Chinese Hermits Lifestyle and Training (Bill Porter’s Road To Heaven)

Oh I love the book compiled by author Bill Porter titled Road To Heaven, his encounters with real life chinese hermits are amazing and inspiring! I love reading their stories, their trainings, their practices and their simple way of life. You can read an interview with the author here.

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“Zen is like a cup of tea,” said Bill Porter.

On one level you can see the teacup and you can admire it. You can look at the tea and admire it and its flavor. But then you have to drink it. When you drink it you have the real cup of tea. But what is it? It’s gone: it’s the memory of the taste, the sensation in your mouth.

China has a great Olympics program but not everyone in China should train for six hours a day. Likewise, being a hermit is not for everyone. It’s like spiritual graduate school.

You spend most of your time chopping firewood and hauling water. This becomes part of your practice. Many people go in the spring and leave in the autumn. They don’t have the spiritual practice to sustain them during the winter.

General meditation practices can be broadly classified into two types – concentration oriented (shamatha meditation) and insight oriented (vipassana meditation). Some of the examples of concentration based practices are chanting mantras, focusing the gaze on an object or flame or focusing on the breath.

Zen meditation techniques usually form the second group wherein the emphasis is more on becoming aware of the sensations, thoughts, actions, emotions, and so on without actually getting involved or analyzing them. At times, the master will give you the homework of working on a KOAN. In other words, you become a witness to things that is happening in and around you.

To illustrate the essence of Zen meditation, here is one memorable story:

After ten years of apprenticeship, Tenno achieved the rank of Zen teacher. One rainy day, he went to visit the famous master Nan-in. When he walked in, the master greeted him with a question, “Did you leave your wooden clogs and umbrella on the porch?” “Yes,” Tenno replied.

“Tell me,” the master continued, “did you place your umbrella to the left of your shoes, or to the right?”

Tenno did not know the answer, and realized that he had not yet attained full awareness. So he became Nan-in’s apprentice and studied under him for ten more years.

No matter which method you choose, the end goal is the same – to still the mind and attain absolute emptiness. I personally find the Zen technique more likeable and relaxing. One reason is because it does not lay down rules – do this, do that. I hate following rules and when practicing Zen meditation, I can just be myself.

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