Zazen, Koans and Voices
Student: I notice when I try to work with disowned voices it gets difficult to identify them and pull them apart. Do you have any tips or tricks to work with that?
Roshi: I don’t know about tricks, but I’m glad you brought this up because I’ve been asked this very often by people who say they have a difficult time meditating in the voices, particularly the disowned voices. What is very helpful, but it’s not a trick, is koan study. Because when you do koans, you learn how to really focus on a koan and work with it and look at it like you’re turning a diamond around and looking at it from many angles and many perspectives. Your mind becomes very focused. To translate that into working with disowned voices is very helpful. But it’s not a trick, it’s a discipline. So what I suggest is becoming more and more focused on your meditation, because it is in zazen that you learn to focus more.
Big Mind does not replace zazen — let me just say that. It is as an adjunct to zazen. It’s meant to actually support zazen and make your zazen deeper. Zazen is still really important — and I don’t want you to sit in order to get something — but just know that the insights you have from Big Mind get integrated and embodied during zazen. So it is helpful to sit and work with learning how to focus and how to work with your mind, and koans are a great example of that, or a great way to do that. Otherwise I suggest that you work on the disowned voices with another person. Because when you’re doing it out loud and somebody is guiding you as a facilitator to your process, they help you stay focused. And so it’s so much easier. I do a lot of this on my own in zazen, but I’ve worked with all the koans and I’ve been working with zazen for forty years, so it’s easy to stay concentrated. But if you haven’t done a lot of zazen, it may be difficult. That’s all I’m trying to say.