The morning began with breakfast at the hotel, and then with a Buddhist meditation experience -- is it appropriate to call it a "service," I wonder? -- led by Lorianne from Hoarded Ordinaries.
She began by offering a few words about Buddhism and meditation. We learned that in Zen meditation, perhaps particularly in the Korean-style Zen she practices, the goal is not to silence the mind but instead to be attentive to the body (sit up straight, maybe be barefoot, relax), the mind (be aware of thoughts as they arise), and the breath which connects them.
She talked also about having a mantra, a phrase (usually a two-part phrase which can be used on inhalation and exhalation) which helps one focus. The mind will run away, will think about the past or the future, and one shouldn't castigate the mind for doing that -- just realize, "oh! Time to bring my attention back," return to the phrase, and keep going. (Arguably this is one definition of what enlightenment is: that moment of "oh!")
She told us that one of her teachers told her that with appropriate mindfulness, even the phrase "Coca-cola; Pepsi" can work in this way. Christians often use the Jesus prayer; Jews often use the Shema; she often recommends the phrase the Buddha is said to have used, "What am I; don't know." (I tend to use the four-letter Name of God -- pause at the letter yud, inhale at the letter hey, full breath at the letter vav, exhale at the second hey.)
Then we sat meditation for 20 minutes, which felt great. I love the energy of sitting with a group of people, and being here in this beautiful room with windows on the world -- and also being here temporally, at the cusp of what I already knew would be a fantastic day -- really helped with that.
And to wrap things up, chanting! First, the Heart Sutra in English (a really neat text, by the way; I first encountered it in Thich Nhat Hanh's annotated rendering, which introduced me to the notion of "interbeing.") Lorianne explained it a little bit, especially the "no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue" section and how that fits into a larger tradition of the Via Negativa or apophatic discourse, and then we chanted it.
And then we chanted the Great Dharani, which is a string of nonsense syllables even to speakers of Sanskrit. (Here it is translated by Suzuki Roshi if you want to try to make sense of it; here it is in syllabics, like what we used.) Lorianne told us it was created for a disciple who was so in-his-mind that he couldn't sit meditation, so the Buddha gave him something nonsensical to chant as a way of breaking through that kind of over-intellectualization. (How very Abraham Abulafia, eh?) We chanted that, and then read the Four Great Vows together, and then we bowed to each other.
And that was how we began our morning.