Zazen by Daizan

Daizan and Shinzan meditating

I love zazen. I know nothing else that can be simultaneusly peaceful and wild; familiar as an old pair of socks, yet utterly, unknowably strange. 

Zen master Hakuin has the lines:

“…the merit a person gains from a single sitting

Destroys countless wrongs,

There’s then no evil anywhere.

The pure land is not far away.”

The pure land is the place where nothing obstructs the achievement of final buddhahood. This is high praise for zazen from Hakuin. He’s staying this pure land is accesible in a single sitting. Right now. We don’t have to wait. Perhaps in zazen we have all touched at least a moment flowing with love and power, where all you can feel or know is utter, unfathomable awe. 

And also, I’m sure, we all know the mundane physicality of the pain in the shoulder, the insect crawling over the thigh, even the blinking out into sequences of micro-sleeps each one containing a dream that seems to last a thousand years. Perhaps, like me, your zazen has sometimes been a world filled with distraction, with grief, with rage, with endless re-runs of failed love and failed communication; of an aloneness that becomes almost cosmic. 

Pain and joy – nothing brings them together like zazen. Paradox piles on paradox. Old master’s-room teachings say that in zazen you are the mother birthing the universe and simultaneously the enwombed child Everything we can say about zazen is equally true and equally false. We can no more define it than keep a cloud in a box

I like to think of zazen as connection time. As we find uprightness, the body becomes an antenna that recieves the universal transmission. We can tune in to the same frequency as all the Buddhas and all the ancestors and mysteriously join with them, embody them, and in our turn transmit what they transmitted. The alignment is physical, fleshy; it is also universal. We plug into deep powers, the blood of the old teachers runs through us. Like a mountain between heaven and earth, non-personal forces meet and flow in our depths. We find ourselves utterly connected and yet utterly self-sufficient. 

“If sitting brings about enlightenment, why aren’t all the frogs Buddhas?” You probably heard the old question. There issuch a thing as dead sitting – formalism – routinisation of that which is untrammelled as the wind. There is also intellectual sitting (sit-thinking), smug-sitting, sleepy-sitting and indulgence in fantasy and delusion. Back in the eighties my first Zen teacher pointed beyond these dead ends towards real zazen like this: 

“When we are willing to let go of all views, what we’re left with is not nothing, but the truth itself. Once we’re willing to go back again into not-knowing – into not having something that we can hold onto – then the truth manifests itself; and all the time training is going back into that not-knowing, what we sometimes call emptiness, the immaculacy of nothingness – basically constant revolution in the sense of always allowing one’s grip on reality, one’s sense of the way things are, to be exploded; and it takes quite a lot of determination and courage, not to mention faith, to live like that because every time you think you’ve got it sewn up, something comes along and unzips it again; and as long as we are willing always, in that sense, to be unzipped, then we are coming closer and closer to what’s really meant by selflessness, what’s really meant by the truth of the Buddha’s teaching when he spoke of there being no permanent self.”