This afternoon, I came home from work, sat down to do some loving-kindness meditation, then decided to open up the book “Being Zen: Bringing Meditation to Life” by the modern day Zen master Ezra Bayda. Since I had just finished some loving-kindness meditation, I thought I would turn to the chapter entitled—simply enough—“Loving Kindness” and see what Bayda had to say. I was glad I did. As a Christian, the chapter touched me when Bayda discussed prayer, and so I thought I would share with you some of what he had to say:
“We can also access and touch loving-kindness directly. The “Way of the Pilgrim” is the story of a simple pilgrim who walked across nineteenth-century Russia. He carried only dried bread and two books—the Bible, and an early Orthodox Christian text, the Philokalia—to sustain his body and his practice. With a genuine homesickness for God, his only aim was to learn to pray without ceasing.
“Although we’re unlikely to ever be pilgrims in the old-fashioned sense, there is something real in the phrase “pray without ceasing.” What is real is the same quality that makes a genuine loving-kindness practice so powerful. Real prayer is a genuine surrender to the moment, whatever the moment may be. It’s not like the prayer of children, in that we’re asking that our wishes be granted. Real prayer is a deep opening to life itself, a deep listening, a willingness to just be with the moment. In this sense it is no different than the practice of opening into the heart. When we do the loving-kindness meditation, we’re not asking for something. Rather, by entering into the spaciousness of the heart, we’re allowing life to just be.
“What most gets in the way of this kind of prayer is just what the pilgrim experienced: the constant desire to spin off into the comfort and security of thinking—into our plans, fantasies, dramas, and especially our beloved judgements.
“How do we counteract this very human tendency? By doing just what the pilgrim did, we bring awareness to the breath, to the heart, and the words of loving-kindness over and over. This is not easy. The pilgrim started with 30 minutes of prayer each day. Then his teacher told him to recite the prayer two thousand times a day. Then six thousand. Then twelve thousand. After years of practice, with wholehearted devotion and perseverance, the prayer became self-activating, and he could pray without ceasing. He experienced the delight of the heart bubbling over and a gratitude toward all things. He came to understand the words “the Kingdom of God within.”