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Saturday, August 28, 2021

Eyes Open or Closed

Harry Garcia, of recent post (Friday, Aug. 27) fame, wrote about doing meditation with eyes opened or closed. He's mainly studied Tibetan Buddhism but in Japan where he lives now did a Vipassana retreat.

He wrote: Yeah, Vipassana---I really like sitting with my eyes closed. And here's a theory I had after. I read in a book on Bodhidharma that people don't really know what the phrase " he sat facing the wall for 9 years " actually means. My theory: Indian teachers teach meditation with eyes closed but the Zen dogma is meditation with the eyes open. If you are sitting in a room with your eyes closed you could be facing a window, a door, a painting but if you have your eyes opened you know what you are facing, a wall for example. So I think the phrase is code for sitting with eyes open. 

I wrote back that the Zen tradition is usually sitting with eyes somewhat opened, not enough to be distracting, just a slit I'd say. That helps one not get dreamy or fall asleep. Of course we still get dreamy and fall asleep some. I said I'd done Vipassana retreats here in Bali which follow the Mahasi method of insight meditation which focuses on the hara as in Zen. I sit or try to sit with eyes a little bit open out of habit and never considered changing and I don't recall that being mentioned by the monks or nun leading the retreat. I've not really thought about it, so his emails on this were interesting.

He wrote: The schedule at my Vipassana had no walking, just sitting, up to 2 hours at a time, as well as I remember. And eyes completely closed. That's the Theravadan way. Susan Moon talks about sitting with Theravadan friends with her eyes closed and peeking to see if everyone has their eyes closed. They do. I was a Trungpa student and he said eyes open and I even visualized that way but we noticed that other Tibetan teachers had their eyes closed so he eventually said okay eyes closed which some people said made visualization easier. Trungpa said it didn't actually make any difference but it's also a dogma in dzogchen (formless meditation) to sit with eyes open. 

But, here's a Namkhai Norbu anecdote. At an extended retreat Norbu gathered a group of people who'd missed a particular transmission for a practice. We sat outside around him and he said he was going to read the transmission which was a meditation of Longchenpa and we should meditate on it as he spoke it. A guy in the group spoke up and said, "And since it is dzogchen we should meditate with our eyes open." Norbu looked at him a moment and then Norbu closed his eyes and started the transmission with the rest of us also closing our eyes--except maybe that guy. Kilung Rinpoche also says it doesn't matter open or closed but he recommends open. Norbu and Trungpa also did a formless practice where they sat with eyes open but staring up into space.