In this yearbook report I would like to meditate a little bit about my own practice and a way I had to go to get to Antaiji and Zen teaching in general. I feel like one day I would have to write something about this topic, so why wouldn’t I cover it now.
The most intense part of my practice started last year around this months. Practice became more or less meaningful for about a couple of years before this day. The first meditation and zazen experiments I’ve started 7 or 8 years ago.
I’ve never met anyone who was serious about Buddhism or Zen or any meditation practices before I was able to get to Antaiji. So, my initial interest in meditation has risen because I was interested in altered states of mind. I wouldn’t say I particularly disliked Buddhism that time, but neither noble truths, nor compassion as an axis of teaching weren’t something quite touching for me. I had some interest in Zen, but only because it has these hazy philosophical references to non-dualistic experiences. But since I’ve started my journey to Zen philosophy from Alan Watts I wasn’t really deep into practices that time – and I don’t think that he had proposed any practices at all. And even I’ve tried zazen that time, it didn’t provide potent enough alternative state of mind, comparing to other ways to get there. According to things I could read in Watts’ writings, I just assumed that since everyone is enlightened and there is no way to practice and no special experiences, that could be attained via practice, I could just leave this way and do something else.
I had a gap for 4 or 5 years of having almost no meditation practice at all. I cannot easily remember, why I’ve returned to experiments in meditation again (I suppose it was because I was looking for some easy way to self-development), but after I’ve returned I tried to stay away from Zen as far as possible – because it’s too vague and can justify anything and any state of consciousness as enlightened and self-sufficient. I hadn’t read any critical Buddhism texts then, but I think I felt quite close to academics who proposed it in the first place. And since I wasn’t in all this religious stuff anyway I’d just decided to practice some quasi-secular mindfulness meditation for a while and wait and see, what can happen. I wouldn’t say I had this idea of removing all indecent states of mind or attaining nirvana that time, but for some reason even without these ideas I’ve started again. Probably, the question of life and death wasn’t really sharp question for me that time. This could be really considered as a starting point – it was 2016’s autumn.
I was doing some geophysical research that time – for this I had to wake up 5 o’clock every morning and go to the bus, which could carry me to the geophysical research station, located in mountains about 40 kilometers away from my hometown. And from 6.30 till 16.00 (when bus was going back to the city) I wasn’t able to leave the station and had to work on my task, except for 1 hour break for dinner. I didn’t need one whole hour to eat my sandwich (or whatever I could take to the station), so I had a time I could use for some rest. That was a regular kind of break and I decided to use this time for meditation – I used Headspace guided meditation then. And since there were no good place to quietly sit near the laboratory, where I worked, I would just go out to the mountain, stay there and meditate using my headphones and watching clouds and mountains. Such conditions were around for a couple of months, during those months I was able to practice meditation for 30 to 40 days – which wasn’t even every day, but was still consistent enough to be a good start to have some understanding, what I could find in meditation, except for altered states of mind. The program I’ve used was some kind of vipasana meditation – yet, it had 60 seconds period after narrator would say “now let your body and mind be completely free” – and this period felt like the most adequate and authentic period of 25 or so minutes long guided chapter. Nevertheless, for a while I’d never tried this letting go practice for longer because I thought that it’s necessary to first prepare body and mind for this kind of switch.
After this couple of months had passed, I finished with my job in the laboratory and also had to go to the university more often, so both my fixed schedules for working and for meditation had broken and now I was able to meditate only from time to time. Eventually, these meditations were not really useful for anything, except for a mild relaxation of body – I thought – and switched to more direct methods of becoming a better person – which are developing skills relevant for my professional life, studying and work more directly. Practices were good for nothing I was interested then, so I decided to put them away. Around that time I’ve also felt like the way I and my companions were spending our free time wasn’t quite right, so I stopped drinking alcohol, smoking and everything else was around then.
The next turning point was during 2017’s spring. That year I was going to graduate with a bachelor’s degree, so I had to participate in some conferences and similar stuff. There was no sign that the things I was researching was really interesting to anyone in this conferences and more than this I didn’t feel any appreciation to the quality of reports. Second, I had was some problems with the digestion that time, which appeared to be an outcome of particular genetic feature (Gilbert’s syndrome – quite safe condition, which still cannot be fixed) – so I started to feel like I’m being defective human being in terms of my health and probably – I thought – it would be better for humanity if there were no persons of this kind at all – which was at least quite bothersome way of thinking. Third, although I’ve graduated successfully and with an excellent grades because of some bureaucratic hindrances I along with my university group wasn’t able to get diploma at the proper time – so I wasn’t able to apply to the Master’s degree in time. And had to wait for another year for the next application opportunity to open. But this last point wasn’t such a big problem, when I was comparing it with being genetically defective and doing something that has no use for anyone – even for me. With all these thoughts and feelings I’ve plunged in quite deep depressive state by the middle of 2018’s summer.
This state was even more intense since I had no need to do anything for around a year. I spent several weeks doing nothing but suffering, eating, sleeping and writing texts, those had to rationalize the idea that the only good outcome for any human is a suicide. Quite interesting that during that time I had two major actors inside of me – one was this thinking process that was annihilating any value I could find in the world, the second one was the intuition that all these complex feelings and conceptions were just a trick of imagination – something completely delusional and non-existent. It seems like these processes were aware of each other, so each of them was convincing me that I should ignore another one. For a couple of weeks this depressive thinking process was the main one – so I had even decided on every hows, whens and wheres of what it was proposing, but one day before the day X I decided eventually just to sit and don’t stand up till my problem will be solved. And the problem have been solved for a couple of hours of some complex intuition and thinking dialogue – so I could at last understand that all this complications were nothing but a phantom.
This was the end of 2018’s summer. And this time I’ve started to practice meditation more seriously (although, it was quite stochastic and chaotic that time), since I thought that if it is able to solve this kind of depressive complication of thoughts just for a couple of hours, it should be able to do even more, if I practice it more consistently and more intensely. I also started some experiments with various ascetic practices as a supplementary factor for meditation. By the beginning of October, every or almost every day I was waking up, doing some tummo (tibetian breathing technique) going to have a cold shower and then coming back to sit in meditation for one or two hours. Usually it was object meditations with concentration on my breath (with no letting-go element inside the practice). Since I had nothing to do that time (no need to go to university, no need to go to work, no need to meet with anyone) I definitely had enough of time and concentration to this morning practice, but on the other hand these conditions were not any good to put me over my limits.
Yet, none of practices had changed the fact that I felt quite inferior due to my poor academic background – physics is usually a way to self-actualize with a quite high risk of becoming outsider in terms of results. Of course, some people cannot even imagine how they would live without all of these mathematical exercises and researches – but I wasn’t one of those guys. I’ve decided to start an physics education out of some philosophical thoughts about the importance of science in this world and because there are a lot of bizarre concepts in quantum and theoretical physics. I could find some fun in solving mathematical problems, but it wasn’t an absolute necessity to my life: I could live without them for quite a long time. Moreover, what I had to do for my graduation project was more about programming and analyzing signal than about some scientific creativity and I was feeling like the most of the physics I can find is quite similar to this. Maybe, I could get something out of this feeling and thoughts, but by December I’ve encountered with a factor that forced me to reestimate all my thoughts about what I was doing and what for I was doing all of this.
During autumn I reduced my using of internet significantly, since I felt that if I had a chat the previous day or watch some video the content of my meditation is not clear enough. But one time during compulsive watching YouTube recommendations, I’ve encountered Jordan Peterson videos. I think now all his stuff (as well as some another authors’ videos) is usually called “responsibility wave” – and that’s quite proper name for this. Basically, what he was proposing was a dichotomy quite close to some ideas of 20-th century philosophers either you have an aim and a meaning in your life or you suffer for no reason. To put it in his words “Oh, man… It’s better for you to have an aim, because otherwise you’re aimless”. And since no one wants to be aimless and suffer for no reason it’s better to have some kind of meaning of life, even if this meaning is created out of nothing and has no relevance whatsoever. Quite close to Zen in its “external” realizations, though it focuses on an individual achievement and success, not on Bodhisattva vows – so it wasn’t really enough in many senses (especially, if you are unlike Jordan Peterson cannot accept idea of God or believe that everything that is happening in this world and in society should have some meaning eventually). Anyway for that time, since some of ideas he was talking about was similar to what I’ve experienced, I decided to give it a try.
Except for quite straightforward advice to avoid lying or keeping own room in perfect order, Jordan Peterson had been proposing program to understand persons strong and weak points, aims and events of the past in more explicit way – the idea was that usually people only vaguely understand what they want and what kind of game they are playing, but if one defines the game more specific and understand how it have been played before, he should have more motivation, discipline or whatever is needed to play this game (or even every possible game) perfectly. All this things had to be defined mainly by writing texts about particular events of your past, possible outcomes of your future and some features, faults and merits one’s character has. I’ve completed these exercises and redefine my meaning to do what I wanted to do in a more synthetic and made-up way – if before I thought that perhaps there is no meaning behind all things I was doing, after I knew that the meaning could only be made from nothing just to allow person to survive in this world and not to live life that has nothing but suffering. In other words, it was some way to rationalize suffering – just a way to get a balance of zero or higher. Probably, in former generations people were doing it throughout the idea of God – but now, since there are a lot of people who cannot believe in God for some reason, instead of God-conception there is a proposition to believe in some higher aim of oneself. I can’t say if it really worked (since I’ve witnessed only one outcome), but for a while all my problems with being alive for nothing were far enough to save me from concentrated suffering. One quite interesting exercise in this program was about “authoring own future” – the most significant part of this exercise was writing down, where you could finish in a several years if you behave according to your made-up meaning of life and where you could finish if you behave against it (by having not enough resistance to your own faults and bad tendencies). I would say that was a good exercise for understanding the game this mind has a tendency to play – but this understanding happened about a year after. At the point I’m describing right now, probably the only use of this exercise was in some additional motivation and redefining a game a little bit.
Interesting thing is that just after I’d finished with these exercise, I had almost no power to meditate anymore and for no particular reason had developed some addiction to the internet. And for the next several months my meditative practice was almost gone, and instead of it I had some thoughts how should my future look like, mild depressive episodes and huge episodes of compulsive internet usage (I blocked whatever way to access network I could only think about) – every time I had an opportunity to bypass all the lockdowns I would probably fade out from any responsibilities for a several days with completely broken sleeping cycles by the end of these several days and some kind of abstinence syndrome every time I was returning to this reality. That was quite annoying and almost opposite to the thing I was waiting from everything I was doing before to ensure my intention stability. Quite interesting, how constantly measuring oneself could make things even worse than they were before.
Anyway, for about six months there were no practice at all. And I’ve returned completely by luck – when I was looking a good explanation about how one should meditate for a one guy on anonymous forum. But this time I was practicing in some Hinduism (or even Neohinduism) tradition. All this karma-chakra-atman-brahman words with some mantras instead of meditation and experimenting with own’s diet instead of any actual deeds in the world. I’ve learned a little bit all this stuff, and about a month after I’ve started it had almost no credibility for me. Yet, by this time I became a vegetarian and still had some feeling that food you’re eating, actions you’re doing and content you’re consuming have a huge effect on the clarity of the mind.
So, by the autumn of 2018, when I started my Master’s graduation, I was very obsessive about keeping my mind clear enough (because otherwise I felt like it’s no use in it at all). For about a half of year I had almost no attention for any actual science work outside of necessary assignments – instead I was thinking what can I change in my food, what can I change in my behavior, what can I change in my social group to have more clarity. By that moment I was already vegetarian. First, I’ve started with reducing the amount of meals to one per day with some days with no food at all. Month later I felt like I have to much indecent intentions and thoughts, so I go full vegan. Month later, I felt like my mind had become clearer than before, but still it was not enough, so I started eat only raw plant-based food. Month later, I decided to eat nothing, except for fruits (what wasn’t very sustainable combination with eating once per day). I knew that probably it’s not good for my health – but keeping clarity was way more important. But then all these compulsive things started to appear again. Every evening (since I was eating in mornings) great anxiety mixed with hunger was arising and the only way to overcome it was to eat something – but eating something would instead arise the anxiety about not being able to keep my “precepts” and making my mind state dirtier. So, for about a month I had these anxiety episodes every day – and during these days I’ve completely lose any faith both in myself and in people around. By the end of this period I could see nothing except my own faults and those of everyone around. By that moment I had a strong feeling (not just slightly background motivation) of everything have no meaning and no use whatsoever, but no rationalization for this feeling yet. Additionally to this, with all these “precepts” I couldn’t understand why would I look for anything more than this moment if the only thing I was looking for for the last half of a year was trying to reduce the amount of my desires and necessities as much as it was possible – so all these redefined good and bad outcomes in my future started to seem empty and meaningless.
In the end of 2019’s I had a chance to go to the vacation to my hometown. And there I had all these feeling even more intense than I had before – because it felt like everyone I had known before was doing something completely useless and not making any sense. I would compare it with watching how other people eating something with a great appetite while having no appetite whatsoever. So, I thought, my main problem is having not enough devotion to the meaning of life I had made up a year ago. And I started some kind of text-writing based practice (this time self-made) which basically was like this: I write down every possible thing could at least potentially be interesting for me of provide me with some pleasure – then I write why I think it could be some pleasure in this pleasure – then I write why I was wrong about there is any pleasure in this action at all, explain why it is meaningless (if there is a need it was possible to do second and third actions several times). It took some time, but this pattern I’ve used to deconstruct the basis of every possible pleasure I could think about and every possible meaning of life I would imagine, except for science. That time it felt like I have to do the same with science too (since I didn’t have a feeling that science is somehow special – even though rationally I tried to persuade myself that it is), but I didn’t – it happened in quite natural way several months later – when I had a chance to see that everything I wrote before was even more correct than I thought. I thought about it as about some kind of skillful mean to keep me doing with my physics stuff, but it appeared to be something way more deep in its practical implications.
During autumn for some reason I had almost no chance to talk with my old friends, who were living in Moscow – I had been kinda boiling in all this stuff of obsessive keeping own way of looking to reality clear enough throughout all practice I could follow that time. But when I returned to the dormitory, where I was living that time I had an opportunity to move from my old room to room, where one of my old friends was living. I moved and because of this I had a better opportunity to see how people usually live in a more close way. And what I was seeing there is that of my old friend are just struggling with a reality for nothing – all things they were aiming at I had completely deconstructed a couple of month before. One of them had anger episodes over things he even didn’t have to care about. Others could use antidepressants just to keep going. Some were just hoping that if they just work for a several years, they eventually could reach a point where there is no need to work at all (are they disgust what they’re doing so much? – I thought). Not to mention all this IT students who had chosen their career path not out of devotion or interest, but just to make some money. It’s not like I was too optimistic about people before, but by this moment I considered and refuted every motivation they could have, so watching others follow meaningless paths had become not neutral or irritating, but painful – I would even say that by that moment I couldn’t see even one correct intention among those others had. And, of course, most of my intentions weren’t decent and suitable either.
I was trying to understand if there is some deeper layer behind all this actions. Sometimes I could ask the friend with whom I was living in dormitory that time something like “Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?” or “In what way is this action useful for your career? Oh, wait… What kind of in your career at all?” I was asking with a deep interest, but haven’t got a satisfying answer even once – instead my companion started to complain that he feels depressive after he talks with me. Two other of my pals, although they were studying philosophy as their main area of expertise couldn’t give me a satisfactory answer either. And everything I knew of philosophical ideas to add some content to this life I had refuted during my rational practice of removing any values from objects of this reality. And although I never did this to the idea of doing science, since everything is interconnected in this world, it couldn’t stay as an exclusive and only value for a long time.
Running away from my compulsions, I’ve rented an appartment with no internet, no furniture, no electronics – basically there were only some kitchen stuff for cooking and a shower – I hoped that I could concentrate on my university studying here. But that didn’t work for a couple of reasons. First time everything was fine – I had clear enough state of mind, studied some non-essential stuff about my graduate work, read some books I’ve considered a good ones, keep my diet “clean” enough and so on, but then after a couple of weeks of this kind of practice I’ve got a migraine attack, that immobilized me for a couple of days in terms of solving hard enough problems. Second, I’ve read some papers about particular health conditions I have and consequences of traumas I had before and found that some features of my health couldn’t be changed anyway. Separately this facts probably wouldn’t be very convincing, but there was just a couple of days between them, so it was like showing a theory and presenting a practical example at the same time. Moreover, even being depressive like me – according to one of papers I’ve read – were strongly correlated with having those conditions. What they would recommend was using stimulants or mild antidepressants depending on the current type of problem. And that wasn’t an option for me – even weak stimulants like caffeine were out of question for me that time. Thus I’ve got an only conclusion: there is no way. And after that migraine attack (that happened in the beginning of March), I’ve never visited the university again and refrain from any social activities. Once, during talking to myself in the apartment, I refuted the idea of being a physicist just the way I’d refuted every other idea before. Another thing, I’ve eventually noticed is that both Hell and Heaven, I’d defined in Future Authoring Program were present here and now – both fundamentally and in details – so, the way of constructing the future could only reproduce here and now, which is self-sufficient and need no reproduction. After all, one month since that attack, I notified my academic advisor and my parents that there is no use for me to do anything I though I should or could do before. Having suicidal thoughts and intentions in these conditions were out of question.
But somewhere between the migraine attack and notifying everyone about my decision, I’ve found (well, remembered) that there is a guy named Kodo Sawaki (before I’ve seen some quotes of him in the internet) and if I’m going to let everything go (even that strange eclectic practice I’d developed so far), it’s better to read some of his writings. And these writing were really useful for removing this attachment for staying in a clear state of mind and all this stuff. Since I couldn’t really agree with any teaching that would propose me anything, and Kodo Sawaki’s Zen proposed nothing, it fitted perfectly. So, I decided to give it a chance and accepted the idea of being Bodhisattva, instead for looking one’s salvation in a world where is nothing to gain.
For April and May of 2019 I’ve finished more or less with all residue I had had from my ethical systems and all ideas of what I could be interested in practically, if there is no axis to focus like physics and from the second part of May started to studying Zen stuff and Buddhism in general and learning Japanese. I’d found Antaiji site since I was wondering if it’s possible to join Antaiji (which was quite often mentioned in Kodo Sawaki and Uchiyama Kosho books). And that was quite useful in terms of providing me with some additional motivation to do zazen. I even managed to do a couple of sesshins and get some interesting experiences during them before actually getting to Antaiji. But generally since I’ve found Zen teaching with a good emphasis on the practice of zazen, I don’t have so much emotional or rational turbulence (although I still have a lot). Probably, teaching that promises nothing was the thing I was looking for and I’ve found it.
Practice in Antaiji I’ve had for a several months since September of 2019, as well as delusion one could easily get while practicing alone following only texts or one’s own intuition, are worth describing. But since each of these topics would require something at least as long as this text, I will meditate on these topics later. Especially considering the fact that it’s hard to describe things, while being inside these things, and I still don’t have a good enough timeline to present in accordance to Antaiji practice (maybe because generally there is no me in this practice to get some hallucinatory narrative of self out of it).
The only thing worth noticing here is the fact that first Kodo Sawaki roshi’s teachings pointed out and then Antaiji practice gave more strong evidence for. That’s the idea that believing in some eventual and irreversible way to get freed from one’s suffering and delusions is delusional itself. Getting to the continuity of practice from this idea that the perfect conditions or state of mind could exist was liberating enough by itself. An that’s the main point I could extract out of my trial stay in Antaiji (as well as from inability to get back there in time due to some visa complications). Everything else – including all tendencies of my mind – are still the same. But that’s not a big problem – if one stops to identify with own body and mind’s well-being these things don’t mean anything anymore. And perceiving one’s thoughts and feelings like some inevitable product of mind’s work and practicing helps a lot in this regard.