Sitting More and Embracing the Full Package

Minh N. Tran


I have to admit that I never liked sitting. It is boring. Just sitting there for hours? Why not go out and have a coffee with a friend? Go see a movie, take a walk, or read a book. Any of this would be better than sitting for hours with nothing to do.

I come from a traditional Chinese Buddhist family. There were many ceremonies and lots of chanting. I grew up loving the rise and fall in the voices of the congregation. Someone would run out of breath, and another would swoop in to fill the gap. The drums, bells, and gongs built intricate but predictable rhythms. The food offerings, the flowers, the incense, and the graceful monks. All of these sights, sounds, and smells nourished my young spirit.

There was no silent sitting until I encountered Zen in my first year of university. The Yale Buddhist chaplain is an early student of Zen Master Seung Sahn. So I learned the Kwan Um School of Zen forms: sitting, chanting, and bowing. I liked the physicality of the bows, and chanting came naturally to me, but I struggled with sitting. During the worst of it, sitting felt like prison. All that I wanted was to hear the chugpi release me.

When I moved from Los Angeles to Hong Kong two years ago, I joined our Hong Kong sangha and immediately liked Zen better! There was so much chanting! I could come at 7 a.m. for morning chanting, come back at 3:30 p.m. for kido chanting, and again at 6:30 p.m. for evening chanting. I joined as many chanting sessions as I could and did my best to avoid sitting.

Two years later, without my awareness, the intensive kido practice has built up my sitting stamina. The stillness and sameness of repeating the Great Dharani over and over again thousands of times has helped me taste "enough mind." Sitting is enough. Chasing after fun isn't as necessary anymore. Another key was learning to relax and breathe properly. Once I could relax my body and slow down my breath, sitting became enjoyable.

Still, when I couldn't come to the zen center, I wasn't sitting. I was bowing and chanting on my own, but not sitting. Two weeks ago, in a kong-an interview with Andrzej JDPSN, he gently said to me: "You need to sit every day, even if only for ten minutes. Sitting gives you insights." His speech hit me. Right! Siddhartha attained enlightenment while sitting. This is the ancient source of wisdom, the best form for looking deeply inside and asking what is this. Okay, I should sit.

Once I started to sit more, it became clear how important the the full package is. Bowing, chanting, sitting, and kong-an interviews - each is essential, and none could be discarded.

Bowing gives us energy and clears our mind. Through it, we can slowly put down our ego and learn humility. Chanting helps us find harmony and encourages us to put down our likes and dislikes. Sitting cultivates stillness and grants us access to our original wisdom. Kong-an interviews keep us on the right path and give our teachers opportunities to teach us. I used to be terrified of kong-an interviews, but after going in for a few more, I realized that there was nothing to fear. Trust me, our teachers are very kind.

Try, try, try for ten thousand years. May we all practice hard, find our true nature, and save all beings. May all beings one day walk this path.

Minh N. Tran