Q63. I once practised Zen for ten days with little sleep, but I only got some problems with my body without getting anything. How hard should I practice?

A. You seem to be in a hurry. “Don’t make haste where you should take it easy, and don’t be idle where you should be in a hurry.” “Practice just like putting out a fire on your head.” “Practice just like a hen incubates its eggs.” These are very well known maxims in Zen meditation practice.

Don’t make haste where you should take it easy, that is, you should not be impatient for the final goal. The purpose of Zen is to do away with attachment and illusions. To intend to obtain something fast is also a kind of attachment or an illusion that prevents you from concentrating on practice. Be unconcerned about when or how soon you will reach the final goal as if it were none of your business. No one knows when you will reach the final goal. However, when the time is ripe, you will reach it as easily and naturally as you touch your nose while washing your face, and (you will feel) as if it reached you. Leave it alone until the time is ripe of itself just like a hen incubates its eggs. The more impatient you are, the farther you will get away from the final goal.

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However, don’t be idle where you should be in a hurry, that is to say, you should pay all your attention to your question when practising as if you were being chased alone by hungry lions. There is no time to lose in producing an original idea, no one to help you and no shelter to hide yourself. The only way you can avoid being devoured by them is to run faster than them. Don’t try any other way than focusing on your question. Don’t try to have the same experience as you heard from others, or read in books, that seem to be nice or mysterious. Don’t take understanding for the final goal, which is you are serving your enemy as your father or mother. Never try to understand it. It can’t be explained and understood, but must be felt or experienced through the whole body. Don’t care about how far away the final goal is, but care about only whether you can keep your question. The harder you try to find a better way, the farther you will get away from the answer. Focus all your attention to the question just like putting out a fire on your head. You will undergo something new sooner or later. What is important here is that you should never attach yourself to the new experience. Just keep your focus on your question, leaving it alone, however nice or novel it is.

All writing ©Boo Ahm. All images ©Simon Hathaway.

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