In the Essential Secrets of Dhyana Sutra 襌秘要法經 and in other sources in the older Pali tradition, we learn that one should practice meditation 襌 or Zen 襌 in a solitary place where there is the least possible distraction for the mind insofar as sounds cause disturbances in meditation, like entering a jungle of thorns.
It doesn’t seem to me that today’s Zen center where groups of people meet and meditate together is close to being a solitary place where there is the least possible distraction for the mind. For one thing, “solitary” means being alone.
Sitting quietly together is not the same as, in my example, meditating alone in an abandoned mine (we called it the ‘tunnel’) or meditating alone in a grotto with a small waterfall and many other places where I was always alone.
Oh sure, I admit that today’s meditators don’t have the time to be alone although there are a some opportunities when you are actually alone in your apartment or for the weekend you manage to get away and find a nice spot to meditate alone.
For the beginner, just imagine being alone in my abandoned mine one night doing your zazen. Yes I would walk you there after the sun has set. It is only a hundred feet or so away from the house. I would light the candles for you and give you a flash light. And there you could set for about forty minutes and then come back to the house. I guarantee this would not be like sitting with a group. Far from it.
The stillness and the silence soon becomes out of the ordinary. Whereas normal is always the external noisy world which is a distraction that you get used to, it is now severely limited so that you, the subject, stands out much more. This means that everything going on between your ears seems loud. But in time the loudness begins to settle down. Also you begin to notice the tensions in your body begin to settle down. It is as if you mind and body are trying to adapt to the silence of the mine which over time imparts a stillness in you.
This experience is not like entering a jungle of thorns! When you get used to doing this a number of times and your meditation muscles get stronger you begin to look forward to sitting this way.
For me, this experience on a daily basis in which I had dedicated myself to finding ‘pure Mind’ within myself helped to still my thoughts as if to come closer to my goal although I had not yet experienced pure Mind and could not imagine it. What I can say is that one should meditate as much as possible in a solitary place.