FOREWORD by HUSTON SMITH
Jung was reading on his deathbed Charles Luk's "Ch'an and Zen Teaching". he sometimes felt as if he himselfcould have said exactly this.
Heidegger: Ifl understand [Dr.Suzuki] correctly, this is what I have been trying to say in all my writings"
The only life we really have-slip through its fingers, Zen comes as a reminder that if we do not learn to perceive the mystery and beauty of our present life, our present nour, we shall not perceive the worth of any life, of any hour.
Zen is a religion with a wrique method of body-mind training whose aim is satori, that is, Self-realization.
Grounded in the highest teachings of the Buddha, it was brought from India to China, where the methods and techniques which are characteristically Zen's were evolved. and then through the centuries further elaborated in Japan.
PART ONE - TEACHING AND PRACTICE
1- Yasutani-roshi’s Introductory Lectures on Zen Training
Neither is there much detailed information on such elementary matters as sitting postures, the regulation of the breath, concentration of the mind, and the incidence of visions and sensations of an illusory nature.
achieve unification and tranquility of mind, and eventually, if one’s aspiration was pure and strong enough, come to Self-realization.
Through the painful process of trial and error and periodic encounters (dokusan) with one’s teacher, one eventually learned in a thoroughly experiential way not only proper sitting and breathing but also the inner meaning and purpose of zazen.
But since modern people, as Yasutani-roshi points out, lack the faith and burning zeal of their predecessors in Zen, they need a map their mind can trust.
With them as map and compass earnest seekers need not grope along hazardous bypaths of the occult, the psychic, or the superstitious, which waste time and often prove harmful, but can proceed directly along a carefully charted course, secure in the knowledge of their ultimate goal.
asutani-roshi’s emphasis on the religious aspect of Zen Buddhism—that is, on faith as a prerequisite to enlightenment—may come as a surprise to Western readers accustomed to “intellectual images” of Zen by scholars devoid of Zen insight.
By his fifteenth year one burning question became the core around which his spiritual strivings revolved: “If, as the sutras say, our Essential-nature is Bodhi (perfection), why did all Buddhas have to strive for enlightenment and perfection?”
Eisai’s reply to Dogen’s question was: “No Buddha is conscious of its existence [that is, of this Essential-nature], while cats and oxen [that is, the grossly deluded] are aware of it.” In other words, Buddhas, precisely because they are Buddhas, no longer think of having or not having a Perfect-nature; only the deluded think in such terms. At these words Dogen had an inner realization which dissolved his deep-seated doubt.
Eventually at the famous T’ien-t’ung Monastery, which had just acquired a new master, he achieved full awakening, that is, the liberation of body and mind, through these words uttered by his master, Ju-ching: “You must let fall body and mind.”
Spying one of the monks dozing, the master reprimanded him for his halfhearted effort. Then addressing all the monks, he continued: “You must exert yourselves with all your might, even at the risk of your lives. To realize perfect enlightenment you must let fall [that is, become empty of all conceptions of] body and mind.” As Dogen heard this last phrase his Mind’s eye suddenly expanded in a flood of light and understanding.
Later Dogen appeared at Ju-ching’s room, lit a stick of incense (a ceremonial gesture usually reserved for noteworthy occasions), and prostrated himself before his master in the customary fashion.
“Why are you lighting a stick of incense?” asked Ju-ching. Needless to say, Ju-ching, who was a first-rate master, and who had received Dogen many times in dokusan and therefore knew the state of his mind, could perceive at once from Dogen’s walk, his prostrations, and the comprehending look in his eyes that he had had a great enlightenment. But Ju-ching undoubtedly wanted to see what response this innocent-sounding question would provoke so as to fix the scope of Dogen’s satori.
“I have experienced the dropping off of body and mind,” replied Dogen.
Ju-ching exclaimed: “You have dropped body and mind, body and mind have indeed dropped!”
But Dogen remonstrated: “Don’t give me your sanction so readily.”
“I am not sanctioning you so readily.”
Reversing their roles, Dogen demanded: “Show me that you are not readily sanctioning me.”
And Ju-ching repeated: “This is body and mind dropped,” demonstrating.
Whereupon Dogen prostrated himself again before his master as a gesture of respect and gratitude.
“That’s ‘dropping’ dropped,” added Ju-ching.
It is noteworthy that even with this profound experience Dogen continued his zazen training in China for another two years before returning to Japan.
AT THE TIME of his great awakening Dogen was practicing shikan-taza,3 a mode of zazen which involved neither a koan nor counting or following the breaths. The very foundation of shikan-taza is an unshakable faith that sitting as the Buddha sat, with the mind void of all conceptions, of all beliefs and points of view, is the actualization or unfoldment of the inherently enlightened Bodhi-mind with which all are endowed. At the same time this sitting is entered into in the faith that it will one day culminate in the sudden and direct perception of the true nature of this Mind—in other words, enlightenment. Therefore to strive self-consciously for satori or any other gain from zazen is as unnecessary as it is undesirable.
In authentic shikan-taza neither of these two elements of faith can be dispensed with. To exclude satori from shikan-taza would necessarily involve stigmatizing as meaningless and even masochistic the Buddha’s strenuous efforts toward enlightenment, and impugning the Ancestral Teachers’ and Dogen’s own painful struggles to that end. This relation of satori to shikan-taza is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately it has often been misunderstood, especially by those to whom Dogen’s complete writings are inaccessible.
they argue, there is no point in seeking satori. So what they ask to practice is shikan-taza, which they believe does not involve the experience of enlightenment.
Such an attitude reveals not only a lack of faith in the judgment of one’s teacher but a fundamental misconception of both the nature and the difficulty of shikan-taza, not to mention the teaching methods employed in Soto temples and monasteries.
They prefer to have the student first unify the mind through concentration on counting the breaths; or where a burning desire for enlightenment does exist, to exhaust the discursive intellect through the imposition of a special type of Zen problem (that is, a koan) and thus prepare the way for kensho.
Even Dogen himself, as we have seen, disciplined himself in koan Zen for eight years before going to China and practicing shikan-taza. And though upon his return to Japan Dogen wrote at length about shikan-taza and recommended it for his inner band of disciples, it must not be forgotten that these disciples were dedicated truth-seekers for whom koans were an unnecessary encouragement to sustained practice.
Dogen made a compilation of three hundred well-known koans,6 to each of which he added his own commentary. From this and the fact that his foremost work, the Shobogenzo (A Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma), contains a number of koans, we may fairly conclude that he did utilize koans in his teaching.
Satori-awakening as Dogen viewed it was not the be-all and end-all. Rather he conceived it as the foundation for a magnificent edifice whose many-storied superstructure would correspond to the perfected character and personality of the spiritually developed individual, the woman or man of moral virtue and all-embracing compassion and wisdom.
WHAT THEN is zazen and how is it related to satori? Dogen taught that zazen is the “gateway to total liberation,” and Keizan-zenji, one of the Japanese Soto Dharma Ancestors, had declared that only through Zen sitting is the “human mind illumined.” Elsewhere Dogen wrote7 that “even the Buddha, who was a born sage, sat in zazen for six years until his supreme enlightenment, and so towering a spiritual figure as Bodhidharma sat for nine years facing the wall.”8 And so have Dogen and all the other great masters sat.
For with the ordering and immobilizing of feet, legs, hands, arms, trunk, and head in the traditional lotus posture,9 with the regulation of the breath, the methodical stilling of the thoughts and unification of the mind through special modes of concentration, with the development of control over the emotions and strengthening of the will, and with the cultivation of a profound silence in the deepest recesses of the mind—in other words, through the practice of zazen—there are established the optimum preconditions for looking into the heart-mind and discovering there the true nature of existence.
Although sitting is the foundation of zazen, it is not just any kind of sitting. Not only must the back be straight, the breathing properly regulated, and the mind concentrated beyond thought, but, according to Dogen, one must sit with a sense of dignity and grandeur, like a mountain or a giant pine, and with a feeling of gratitude toward the Buddha and the Dharma Ancestors, who made manifest the Dharma. And we must be grateful for our human body, through which we have the opportunity to experience the reality of the Dharma in all its profundity. This sense of dignity and gratitude, moreover, is not confined to sitting but must inform every activity, for insofar as each act issues from the Bodhi-mind it has the inherent purity and dignity of Buddhahood. This innate dignity of the human being is physiologically manifested in an erect back, since humans alone of all creatures have this capacity to hold their spinal columns vertical. An erect back is related to proper sitting in other important ways.
In the broad sense zazen embraces more than just correct sitting. To enter fully into every action with total attention and clear awareness is no less zazen. The prescription for accomplishing this was given by the Buddha himself in an early sutra: “In what is seen there must be just the seen; in what is heard there must be just the heard; in what is sensed (as smell, taste or touch) there must be just what is sensed; in what is thought there must be just the thought.”
For the ordinary man or woman, whose mind is a checkerboard of crisscrossing reflections, opinions, and prejudices, bare attention is virtually impossible; one’s life is thus centered not in reality itself but in one’s ideas of it. By focusing the mind wholly on each object and every action, zazen strips it of extraneous thoughts and allows us to enter into a full rapport with life.
Those who sit devotedly in zazen every day, their minds free of discriminating thoughts, find it easier to relate themselves wholeheartedly to their daily tasks, and those who perform every act with total attention and clear awareness find it less difficult to achieve emptiness of mind during sitting periods.
ZAZEN PRACTICE for the student begins with counting the inhalations and exhalations while seated in the motionless zazen posture. This is the first step in the process of stilling the bodily functions, quieting discursive thoughts, and strengthening concentration. It is given as the first step because in counting the in and out breaths, in natural rhythm and without strain, the mind has a scaffolding to support it, as it were. When concentration on the breathing becomes such that awareness of the counting is clear and the count is not lost, the next step, a slightly more difficult type of zazen, is assigned, namely, following the inhalations and exhalations of the breath with the mind’s eye only, again in natural rhythm. The blissful state which flows from concentration on the breath and the value of breathing in terms of spiritual development are lucidly set forth by Lama Govinda12: “From this state of perfect mental and physical equilibrium and its resulting inner harmony grows that serenity and happiness which fills the whole body with a feeling of supreme bliss like the refreshing coolness of a spring that penetrates the entire water of a mountain lake.
Breathing is the vehicle of spiritual experience, the mediator between body and mind. It is the first step towards the transformation of the body from the state of a more or less passively and unconsciously functioning physical organ into a vehicle or tool of a perfectly developed and enlightened mind, as demonstrated by the radiance and perfection of the Buddha’s body.
The most important result of the practice of ‘mindfulness with regard to breathing’ is the realization that the process of breathing is the connecting link between conscious and subconscious, gross-material and fine-material, volitional and non-volitional functions, and therefore the most perfect expression of the nature of all life.”
Until now we have been speaking of zazen with no koan. Koan zazen involves both motionless sitting, wherein the mind intensely seeks to penetrate the koan, and mobile zazen, in which absorption in the koan continues while one is at work, at play, or even asleep. Through intense self-inquiry—for example, questioning “What is Mu?”—the mind gradually becomes denuded of its delusive ideas, which in the beginning hamper its effort to become one with the koan. As these abstract notions fall away, concentration on the koan strengthens.
It may be asked: “How can one concentrate devotedly on a koan and simultaneously focus the mind on work of an exacting nature?” In practice what actually happens is that once the koan grips the heart and mind—and its power to take hold is in proportion to the strength of the urge toward liberation—the inquiry goes on ceaselessly in the subconscious. While the mind is occupied with a particular task, the question fades from consciousness, surfacing naturally as soon as the action is over, not unlike a moving stream which now and again disappears underground only to reappear and resume its open course without interrupting its onward flow.
ZAZEN MUST NOT be confused with meditation. Meditation involves putting something into the mind, either an image or a sacred word that is visualized or a concept that is thought about or reflected on, or both. In some types of meditation the meditator envisions or contemplates or analyzes certain elementary shapes, holding them in the mind to the exclusion of everything else. Or students may contemplate in a state of adoration a Buddha or a Bodhisattva image, hoping to evoke in themselves parallel states of mind. They may ponder such abstract qualities as loving-kindness and compassion. In Tantric Buddhist systems of meditation, mandalas containing various seed syllables of the Sanskrit alphabet—such as Om, for example—are visualized and dwelt upon in a prescribed manner. Also employed for meditational purposes are mandalas consisting of special arrangements of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and other figures.
The uniqueness of zazen lies in this: that the mind is freed from bondage to all thought-forms, visions, objects, and imaginings, however sacred or elevating, and brought to a state of absolute emptiness, from which alone it may one day perceive its own true nature, or the nature of the universe.
Such initial exercises as counting or following the breath cannot, strictly speaking, be called meditation since they do not involve visualization of an object or reflection upon an idea. For the same reasons koan zazen cannot be called meditation. Whether one is striving to achieve unity with a koan or, for instance, intensely asking, “What is Mu?” one is not meditating in the technical sense of this word.
ZAZEN THAT LEADS to Self-realization is neither idle reverie nor vacant inaction but an intense inner struggle to gain control over the mind and then to use it, like a silent missile, to penetrate the barrier of the five senses and the discursive intellect (that is, the sixth sense). It demands energy, determination, and courage. Yasutani-roshi calls it “a battle between the opposing forces of delusion and bodhi.”13 This state of mind has been vividly described in these words, said to have been uttered by the Buddha as he sat beneath the Bo tree making his supreme effort, and often quoted in the zendo during sesshin: “Though only my skin, sinews, and bones remain and my blood and flesh dry up and wither away, yet never from this seat will I stir until I have attained full enlightenment.”
The drive toward enlightenment is powered on the one hand by a painfully felt inner bondage—a frustration with life, a fear of death, or both—and on the other by the conviction that through awakening one can gain liberation.
Energies which formerly were squandered in compulsive drives and purposeless actions are preserved and channeled into a unity through correct Zen sitting; and to the degree that the mind attains one-pointedness through zazen it no longer disperses its force in the uncontrolled proliferation of idle thoughts. The entire nervous system is relaxed and soothed, inner tensions eliminated, and the tone of all organs strengthened. Furthermore, research involving an electrocardiograph and other devices on subjects who have been practicing zazen for one to two years has demonstrated that zazen brings about a release in psychophysical tension and greater body-mind stability through lowered heart rate, pulse, respiration, and metabolism.
In short, by realigning the physical, mental, and psychic energies through proper breathing, concentration, and sitting, zazen establishes a new body-mind equilibrium with its center of gravity in the vital hara.
Hara literally denotes the stomach and abdomen and the functions of digestion, absorption, and elimination connected with them. But it has parallel psychic15 and spiritual significance. According to Hindu and Buddhist yogic systems, there are a number of psychic centers in the body through which vital cosmic force or energy flows. Of the two such centers embraced within the hara, one is associated with the solar plexus, whose system of nerves governs the digestive processes and organs of elimination. The other center is associated with the tanden, a point of concentration, roughly the width of two fingers, located below the navel in the center of the lower belly. Hara is thus a wellspring of vital psychic energies. Harada-roshi, one of the most celebrated Zen masters of his day,16 in urging his disciples to concentrate their mind’s17 eye (that is, the attention, the summation point of the total being) in their tanden, would declare: “You must realize”—that is, make real—“that the center of the universe is the pit of your belly!”
To facilitate a direct experience of this fundamental truth, the Zen novice is instructed to focus the mind constantly at the tanden and to radiate all mental and bodily activities from that point. With the body-mind’s equilibrium thus centered in the hara region, gradually a seat of consciousness, a focus of vital energy, is established there which influences the entire organism.
That consciousness is by no means confined to the brain is shown by Lama Govinda, who writes: “While, according to Western conceptions, the brain is the exclusive seat of consciousness, yogic experience shows that our brain-consciousness is only one among a number of possible forms of consciousness, and that these, according to their function and nature, can be localized or centered in various organs of the body. These ‘organs,’ which collect, transform, and distribute the forces flowing through them, are called cakras, or centers of force. From them radiate secondary streams of psychic force, comparable to the spokes of a wheel, the ribs of an umbrella, or the petals of a lotus.
In other words, these cakras are the points in which psychic forces and bodily functions merge into each other or penetrate each other. They are the focal points in which cosmic and psychic energies crystallize into bodily qualities, and in which bodily qualities are dissolved or transmuted again into psychic forces."
Settling the body’s center of gravity below the navel, that is, establishing a center of consciousness in the tanden, automatically relaxes tensions arising from the habitual hunching of the shoulders, straining of the neck, and squeezing in of the stomach. As this rigidity disappears, an enhanced vitality and new sense of freedom are experienced throughout the body and mind, which are felt more and more to be a unity.
Zazen has clearly demonstrated that with the mind’s eye centered in the tanden the proliferation of random ideas is diminished and the attainment of one-pointedness accelerated, since a plethora of blood from the head is drawn down to the abdomen, “cooling” the brain and soothing the autonomic nervous system. This in turn leads to a greater degree of mental and emotional stability. Thus, one who functions from the hara is not easily disturbed. Such a person is, moreover, able to act quickly and decisively in an emergency because his or her mind, settled in the hara, does not waver.
With the mind settled in the hara, narrow and egocentric thinking is superseded by a broadness of outlook and a magnanimity of spirit. This is because thinking from the vital hara center, being free of mediation by the limited discursive intellect, is spontaneous and all-embracing. Perception from the hara tends toward integration and unity rather than division and fragmentation. In short, it is thinking which sees things steadily and whole.
The figure of the Buddha seated on his lotus throne—serene, stable, all-knowing and all-encompassing, radiating boundless light and compassion—is the foremost example of hara expressed through perfect enlightenment. Rodin’s “Thinker,” on the other hand, a solitary figure “lost” in thought and contorted in body, remote and isolated from his Self, typifies the opposite state.
Satori is a “turning about” of the mind, a psychological experience conferring inner knowledge, while hara is no more than what has been indicated. Masters of the traditional Japanese arts are all accomplished in thinking and acting from the hara—they would not merit the title “master” if they were not—but few if any achieve satori without Zen training. Why not? Because their cultivation of hara is essentially for the perfection of their art and not satori, the attainment of which presupposes, as Yasutani-roshi points out in his introductory lectures, faith in the reality of the Buddha’s enlightenment and in their own immaculate Buddha-nature.
With body and mind consolidated, focused, and energized, the emotions respond with increased sensitivity and purity, and volition exerts itself with greater strength of purpose. No longer are we dominated by intellect at the expense of feeling, nor driven by the emotions unchecked by reason or will. Eventually zazen leads to a transformation of personality and character. Dryness, rigidity, and self-centeredness give way to flowing warmth, resiliency, and compassion, while self-indulgence and fear are transmuted into self-mastery and courage.
Japanese and Chinese masters stress that only upon full enlightenment can one truly know good from evil and, through the power of zazen, translate this wisdom into one’s everyday actions.
“If, as we have been led to believe, satori makes clear that past and future are unreal, is one not free to live as one likes in the present, unconcerned about the past and indifferent to the future?”
Buddha proclaimed: first, that all things (in which are included our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions) are impermanent, arising when particular causes and conditions bring them into being and passing away with the emergence of new causal factors;
second, that life is pain;
and third, that ultimately nothing is self-subsistent, that all forms in their essential nature are empty, that is, mutually dependent patterns of energy in flux, yet at the same time are possessed of a provisional or limited reality in time and space, in much the same way that the actions in a movie film have a reality in terms of the film but are otherwise insubstantial and unreal.
Through zazen the first vital truth—that all component things are ephemeral, never the same from one moment to the next, fleeting manifestations in a stream of ceaseless transformation—becomes a matter of direct personal experience. We come to see the concatenation of our thoughts, emotions, and moods, how they arise, how they momentarily flourish, and how they pass away. We come to know that this “dying” is the life of every thing, just as the all-consuming flame constitutes the life of a candle.
That our sufferings are rooted in a selfish grasping and in fears and terrors which spring from our ignorance of the true nature of life and death becomes clear to anyone compelled by zazen to confront oneself nakedly. But zazen makes equally plain that what we term “suffering” is our evaluation of pain from which we stand apart, that pain when courageously accepted is a means to liberation in that it frees our natural sympathies and compassion even as it enables us to experience pleasure and joy in a new depth and purity.
Finally, with enlightenment, zazen brings the realization that the substratum of existence is a Voidness out of which all things ceaselessly arise and into which they endlessly return, that this Emptiness is positive and alive and in fact not other than the vividness of a sunset or the harmonies of a great symphony.
the obliteration of every feeling of opposition and separateness. In this state of unconditioned subjectivity I, selfless I, am supreme. So Shakyamuni Buddha could exclaim: “Throughout heaven and earth, I alone am the honored One.” Yet since awakening means also an end to being possessed by the idea of an ego-I, this is as much a world of pure objectivity. Therefore Dogen could write: “To learn the Way of the Buddha is to learn about oneself. To learn about oneself is to forget oneself. To forget oneself is to experience the world as pure object. To experience the world as pure object is to let fall one’s own body and mind and the ‘self-other’ body and mind."
sutra-chanting can be compared to an Oriental ink painting of, say, a pine tree in which most of the picture consists of white space.
Just as in the picture our minds are brought to a heightened awareness of the white space because of the tree, so through the reciting of sutras we can be led to sense the reality lying beyond them, the Emptiness to which they point.
When the heart and mind are truly one with it, this combination of chanting and the throb of percussion instruments can arouse the deepest feelings and bring about a vibrant, heightened sense of awareness.
In a week’s sesshin few could endure hour after hour of just sitting. Even if this did not prove to be unbearably difficult, it would still doubtlessly bore all but the most ardent. Zen masters, by prescribing various kinds of zazen—that is, sitting, walking, chanting, and manual labor—not only reduce the risk of ennui but actually increase the effectiveness of each type of zazen.
IN THE LIGHT of these observations on the interaction of body and mind, we can now consider in fuller detail the reasons why Zen masters have always stressed an erect back and the classic lotus posture. It is well known that a bent back deprives the mind of its tension so that it is quickly invaded by random thoughts and images, but that a straight back, by strengthening concentration, lessens the incidence of wandering thoughts and thus hastens samadhi. Conversely, when the mind becomes free of ideas the back tends to straighten itself without conscious effort.
In these lectures Yasutani-roshi also points out how a slouching back saps the mind’s vigor and clarity, inducing dullness and boredom.
This all-important erectness of the spine and parallel tautness of mind are easier to maintain over a long period if the legs are in the full- or half-lotus posture and the attention concentrated in the region just below the navel.
Moreover, since body is the material aspect of mind and mind the immaterial aspect of body, to assemble the hands and arms and the feet and legs into a unity at one central point where the joined hands rest on the heels of the locked legs, as in the full-lotus posture, facilitates the unification of mind.
Lastly, the lotus posture, in which the two knees and the seat form a triangular base of great stability, creates a sense of rootedness in the earth, together with a feeling of an all-encompassing oneness, void of the sensation of inner or outer. This is true, however, only when this position can be assumed and maintained without discomfort.
Zazen can in fact be effective even in a chair or on a bench or while kneeling, provided the back is straight.
In the last resort what ensures success in the quest for enlightenment is not a particular posture but an intense longing for truth for its own sake, which alone leads one to sit regularly in any fashion and to perform all the affairs of daily life with devotion and clear awareness.
In the long history of Zen, thousands upon thousands have come to awakening through zazen, while few genuine enlightenment experiences have taken place without it.
zazen is more than just a means to enlightenment or a method for sustaining and enlarging it, but is the actualization of our True-nature.
for most Westerners, who seem by nature more active and restless than Asians, sitting perfectly still in zazen, even in a chair, is physically and mentally painful. Their unwillingness to endure such pain and discomfort even for short periods of time undoubtedly stems from a deeply entrenched conviction that it is not only senseless but even masochistic.
In his The Way of Zen (pp. 101, 103) Alan Watts even tries to prove sitting is not indispensable to Zen discipline:
Ma-tsu was doing zazen daily in his hut on Nan-yueh Mountain. Watching him one day, Huai-jang, his master, thought, “He will become a great monk,” and inquired:
“Worthy one, what are you trying to attain by sitting?”
Ma-tsu replied: “I am trying to become a Buddha.”
Thereupon Huai-jang picked up a piece of roof tile and began grinding it on a rock in front of him.
“What are you doing, Master?” asked Ma-tsu.
“I am polishing it to make a mirror,” said Huai-jang.
“How could polishing a tile make a mirror?”
“How could sitting in zazen make a Buddha?”
Ma-tsu asked: “What should I do, then?”
Huai-jang replied: “If you were driving a cart and it didn’t move, would you whip the cart or whip the ox?”
Ma-tsu made no reply.
Huai-jang continued: “Are you training yourself in zazen? Are you striving to become a sitting Buddha? If you are training yourself in zazen, [let me tell you that the substance of] zazen is neither sitting nor lying down. If you are training yourself to become a sitting Buddha, [let me tell you that] Buddha has no one form [such as sitting]. The Dharma, which has no fixed abode, allows of no distinctions. If you try to become a sitting Buddha, this is no less than killing the Buddha. If you cling to the sitting form you will not attain the essential truth.”
Upon hearing this, Ma-tsu felt as refreshed as though he had drunk an exquisite nectar.
Far from implying that sitting in zazen is as useless as trying to polish a roof tile into a mirror—though it is easy for one who has never practiced Zen to come to such a conclusion—Huai-jang is in fact trying to teach Ma-tsu that Buddhahood does not exist outside himself as an object to strive for, since we are all Buddhas from the very first. Obviously Ma-tsu, who later became a great master, was under the illusion at the time that Buddhahood was something different from himself. Huai-jang is saying in effect: “How could you become a Buddha through sitting if you were not a Buddha to begin with? This would be as impossible as trying to polish a roof tile into a mirror."
In other words, zazen does not bestow Buddhahood; it uncovers a Buddha-nature which has always existed. Furthermore, through the act of grinding the tile Huai-jang is concretely revealing to Ma-tsu that the polishing is itself the expression of this Buddha-nature, which transcends all forms, including that of sitting or standing or lying down.
TO GUARD AGAINST their disciples’ becoming attached to the sitting posture, Zen masters incorporate mobile zazen into their training.
Japanese Zen monks in training spend most of their time working, not sitting.
monks usually sit for an hour and a half in the morning and for about two to three hours in the evening. And since they normally sleep about six or seven hours, the other twelve or thirteen hours of the day are spent on such labors as working in the rice fields and vegetable gardens, cutting wood and pumping water, cooking, serving meals, keeping the monastery clean, and sweeping and weeding its extensive grounds.
Additionally Zen monks spend many hours walking the streets begging food and other necessities, to learn humility and gratitude, as part of their religious training.
they are to be performed mindfully, with total involvement. Huai-hai’s famous dictum, “A day of no work is a day of no eating,” animates the spirit of the Zen monastery today as strongly as it ever did.
The attempt to dismiss zazen as unessential is at bottom nothing more than a rationalization of an unwillingness to exert oneself.
This sustained exertion is not something which people of the world naturally love or desire, yet it is the last refuge of all. Only through the exertions of all Buddhas in the past, present, and future do the Buddhas of past, present, and future become a reality … By this exertion Buddhahood is realized, and those who do not make an exertion when exertion is possible are those who hate Buddha, hate serving the Buddha, and hate exertion; they do not want to live and die with Buddha, they do not want him as their teacher and companion
1. Theory and Practice of Zazen
At Nanzen-ji he eventually grasped the inmost secret of Zen under the guidance of Dokutan-roshi, an outstanding master.
While it is undeniably true that one must undergo Zen training himself in order to comprehend the truth of Zen, Harada-roshi felt that the modern mind is so much more aware that for beginners lectures of this type could be meaningful as a preliminary to practice
Nowhere in Japan will you find Zen teaching set forth so thoroughly and succinctly, so well suited to the temper of the modern mind, as at his monastery. Having been his disciple for some twenty years, I was enabled, thanks to his favor, to open my Mind’s eye in some measure.
Before commencing his lectures Harada-roshi would preface them with advice on listening. His first point was that everyone should listen with their eyes open and upon him—in other words, with their whole being—because an impression received only through the hearing is rather shallow, akin to listening to the radio. His second point was that each person should listen to these lectures as though they were being given to oneself alone, as ideally they should be. Human nature is such that if two people listen, each feels only half responsible for understanding, and if ten people are listening each feels one’s own responsibility to be but one tenth. However, since there are so many of you and what I have to say is exactly the same for everybody, I have asked you to come as a group. You must nonetheless listen as though you were entirely alone and hold yourselves accountable for everything that is said.
IN POINT OF FACT, a knowledge of the theory or principles of zazen is not a prerequisite to practice. Students who train under an accomplished teacher will inevitably grasp this theory by degrees as their practice ripens.
not follow instructions unreservedly; they must first know the reasons behind them.
The difficulty with theory, however, is that it is endless. Buddhist scriptures, Buddhist doctrine, and Buddhist philosophy are no more than intellectual formulations of zazen, and zazen itself is their practical demonstration. From this vast field I will now abstract what is most essential for your practice.
We start with Buddha Shakyamuni.30 As I think you all know, he began with the path of asceticism, undergoing tortures and austerities which others before him had never attempted, including prolonged fasting. But he failed to attain enlightenment by these means and, half-dead from hunger and exhaustion, came to realize the futility of pursuing a course which could only terminate in death.
So he drank the milk-rice that was offered him by a concerned country girl, gradually regained his health, and resolved to steer a middle course between self-torture and self-indulgence. Thereafter he devoted himself exclusively to zazen for six years. and eventually, on the morning of the eighth of December, at the very instant when he glanced at the planet Venus gleaming in the eastern sky, he attained perfect enlightenment. All this we believe as historical truth.
at the moment of enlightenment he spontaneously cried out: “Wonder of wonders! Intrinsically all living beings are Buddhas, endowed with wisdom and virtue, but because people’s minds have become inverted through delusive thinking they fail to perceive this.” The first pronouncement of the Buddha seems to have been one of awe and astonishment. Yes, how truly marvelous that all human beings, whether clever or stupid, male or female, ugly or beautiful, are whole and complete just as they are. That is to say, the nature of every being is inherently without a flaw, perfect, no different from that of Amida or any other Buddha.
This first declaration of Shakyamuni Buddha is also the ultimate conclusion of Buddhism. Yet human beings, restless and anxious, live half-crazed existences because their minds, heavily encrusted with delusion, are turned topsy-turvy. We need therefore to return to our original perfection, to see through the false image of ourselves as incomplete and sinful, and to wake up to our inherent purity and wholeness.
The most effective means by which to accomplish this is through zazen. Not only Shakyamuni Buddha himself but many of his disciples attained full awakening through zazen. Moreover, during the 2,500 years since the Buddha’s death innumerable devotees in India, China, and Japan have, by grasping this selfsame key, resolved for themselves the most fundamental question of all: What is the meaning of life and death? Even in this day there are many who, having cast off worry and anxiety, have emancipated themselves through zazen.
Between a supremely perfected Buddha and us, who are ordinary, there is no difference as to substance. This “substance” can be likened to water. One of the salient characteristics of water is its conformability: when put into a round vessel it becomes round, when put into a square vessel it becomes square. We have this same adaptability, but as we live bound and fettered through ignorance of our true nature, we have forfeited this freedom. To pursue the metaphor, we can say that the mind of a Buddha is like water that is calm, deep and crystal clear, and upon which the “moon of truth” reflects fully and perfectly. The mind of the ordinary person, on the other hand, is like murky water, constantly being churned by the gales of delusive thought and no longer able to reflect the moon of truth. The moon nonetheless shines steadily upon the waves, but as the waters are roiled we are unable to see its reflection. Thus we lead lives that are frustrating and meaningless.
How can we fully illumine our life and personality with the moon of truth? We need first to purify this water, to calm the surging waves by halting the winds of discursive thought. In other words, we must empty our minds of what the Kegon (Avatamsaka) sutra calls the “conceptual thought of the human being.” Most people place a high value on abstract thought, but Buddhism has clearly demonstrated that discriminative thinking lies at the root of delusion.
I once heard someone say: “Thought is the sickness of the human mind.” From the Buddhist point of view this is quite true. To be sure, abstract thinking is useful when wisely employed—which is to say, when its nature and limitations are properly understood—but as long as human beings remain slaves to their intellect, fettered and controlled by it, they can well be called sick.
All thoughts, whether enobling or debasing, are mutable and impermanent; they have a beginning and an end even as they are fleetingly with us, and this is as true of the thought of an era as of an individual. In Buddhism thought is referred to as “the stream of life-and-death.”
It is important in this connection to distinguish the role of transitory thoughts from that of fixed concepts. Random ideas are relatively innocuous, but ideologies, beliefs, opinions, and points of view, not to mention the factual knowledge accumulated since birth (to which we attach ourselves), are the shadows which obscure the light of truth.
So long as the winds of thought continue to disturb the water of our Self-nature, we cannot distinguish truth from untruth.
It is imperative, therefore, that these winds be stilled. Once they abate, the waves subside, the muddiness clears, and we perceive directly that the moon of truth has never ceased shining. The moment of such realization is kensho, i.e., enlightenment, the apprehension of the true substance of our Self-nature. Unlike moral and philosophical concepts, which are variable, true insight is imperishable. Now for the first time we can live with inner peace and dignity, free from perplexity and disquiet, and in harmony with our environment.
THE FIRST STEP is to select a quiet room in which to sit. Lay out a fairly soft mat or pad some three feet square, and on top of this place a small circular cushion measuring about one foot in diameter to sit on, or use a square cushion folded in two or even a folded or rolled-up blanket. Preferably one should not wear trousers or socks, since these interfere with the crossing of the legs and the placing of the feet. For a number of reasons it is best to sit in the full-lotus posture. To sit full-lotus you place the foot of the right leg over the thigh of the left and the foot of the left leg over the thigh of the right. The main point of this particular method of sitting is that by establishing a wide, solid base with the crossed legs and both knees touching the mat, you achieve repose and absolute stability. When the body is immobile, thoughts are not stirred into activity by physical movements and the mind is more easily quieted.
If you have difficulty sitting in the full-lotus posture because of the pain, sit half-lotus, which is done by putting the foot of the left leg over the thigh of the right and the right leg under the left thigh. For those of you who are not accustomed to sitting cross-legged, even this position may not be easy to maintain. You will probably find it difficult to keep the two knees resting on the mat and will have to push one or both of them down again and again until they remain there. In both the half- and the full-lotus postures the uppermost foot can be reversed when the legs become tired.
For those who find both of these traditional zazen positions acutely uncomfortable, an alternative position is the traditional Japanese one of sitting on the heels and calves. This can be maintained for a longer time if a cushion is placed between the heels and the buttocks. One advantage of this posture is that the back can be kept erect easily. However, should all of these positions prove too painful, you may use a chair.
Next rest the right hand in the lap, palm upward, and place the left hand, palm upward, on top of the right palm. Lightly touch the tips of the thumbs to each other so that a flattened circle is formed by the palms and thumbs. The right side of the body is the active side, the left the passive. Accordingly, during practice we quiet the active side by placing the left foot and left hand over the right members, as an aid in achieving the highest degree of tranquility. If you look at a figure of the Buddha, however, you will notice that the position of these members is just the reverse. The significance of this is that a Buddha, unlike the rest of us, is actively engaged in the task of liberation.
After you have crossed your legs, bend forward so as to thrust the buttocks out, then slowly bring the trunk to an erect posture. The head should be straight; if looked at from the side, your ears should be in line with your shoulders and the tip of your nose in line with your navel. The body from the waist up should be weightless, free from pressure or strain.33 Keep the eyes open and the mouth closed. The tip of the tongue should lightly touch the back of the upper teeth. If you close your eyes you will fall into a dull and dreamy state. The gaze should be lowered without focusing on anything in particular, but be careful not to incline the head forward. Experience has shown that the mind is quietest, with the least fatigue or strain, when the eyes are in this lowered position.
The spinal column must be erect at all times. This admonition is important. When the body slumps, not only is undue pressure placed on the internal organs, interfering with their free functioning, but the vertebrae by impinging upon nerves may cause strains of one kind or another. Since body and mind are one, any impairment of the physiological functions inevitably involves the mind and thus diminishes its clarity and one-pointedness, which are essential for effective concentration. From a purely psychological point of view, a ramrod erectness is as undesirable as a slouching position, for the one springs from unconscious pride and the other from abjectness, and since both are grounded in ego they are equally a hindrance to enlightenment.
Be careful to hold the head erect; if it inclines forward or backward or sideward, remaining there for an appreciable length of time, a crick in the neck may result.
When you have established a correct posture, take a deep breath, hold it momentarily, then exhale slowly and quietly. Repeat this two or three times, always breathing through the nose. After that breathe naturally. When you have accustomed yourself to this routine, one deep breath at the beginning will suffice. After that, breathe naturally, without trying to manipulate your breath. Now bend the body first to the right as far as it will go, then to the left, about seven or eight times, in large arcs to begin with, then smaller ones until the trunk naturally comes to rest at center.
YOU ARE NOW ready to concentrate your mind. There are many good methods of concentration bequeathed to us by our predecessors in Zen. The easiest for beginners is counting incoming and outgoing breaths. The value of this particular exercise lies in the fact that all reasoning is excluded and the discriminative mind put at rest. Thus the waves of thought are stilled and a gradual one-pointedness of mind achieved. To start with, count both inhalations and exhalations. When you inhale concentrate on “one”; when you exhale, on “two”; and so on, up to ten. Then you return to “one” and once more count up to ten, continuing as before. If you lose the count, return to “one.” It is as simple as that.
As I have previously pointed out, fleeting thoughts which naturally fluctuate in the mind are not in themselves an impediment. This unfortunately is not commonly recognized. Even among Japanese who have been practicing Zen for five years or more there are many who misunderstand Zen practice to be a stopping of consciousness. There is indeed a kind of zazen that aims at doing just this, but it is not the traditional zazen of Zen Buddhism. You must realize that no matter how intently you count your breaths you will still perceive what is in your line of vision, since your eyes are open, and you will hear the normal sounds about you, as your ears are not plugged. And since your brain likewise is not asleep, various thoughtforms will dart about in your mind. Now, they will not hamper or diminish the effectiveness of zazen unless, evaluating them as “good,” you cling to them or, deciding they are “bad,” you try to check or eliminate them.
You must not regard any perceptions or sensations as an obstruction to zazen, nor should you pursue any of them. I emphasize this. “Pursuit” simply means that in the act of seeing, your gaze lingers on objects; in the course of hearing, your attention dwells on sounds; and in the process of thinking, your mind adheres to ideas. If you allow yourself to be distracted in such ways, your concentration on the counting of your breaths will be impeded.
To recapitulate: let random thoughts arise and vanish as they will, do not dally with them and do not try to expel them, but merely concentrate all your energy on counting the inhalations and exhalations of your breath.
In terminating a period of sitting do not arise abruptly, but begin by rocking from side to side, first in small swings, then in large ones, for about half a dozen times. You will observe that your movements in this exercise are the reverse of those you engage in when you begin zazen. Rise slowly and quietly walk around with the others in what is called kinhin, a walking form of zazen.
Kinhin is performed by placing the right fist, with thumb inside, on the chest and covering it with the left palm while holding both elbows at right angles. Keep the arms in a straight line and the body erect, with the eyes resting upon a point about two yards in front of the feet. At the same time continue to count inhalations and exhalations as you walk slowly around the room. Begin walking with the left foot and walk in such a way that the foot sinks into the floor, first the heel and then the toes. Walk calmly and steadily, with poise and dignity. The walking must not be done absentmindedly, and the mind must be taut as you concentrate on the counting. It is advisable to practice walking this way for at least five minutes after each sitting period of twenty to thirty minutes.
You are to think of this walking as zazen in motion. Rinzai and Soto differ considerably in their way of doing kinhin. In Rinzai the walking is brisk and energetic, while in traditional Soto it is slow and leisurely; in fact, upon each breath you step forward only six inches or so. My own teacher, Harada-roshi, advocated a gait somewhere between these two and that is the method we have been practicing here. Further, the Rinzai sect cups the left hand on top of the right, whereas in the orthodox Soto the right hand is placed on top. Harada-roshi felt that the Rinzai method of putting the left hand uppermost was more desirable and so he adopted it into his own teaching. Now, even though this walking relieves the stiffness in your legs, such relief is to be regarded as a mere by-product and not the main object of kinhin. Accordingly, those of you who are counting your breaths should continue during kinhin, and those of you who are working on a koan should carry on with it.
2. Precautions to Observe in Zazen
In this second lecture I am going to change your breathing exercise slightly. This morning I told you to count “one” as you inhaled and “two” as you exhaled. Hereafter I want you to count “one” only on the exhalation, so that one full breath [inhalation and exhalation] will be “one.” Don’t bother counting the inhalations; just count “one,” “two,” “three,” and so forth, on the exhalation.
It is advisable to do zazen facing a wall, a curtain, or the like. Don’t sit too far from the wall nor with your nose up against it; the ideal distance is from two to three feet. Likewise, don’t sit where you have a sweeping view, for it is distracting, or where you look out on a pleasant landscape, which will tempt you to leave off zazen in order to admire it. In this connection, remember that although your eyes are open you are not actually trying to see. For all these reasons it is wisest to sit facing a wall. However, if you happen to be doing zazen formally in a Rinzai temple, you will have no choice but to sit facing others, as this is the established custom in that sect.
In the beginning, if possible, select a room that is quiet as well as clean and tidy, one which you can regard as special. It may be asked whether it is satisfactory to do zazen on a bed so long as the room is clean and free from noise. For the ordinary healthy person the answer is no; there are any number of reasons why it is difficult to keep the mind in proper tension on a bed. A bedridden person, of course, has no choice.
You will probably find that natural sounds, like those of insects or birds or running water, will not disturb you, neither will the rhythmic ticking of a clock nor the purring of a motor. Sudden noises, however, like the roar of a jet, are jarring. But rhythmic sounds you can make use of. One student of mine actually attained enlightenment by utilizing the sound of the steady threshing of rice while he was doing zazen. The most objectionable sounds are those of human voices, either heard directly or over the radio or television. When you start zazen, therefore, find a room which is distant from such sounds. When your sitting has ripened, however, no noises will disturb you.
Besides keeping your room clean and orderly you should decorate it with flowers and burn incense since these, by conveying a sense of the pure and the holy, make it easier for you to relate yourself to zazen and thus to calm and unify your mind more quickly. Wear simple, comfortable clothing that will give you a feeling of dignity and purity. In the evening it is better not to wear night clothes, but if it is hot and a question of either doing zazen in pajamas or not doing it at all, by all means wear the pajamas. But make yourself clean and tidy.
The room ought not to be too light or too dark. You can put up a dark curtain if it is too light, or you can use a small electric bulb if it is night. The effect of a dark room is the same as closing your eyes: it dulls everything. The best condition is a sort of twilight. Remember, Buddhist zazen does not aim at rendering the mind inactive but at quieting and unifying it in the midst of activity.
A room with plenty of fresh air, that is neither too hot in summer nor too cold in winter, is ideal. Punishing the body is not the purpose of zazen, so it is unnecessary to struggle with extremes of heat or cold. Experience has shown, however, that one can do better zazen when one feels slightly cool; too hot a room tends to make one sleepy. As your ardor for zazen deepens you will naturally become unconcerned about cold or heat. Nevertheless, it is wise to take care of your health.
NEXT LET US discuss the best time for zazen. For the eager and determined any time of day and all seasons of the year are equally good. But for those who have jobs or professions the best time is either morning or evening, or better still, both. Try to sit every morning, preferably before breakfast, and just before going to bed at night. But if you can sit only once—and you should sit at least once a day—you will have to consider the relative merits of morning and evening. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. If you find that either morning or evening is equally good and you ask which I recommend (because you can sit only once a day), I would say the morning, for the following reasons. No visitors come early in the morning, whereas in the evening you are likely to be interrupted. Also, morning—at any rate, in the city—is much quieter than evening since fewer cars are on the streets. Furthermore, because in the morning you are rested and somewhat hungry, you are in good condition for zazen, whereas in the evening, when you are tired and have had your meal, you are likely to be duller. Since it is difficult to do zazen on a full stomach, it is better not to sit immediately after a meal when you are a beginner. Before a meal, however, zazen can be practiced to good advantage. As your zeal grows it won’t matter when you sit, before, after, or during a meal.
How long should you do zazen at one sitting? There is no general rule, for it varies according to the degree of one’s eagerness as well as the maturity of one’s practice. For novices a shorter time is better. If you sit devotedly five minutes a day for a month or two, you will want to increase your sitting to ten or more minutes as your ardor grows. When you are able to sit with your mind taut for, say, thirty minutes without pain or discomfort, you will come to appreciate the feeling of tranquility and well-being induced by zazen and will want to practice regularly. For these reasons I recommend that beginners sit for shorter periods of time. On the other hand, should you force yourself from the beginning to sit for longer periods, the pain in your legs may well become unbearable before you acquire a calm mind. Thus you will quickly tire of zazen, feeling it to be a waste of time, or you will always be watching the clock. In the end you will come to dislike zazen and stop sitting altogether. This is what frequently happens. Now, even though you sit for only ten minutes or so each day, you can compensate for this briefness by concentrating intensely on the counting of each breath, thus increasing its effectiveness. You must not count absentmindedly or mechanically, as though it were a duty.
In spite of your being able to sit for an hour or more with a feeling of exquisite serenity, it is wise to limit your sitting to periods of about thirty or forty minutes each. Ordinarily it is not advisable to do zazen longer than this at one sitting, since the mind cannot sustain its vigor and tautness and the value of the sitting decreases. Whether one realizes it or not, a gradual diminution of the mind’s concentrative intensity takes place. For this reason it is better to alternate a thirty- or forty-minute period of sitting with a round of walking zazen. Following this pattern, one can do zazen for a full day or even a week with good results. The longer zazen continues, however, the more time should be spent in walking zazen. In fact, one might advantageously add periods of manual labor to this routine, as has been done in the Zen temple since olden times. Needless to say, you must keep your mind in a state of clear awareness during such manual labor and not allow it to become lax or dull.
A WORD about food. It is better to eat no more than eighty percent of your capacity. A Japanese proverb has it that eight parts of a full stomach sustain the man; the other two sustain the doctor.
you should eat two-thirds of your capacity. It further says that you should choose nourishing vegetables—of course meat-eating is not in the tradition of Buddhism and it was taboo when the Yojinki was written—such as mountain potatoes, sesame, sour plums, black beans, mushrooms, and the root of the lotus; and it also recommends various kinds of seaweed, which are highly nutritious and leave an alkaline residue in the body.
Now, I am no authority on vitamins and minerals and calories, but it is a fact that most people today eat a diet which creates too much acid in the blood, and a great offender in this respect is meat. Eat more vegetables of the kind mentioned, which are alkalinic in their effect. In ancient days there was a yang-yin diet. The yang was the alkaline and the yin the acid, and the old books cautioned that a diet ought not be either too yang or too yin.
There comes a point in your sitting when insights about yourself will flash into your mind. For example, relationships that previously were incomprehensible will suddenly be clarified and difficult personal problems abruptly solved. If you don’t jot down things that you want to remember, this could bother you and so interfere with your concentration. For this reason when you are sitting by yourself you may want to keep a pencil and notebook next to you.
3. Illusory Visions and Sensations
This is the third lecture. Before I begin I will assign you a new way of concentration. Instead of counting your exhalations, as heretofore, count “one” on the first inhalation, “two” on the next inhalation, and so on, up to ten. This is more difficult than counting on the exhalation, because all mental and physical activity is performed on the exhaled breath. For instance, just before pouncing, animals take a breath. This principle is well known in kendo fencing and judo, in which one is taught that by carefully observing his opponent’s breathing his attack can be anticipated.
While this exercise is difficult, you must try to practice it as another means of concentrating your mind. Until you come before me again you are to concentrate on counting the inhalations of your breath, not audibly but in the mind only. It is not advisable, however, to follow this practice for long. If you are working by yourself, a week would be sufficient.