Zazen: Sitting Zen
Goal of Zazen
What is Correct Zazen
The Content of Zazen
Physical Aspects of Zazen
Common Challenges in Zazen
Necessity of a Teacher
■Goal of Zazen
The result that is expected from zazen is for ★ (what is real=truth) to become absolutely clear. This is also referred to as satori or enlightenment.
To that end, it is necessary for one’s cognition (thinking that something exists and conceptualizing it) to cease completely and temporarily. When it ceases completely, ★ is revealed exactly as it is.
It will then be clear that “I” (subject) and “other” (object) never really existed and that they were just products of the imagination.
■What is Correct Zazen
In order for ★ (what is real=truth) to be clear, it is necessary for there to be a momentary and complete cessation of cognition. This means all recognition of something as existing and conceptualizing ceases temporarily. Because it ceases completely, ★ is revealed as ★ itself, without any conceptualization.
So the result we expect of Zen practice is for cognition to momentarily cease completely.
It is not possible, however, to intentionally turn off cognition. Any attempt to stop cognition will fail.
So then how can cognition cease?
★ is already ★, so it is completely unnecessary to intentionally try to do something based on your own way of thinking. Therefore, sit with eyes open, and that is all. This is correct zazen.
The reason for sitting is that it enables you to refrain from using intentional thinking. Lying down is not appropriate simply because one falls asleep.
When one continues correct zen practice, sooner or later cognition will momentarily cease of its own accord. This is how Truth is revealed (satori).
On the other hand, if one makes any type of mental effort to achieve satori (e.g. by trying to understand truth, trying to achieve what you believe to be a state of Zen, or trying to become something), cognition will not cease, and one is stuck in delusion (concepts).
★ is ★ (truth) for everyone in any situation, so satori is possible for anyone.
■The Content of Zazen
★ is ★
Even if you do not try to do anything, the content of what is, is as it is. It is the unpredictable content of the five senses, feelings, thoughts, and emotions. They all naturally arise and disappear, and they are what is actually real, which equals truth. This is the content of zazen.
For example, zazen could have the following content (activity):
… clunk … my leg hurts … I’m tired of sitting … there’s a cat … I’m looking at the floor! … oh, I wasn’t thinking anything … oops, I was thinking … will satori every happen to me? ... I was thinking about work … meow … time’s flying! … this is boring … I’m hungry … what should I eat …
Such is Zen practice.
■Physical Aspects of Zazen
Sit with your eyes open (blinking normally is fine). No effort is necessary to keep your eyes open, but if you notice that your eyes have closed, please open them again.
It doesn’t matter where you look or whether you keep your eyes focused or not. When things are in focus, it is as it is. When blurry, it is blurry. Either way it is the content of what is real now.
Physical posture should not be a strain or cause pain.
If it is painful to maintain a posture, it is ok to change positions. But it is better not to move around more than necessary.
When doing zazen (sitting Zen), make sure to stand and walk in order to prevent thrombosis (economy class syndrome). Walk or move once every 40 minutes or hour.
If you fall asleep, that is not zazen. Truth is not revealed when you sleep. If you notice that you had been sleeping, it means you are now awake, so there is no problem. You can keep sitting. If you are so sleepy that you know you will fall asleep again soon, it may be a good idea to move around or take a nap.
■Common Challenges in Zazen
Before reading below, please try sitting for at least 10 minutes as explained above. When you are done, please proceed below.
When learning to sit (zazen), many people encounter the following three challenges:
1. Feeling concerned about the content of your thoughts or feelings and trying to mentally address them somehow.
Content that people often feel concerned about includes the following:
“It’s so-and-so’s fault.” “What should I do about…” “I have to do…”
“I was thinking” “I got upset” “I was thinking about that again”
“Is it ok to feel like this?” “Is it ok to think like this?”
No matter what thoughts or concerns arise, you can just sit. Do not try to control your thoughts or emotions, and do not engage with them. Do not intentionally start thinking and analyzing things that get your attention.
Many people worry about the frequency and content of thoughts/emotions, but the frequency and content are no problem.
The reason frequency is not a problem is because nothing exists other than the fact that is right now. Please clap your hands 3 times. You may think that you’ve clapped “a lot” but that is not a fact. The fact is that there was one clap at a time, and only the one clap existed each time. The three did not happen at once, and one clap existed only when it existed. Now, none of the claps remain, and right now, there is only what there is right now.
This is how everything is. Thoughts and emotions are no exception. It doesn’t matter how many times thoughts or emotions arise—they leave no residue. Right now, there is only what is happening right now. The fact that is right now is the only thing that is relevant to Zen practice.
Just as your heart beats on its own, thoughts and emotions emerge on their own. This is the case after satori as well.
There is no problem with the content of any thought or emotion. For example, it is not a problem even if you find yourself thinking, "my thoughts are a problem," or notice that you’re feeling anxious, wondering “why do I have such thoughts?”
When you think, “my thoughts are problematic,” what actually exists is, “my thoughts are problematic.” When you think, “why do I have such thoughts?” what actually exists is, “why do I have such thoughts?” Both are the content of what is real, which is the content of zazen. There is no good or bad about it.
There is, therefore, no need to do anything. It is ok as it is. This is the discipline.
2. Unknowingly trying to create or achieve a state of mind.
This happens when you misunderstand or have preconceptions about Truth, satori, zazen or what will happen when you are not doing anything (e.g. feeling at peace, having no thoughts/emotions arising, things looking different, having deeper states of awareness, feeling like you don't exist, etc.).
These preconceptions then become your goal, and you start doing something to achieve that goal, knowingly or not knowingly.
However, zazen is really not doing anything. There is no condition, state of mind or anything to be achieved in zazen. There is no need to do anything, because ★ is already ★ for everyone under any circumstance. Actually, the act of trying is an obstacle to satori. If you wish for ★ (Truth) to be revealed, just sit with your eyes open.
If you have an image of what truth is, or what satori or zazen are, or if you imagine a state that is created when not doing anything, please understand that those are imagination and they are not correct. If you think you know what satori is, even though satori has not happened, what you think you know is a mistake and an obstacle to practice.
3. The inability to believe that not doing anything will enable satori and feeling like you are wasting your time. You think you don't want to continue zazen, or start trying something else (e.g. meditation techniques, etc.)
As explained before, as long as you are mentally trying to create and maintain what you think is a good state, Truth will not be revealed. If you do not understand this, please read “Satori & Truth” again, or feel free to ask me questions during our zazen gatherings.
■Necessity of Teacher
To be able to sit correctly, it is important that you have a teacher who is already clear on Truth.
Such teacher can:
check whether you are sitting correctly or doing something unnecessarily, and teach you how to sit correctly. It is difficult to realize on your own that you are actually making unnecessary efforts.
answer your questions and doubts about truth and correct zazen.
confirm whether what you think is a revelation of Truth is actually Truth or not.
Once you learn correct zazen, it is not difficult at all. Anyone can do zazen correctly at any time anywhere, under any circumstances—even while standing and feeling angry on a crowded train.
June 16 Next zazenkai is June 21, 7:00am Japan time (June 20th in N/S America). Reservations here.
June 6 Please reserve more than 1 hour in advance for zazenkai. Reservations are turned of 60 minutes prior to start.
May 26 We are starting zazenkai twice a month! Regardless of your time zone, there is zazenkai at least once a month. See the group zazenkai page for June and July schedules.
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