The Iron Grindstone (or The Trouble with my Car) is a talk by Norman Fischer. He uses his car and his experience with it as an analogy for zen meditation.
The Trouble With My Car, by Norman Fischer:
About Norman Fischer:
Norman is a Zen priest and abbot, a husband, father, and a poet, a teacher with wide-ranging interests and passions. During almost 30 years at San Francisco Zen Center, he served as director, tenzo, tanto, operations manager and other positions. Norman retired as abbot of Zen Center in 2000 to take his teaching out into the world. He continues his involvement with the Zen Center as a senior Dharma teacher. Norman believes in the possibility of engaged renunciation: living a fully committed religious life that does not exclude family, work, and a passionate interest in the world. In addition to his teaching with the Everyday Zen sangha in the Bay Area, Norman is guiding teacher to four other groups: the Bellingham (WA) Zen Practice Group, the Mountain Rain Zen Community (Vancouver, BC., Mar de Jade (Mexico), and The New York Zen Circle (New York City).
Good evening, everybody.
My name is Norman Fischer and I’m a ___ priest. I live in ___ Beach. I apologize for being late, but there is really a lot of traffic. Maybe some of you got stuck in that traffic. Something must have happened on the Bridge, on the Richmond Bridge, because the traffic from the ___ Beach Exit all the way to Richmond Bridge was bumper to bumper. It took me 50 minutes to drive that 5 miles and so, one complains about the traffic and so on, but usually, there’s an accident, right? So, hopefully nobody was hurt. Once, I was in the worst traffic jam I was ever in my life. I was going across the Golden Gate Bridge and finally got home, and it turned out that one of the members of our ___ Community had been in an accident in that Golden Gate Bridge. A really serious one that made her still can’t walk, so now, whenever I’m in a bad traffic jam, that’s why I realize. Probably, there was an accident. But once I got passed against the Richmond Bridge place, then, it was very easy. So, pleasant drive.
But it seemed that you’re all fine without me meditating. You don’t need somebody to tell you how to meditate, to sit, breathe—pretty easy, pretty self-sufficient.
Well, first, I would like to say a word about posture. The posture that we take when we’re sitting, standing, walking, is actually really important. Maybe you don’t realize that the word attitude actually means posture. You take an attitude with your body, with your mind, with your spirit. And attitude is the way we hold ourselves. In any moment of your life, you have some attitude, and that attitude is going to condition and shape the way you receive and hold what happens in that moment. And that attitude is literally in the body. You’re expressing the attitude of your heart and mind in the body, and when you change the attitude of the body, it also change of the heart and mind, so it’s a good idea to pay attention to your attitude, not just assume that your attitude is given, but study it closely. And that’s why when you sit down in meditation, don’t just sit there like an ordinary, unenlightened person. You should sit there just like a Buddha. That’s the whole idea, right? You’re changing your attitude to have a Buddha attitude. So, you don’t want to just slouch around like an ordinary unenlightened person.
So when you sit down, you should feel the top of your head. You should feel that lifting up towards the sky. But then, you should tuck your chin a little bit so that you are a level headed Buddha. And then if you rotate your pelvis slightly forward, which will arch your back slightly inward, and this allows your whole spine to lengthen and open. So this is not imposing an upright posture on yourself as a kind of religious discipline. No, it’s not any position. On the other hand, it’s no good to just slouch around in the usual taking yourself for granted way. Instead, the feeling of this that you are allowing your body, you’re letting it be uplifted from within. You’re not preventing that as you usually do without realizing it. You’re letting your body be uplifted from within. You’re letting that happen. You’re letting your body assume its dignified human posture.
And then, if you get used to that, and you practice that regularly, you will have an attitude of dignity and nobility no matter what’s going on. You’ll receive it with that attitude. And the Buddha actually use that word, use the word “nobility.” Before, the Buddha used it, people thought the word refer to individuals of a certain class, or a certain birth. No, the nobility were certain people. But what was radical about the Buddha is that he didn’t think that the nobility where certain chosen people. He thought that awakening is human nobility and that everyone possesses it, and that it’s in the body. It’s actually in the body waiting to be released.
So when you sit in meditation, you’ll think about this and study it in your body, and see if you can be surprised all of a sudden why you’re sitting there in a way that your body will just open up just like a flower opening up. Maybe one day in meditation, you’ll be surprised and you’ll feel your body opening up. It’s not the regular body anymore. It’s the Buddha body.
In Zen, you know, we sit with our hands in our laps. The left, back left hand resting in the palm of the right hand and then the thumb tips just touching. So we use that Mudra in Zen. And once, ___, gave meditation instruction and he said, put your mind in the palm of your hand. And when you’re meditating, put your mind in the palm of your hand. So that’s a good thing to try—sitting with your mind not spinning around in your mind, but in your mind in the palm of your hand and then paying close attention especially to the very delicate way that the thumb tips are just touching when you’re using the Mudra. It’s very subtle and delicate—the way the thumb tips just touch—not too pressing, not falling apart from one another, but just delicately, beautifully touching.
So that’s the kind of Zen style of meditation, and you could try it sometime and maybe you’ll find that it’s a good practice.
Anyway, that’s ___ speech about posture.
Now, I want to tell you about my new car. (people laughs)
So, recently, like many of you, I got a new car. Few years ago. And it’s a hybrid car, because it was seemingly increasingly stupid to me that you could have a car that would get 15 or 20 miles gallon of gasoline. This just seem like it didn’t make any sense.
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