Sanzen is an interview with a Zen teacher. It involves two people attempting to meet unconditionally without any games.
There is a formal aspect to sanzen – the student makes bows at the beginning and end of the encounter. Between these bows, however, is utter freedom. Certainly it’s an opportunity to ask practical questions and explore what kind of practices might work for you, including working with koans.
However, beyond those questions, sanzen is primarily orientated towards the goal of Zen practice – to realise who and what you really are and learn to live from that realisation. As the teacher embodies and possibly expresses this direction, this encourages the student to open their eyes more fully.
It’s wrong to think you get anything out of sanzen. The old saying goes, “The man of the world gains something every day; the man of the way loses something every day.” At times you may feel confused, anxious or resentful of what you encounter in sanzen. If you continue with your practice, however, things will come into focus. Even when you feel like you have nothing and know nothing, it is important to enter the sanzen room. Yasutani Roshi teaches, “Without this individual guidance we cannot say that our practice of zazen is authentic.”
What happens in the sanzen room is confidential. Neither the student nor the teacher speak to others about the encounter. Obviously no sexual or romantic advances are ever appropriate from either side.
Some students benefit from occasional sanzen, others find frequent encounters accelerate their rate of progress.
I-person sanzen is available at our dojo when Daizan Roshi or one of our other teachers are in attendance, and at retreats and other events.
Y ou don’t have to be in London to join Zenways and seriously engage in Zen practice. For centuries, serious students have fulfilled their responsibilities in the world while maintaining contact with their teacher at a distance.
One of the three greatest works of Zen literature is the collection of letters of Daiye Soko (1089-1163AD), the sanzen or private practice letters that he wrote to his many remote students. These days we have the opportunity for more direct encounters.
Sanzen is available online via Skype on Sundays after the talk from about 6:30pm, Monday mornings from 7:00am, and Tuesday mornings after zazen at about 7:30am (UK times).
The Skype username to search for is daizan100. You can add yourself to the queue by giving a missed call on Skype or by sending an skype message saying you’d like to be added to the queue. Then you do your meditation while you wait, and Daizan will call you back when he’s free.
You are welcome to come to remote sanzen a few times while considering whether you wish to become a Zenways student.