Mirror of Zen Blog

Mantra-Walking on the Danube

Sometimes people want to add mantra to their everyday practice. You get asked about mantras and how to do them. Some people come from traditions where the mantra is supposed to be some secret thing with the guru.

I always do mantra in the way it was practiced and taught to me by Dae Soen Sa Nim. While he offered the opportunity for various mantras (depending on the person and their condition), the mantra I trained with was “The Great Dharani,” though it could have maybe been anything else, but it is the way it was done that perhaps made this practice so powerful to him and to me. Running through this mantra, every syllable, remaining consciousness enough to perceive and yet turn — continuously turn, turn, turn — attention to the “doer” of this mantra, the sayer or mumbler or hummer — the “witness” of all of this happening, “What is this?”

I know that Osho Rajneesh roundly criticized many types of mantra practice. And for his time and his place, especially when he started — as an upstart professor against priestly elites, challenging their false secrecies and empty sorcery — he railed against mantra. I would have done the same thing, in the mantra-teaching of the times in which he began his iconoclastic rise. It was a vague and pointless form of bending in to the false religion of the corrupt elites, corrupted teachers among them.

Anyway, we went out for a walk recently to test some equipment that had been donated. We were just enjoying a rare night out, our first right after the first strong imposition of lockdown in Regensburg, in Germany, in Europe. It felt like an illegal delight just to walk along the Danube again (and later, after this segment, we were, in fact, cleaned off politely by flashlight police from sitting on the rocks by the edge of the Danube and watching the huddled groups, the twos- and threes-only, in this new quarantine.)

We had been inside the Zen Center walls for some 6 weeks without venturing out (save for food once or twice). After Evening Practice, this walkout to stretch the legs began a little furtively. There was palpable suspicion, especially when passing people in shortened spaces, waiting at a light together. Everyone was still learning the reflexes to guarantee their space, especially if they were older and more frightened. (I had already received one or two “Back up!” growls from Bavarian grandmothers in the Saturday farmer’s market in the Kornmarkt by the Alte Kapell.)

One thing that Dae Soen Sa Nim says

There is one important point about mantra practice you must understand. With mantra, getting “one-mind” and samadhi are very easy. But you cannot find your True Way if you are attached to just mantra. Such only-mantra practice has no direction. However, “Who is doing the mantra?” means having a direction. Having a direction means keeping a question and letting your cognition become clear so you can perceive your correct situation. This is Great Love, Great Compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way. So, only-mantra is “one mind”, but if you keep the great question while practicing mantra, that is “clear mind”.

-Zen Master Seung Sahn

Now, for what it’s worth:

Everyday Life Zen: Mantra Walking-Meditation

And it must be said that a Dharma brother, Andrjez Stec (AnJay Stec) JDPSN, has done much to popularize a great practice for people, something he calls “mantra walk”. It seems to be a practical Dharma-inspired meditation/well-being movement of body, breath, mantra-movement. I think he has a very excellent teaching on this — the first one publicly in my tradition. It was amazing to see him promoting this so much: I had also been miss ionizing about this, beginning back in Korea. I had also been urging students, for years and years, to treat their constant daily errands as “mantra walks” and to treat long drives (when traveling alone) and commuting time into a chanting temple. “Why not?” I turned several “followers” at the time, in Korea, and later in Germany, into avid car-chanters. I used to give out tapes of famous Korean chanting monks, chanting the chants, so that these followers would feel confident enough to do this together as they drove, or remained stuck in endless traffic.

Chanting and driving created one fantastic experience: I was chanting the Great Dharani for a long time stuck in traffic one night in Seoul, when the heavens opened an ocean of downpour on the highway, and I experienced that wild accident which nearly destroyed the car, but I experienced such infinite calm in, in the midst of these ricocheting coins and pens and objects from the dashboard. It was a freaky stillness and roundedness in chaos. I have always believed that it is essential for us to practice mantra whenever possible, when moving through the world, and then learning when to let it go in sitting and when Moment is attained and stabilizes, my connection in it stabilizes.

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