I started doing sitting meditation, or zazen, at an early age. I wasn’t a boy. I was a young man. I have done it virtually every day since. Why do I sit every morning and evening? If it wasn’t providing me something, I would not have continued all these years.
I must say that I was blessed with inherent discipline. I might not have a lot more going for me, but discipline and perseverance are my strengths. Sitting gives me the stillness and silence to watch my mind. Thoughts come and thoughts go. Scary dark thoughts (memories, recollections) arise. I face them. I do not turn away and I do not hold on. I sit right in the middle of them. I let them be. They do their thing. I feel the physical sensations of my emotions and let go. I don’t dwell and I don’t identify with my thoughts. In other words, I don’t find my identity by holding on to beliefs, opinions, judgments, or conclusions about anything that arises. The thoughts, pleasant and terrifying, arise and evaporate, over and over. With practice, (for me, lots of practice) I sit quietly, in silence, allowing anything and everything to present itself.
Through the step of Right Concentration on his Eightfold Path, Buddha described the development of four stages of dhyana. Dhyana translates from Sanskrit as mental discipline, or meditation. The Chinese called it Chan. The Japanese called it Zen. We call it Zen. In our arduous practice of meditating, we move from letting go of unwholesome thoughts, desires, and doubts, rooted in anger, greed, and ignorance. At the same time, we maintain feelings of happiness and joy. In the second stage, we cut out intellectual activity as our reality, developing peace and one-pointed mind. Feelings of happiness and joy remain. In the third stage of development, said Buddha, seen through his own practice, feelings of happiness and joy dissolve as experience with the disposition of happiness and equanimity remaining. In the fourth stage of meditation practice, we relinquish all sensation, happiness and sorrow. We are left with awareness and equanimity.
As mentioned, Buddha described this process of Right Concentration through the discovery of his own meditation practice. We discover the stages of mental discipline through our own meditation practice. Buddha provided guideposts, a finger pointing at the moon. We realize the true nature of the moon. We realize our own true nature through meditation practice.