Continuing Meditation Classes with Rev. Keisho

Rev. Keisho

Last night, R and I attended the third of the thirteen classes that Rev. Keisho is teaching on Shikan meditation. As far as I know, Keisho is the only “official” Tendai priest in California (leaving out one or two others not recognized by the powers that be). The focus of his classes on shikan (which is shamatha and vipassana to the rest of you) is to spend half the series going over the basics of the “shi” portion, which is calm-abiding meditation, and the other half on the “kan,” which is insight meditation. For the insight portion, Keisho will be focusing quite a bit on “recollection” in the form of recollecting the specific teachings of the Buddha. This is interesting to me because my exposure to vipassana is more through Tibetan methods where it involves penetration into the mind once the calming has been achieved and much less recollection in the sense of looking at the Buddha’s words. We’ll see if I’m understanding his focus correctly once we get to that portion of the class.

Next week, while I’m out on retreat, he’ll be finishing up the shi portion and the following week, we’ll put it into practice. Right now, we open with a fairly standard Japanese opening of chanting repentance, the ten precepts, and the Heart Sutra (in Japanese). When we do the shamatha portion as a group, we’ll be using a mantric method. This places it in a different kind of space from the shamatha methods that one experiences in Zen with its silent sitting or walking. We’ll be chanting a mantra for about 45 minutes (probably 1,000 times) to act as the concentration method. I’ve done this plenty of times before as part of my previous practice and I actually find it to be a quite engaging method. As Keisho points out, it is very easy to tell when your concentration slackens because you begin to screw up your recitation. He mentioned the tendency of people to sometimes fall asleep or daydream during silent meditation and I’ve been as guilty of that as much as any meditator. While you can drift off while reciting, the voice/ear connection acts as an excellent focus, especially when you throw a visualization component into it as well.

Keisho has been using the manual written by Zhiyi (Chih-i), the founder of Tendai in China, as the basis of much of the class. He handed out a simple outline of it that he had translated during the second class.

One nice thing that Keisho mentioned last night is that there are recent translations of two of Zhiyi’s works on meditation. These are The Essentials of Buddhist Meditation and The Six Dharma Gates to the Sublime. The publisher makes these available here and here respectively for $10 each as files if you don’t want or need the print edition. There is also a nice article by Paul Swanson as well, Ch’an and Chih-kuan: T’ien-t’ai Chih-i’s View of “Zen” and the Practice of the Lotus Sutra available as well for those interested in reading more.

I’ve been enjoying the class. Attendance has been pretty limited, often just me, R, and one or two other people. I wish more people attended as what Keisho is teaching has real value and it is pretty rare to get the opportunity to study with a trained Tendai priest who has made meditation one of his primary practices.