The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

What Does it Feel Like to Let Go?

by David R. Loy
October 21, 2015
Wed, 10/21/2015 - 11:00 -- David R. Loy

From A New Buddhist Path by David Loy.


Nonattachment is, of course, what we are practicing when we meditate. That is why meditation is such an important part of the Buddhist path. Because the self is composed of mostly habitual ways of thinking, feeling, acting, reacting, and so forth, it means that when I “let go” of them while meditating, I am deconstructing my sense of self—or, more precisely, the self is deconstructing, because it is not really something that “I” can do.

There are different ways to meditate because there are different ways to “let go.” In Zen practice, which is what I am most familiar with, the focus is usually on “forgetting yourself,” as described by the twelfth-century Japanese Zen master Dogen Kigen in a well-known passage from his Shobogenzo:

To study Buddhism is to study yourself. To study yourself is to forget yourself. To forget yourself is to be awakened by the ten thousand things. When awakened by the ten thousand things, your body and mind as well as the body and mind of others drop away.
—Genjokoan

This accords with what can happen during an intensive meditation retreat—for example, while working on the koan “Joshu’s Mu” during a Zen sesshin. Here it is unnecessary to go into details, except to say that practitioners are instructed to repeat “Muuu…” mentally during breath exhalations. My constructed sense of self is normally sustained by the ways that my usual ways of thinking and acting interact. Focusing on “Muuu…” and cutting off everything else with “Muuu…” undermines that process. Instead of reacting to desires and thoughts (“Wouldn’t a cold beer taste good right now!”), one lets them go by continually returning to “Muuu…”

Notice what this process does not involve. The point is not to cultivate blankness of mind by trying to push thoughts away, which creates a division between that which is pushing away and the thoughts that are pushed away. Instead, the principle is to concentrate on one thing—in this case, repeating “Muuu…” ceaselessly—in order to become absorbed into it and literally become one with it.

Enlightenment is the dropping away of the self in the act of uniting with something.
—Koun Yamada

Get the book, keep reading, and learn more about practicing Buddhism in the 21st century. Also don’t miss our interview with David Loy on the Wisdom Podcast, where he discusses modern Buddhism and much more.

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