Why do you meditate? I think it may have been the second serious question Sensei asked me after I started meditating with him. Basically, why are you here to meditate tonight? To give you context for the answer I gave, I’d just read the chapter on Hinduism in Huston Smith‘s “Religions of Man” (newest edition is “The World’s Religions”). He was born to American missionaries in China where he grew up, then after his Ph.D. had a career as a professor of Philosophy at MIT. This chapter has a nice section about how Hinduism enumerates the maturing wants of a person: 1) pleasure 2) success 3) service 4) liberation (moksha). This last one includes the desire to continue to be, to be aware and know, and to feel joy. The desire to know spoke to me at the time I met Sensei as I was completing my own PhD at UCLA in particle physics, as Huston wrote: “Second, we want to know, to be aware. People are endlessly curious. Whether it be a scientist probing the mysteries of nature, a businessman scanning the morning paper, a teen-ager glued to television to find out who won the ball game, or neighbors catching up on the local news over a cup of coffee, we are insatiably curious.” So I answered “curiosity”. I wanted to understand how the mind worked, how consciousness worked, how we ourselves work, and believed the answer lay in mastering meditation. I’d been meditating initially in the TM, then Chapel, and later the Soto Zen traditions all my life, but Sensei didn’t know that. He rejected my answer, saying something like “Curiosity is just a passing motive, something you might do on a weekend. What is your real motivation?” Fast forward to now. Here are some potential answers you might consider: a) I need to relax and let go, b) I need to get clear and motivated, c) I’m searching for answers and solace, d) I love meditation. The first two depend on what conditions you are facing in your life at the moment, and after years of practice and coming to know jhana, I find I simply love to just be present with that degree of perspicacity. So, what brings you to meditate at this time? There are no wrong answers, and the usefulness of the answer is to know your current self better. Your answers, like you, may mature in the sense Huston Smith described.

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