation for this transformation junkie. But then you settle in and there’s less drama. Exactly! But also, meh. Then you get a sense of humor? Damn vinyasa flow.

    Ashtanga works like that too, seems. After a while the gimme goes away.

    I held off on linking this in the last post, but now I have to. Sakyong Mipham, the king or whatever you call it of the Vajrayana lineage (Trungpa’s son) is among other things a spoken word artist. This piece, What About Me?, is wickedly funny. He means it as a joke.

  2. I LOVE it! I just tried to embed it into a post, so everyone would be sure to see it, but WordPress won’t let me.


    What about you, Owl? How are you?

  3. Mipham is great.

    Yeah, the others………:) so much fun, so much hell.

    To change perspective can be rather interesting. I will do it tomorrow. What about the others?

  4. I don’t know.

    “What about me??!”

    I don’t have a good read on that at all right now. Which is pretty funny! As long as I can still write complete sentences and paragraphs, which is all that is required this afternoon.

    (I thought you’d like that. Check out, something that hasn’t made my Saturday links since I’ve been trying to do something else with that, uh, feature.)

  5. If a zen teacher ask you about yourself and you say, “Don’t know,” they say, “Good!”

    So good for you, for not knowing!

    Hi Ursula! What about you? 🙂 Have fun with your changed perspective.

  6. So I’m reading this and I’m digging it and at the same time I’m seeing that this kind of meditation practice is far from my life, and I’m chewing on that,

    and THEN I hit the Cop’s punchline and I was HOWLING, and perhaps unfortunately, that’s what I’m taking away from this post tonight.

    I’ll be good and really groove on the meditation bit tomorrow, I promise. But tonight, it totally belongs to the Cop. By the way, I know EXACTLY what you mean by “vinyasa voice”, I even know people here who teach in it!

    David Swenson, in a weekend workshop, urged us (as teachers) to be ourselves and NOT to teach in “yoga voice”: “Wellllcome…… Yoh-gah!” and so forth. Hilarious, if you’ve not seen his impressions (his impressions of David Williams, and Richard Freeman, are also priceless).

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