Question from a reader: Can I do more than one meditation practice?January 31, 2012 | 13 Comments | Add to favorites
I recently received this very excellent question from a member of The Open Heart Project:
Q. This Shamatha meditation you are teaching is giving me good results (I become more compassionate to myself and to other people around me, and I become more objective with my feelings and thus not easily bruised).
I have joined a Zen Meditation group (where I live), and there is a requirement of giving up other meditation practices while doing the orientation course for their group.
I am confused…I feel as though your guided meditations are complementary to their Zen meditation practice as these are all Buddhist meditations. Am I being unfair by doing both Shamatha and Zen and keeping to to myself?
Maybe they are afraid of conflicting instructions confusing the new students of Zen making it harder for them to teach.
So could I just do both quietly and see what happens? Well, I couldn’t just drop one over the other, as I need a group and I need a more detailed instructions. Can you please give some input on my this?
A. I understand completely why the Zen group would want you to give up other practices while doing their orientation. Both Zazen and shamatha are very precise. The techniques are very specific and, while not easy, are very simple. It is very common for us beginning practitioners to complicate them by making little adjustments to the technique. This is our egoic mind trying to interfere with the arising of our wisdom mind. As we practice, we will find all sorts of reasons why we can’t do this or that part of the technique and may even seek to combine the elements we like best from each practice we learn. This does not serve our awakening.
In this sense, the requirement to give up other meditation practices is an act of compassion–exactly as you say, to avoid conflicting instructions that make it harder for students.
Zazen and shamatha are very similar. Yet there are distinct stylistic differences. This is a vast over-simplification, but one could say that Zen practice emphasizes precision first and spaciousness second while shamatha emphasizes spaciousness first. The culture of Zen is more austere. Shamatha (as taught in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage) is more colorful. Both are excellent. Both can lead you to enlightenment. It is a matter of which style resonates with you.
That said, don’t practice half-heartedly. If you choose to continue with the Zen group, please follow their instructions exactly. That way you (and they) will derive the most benefit. If you want to continue to practice shamatha after the orientation, you will be in a better place to make that choice having given your Zen practice your whole heart.
If you want to continue to use The Open Heart Project material, that is fine. Just listen to the dharma talks I give and when it comes time to practice, do your Zen practice rather than following my instruction. Does this make sense?
Keep me posted!
You can’t go wrong with either of these paths!