What is Zazen Meditation

What is Zazen Meditation

What is Zazen Meditation?
IFP:

Everything you are saying here is wonderful. I am enjoying the Trojan horse metaphor AND that of ideas being out-of-body states. There is something more I want to ask about structure and the body. I am trying to get clear on my inquiry. The body has its intelligence - the unconscious, spontaneously expressing itself as nature.

This is natural structure. We, as pure awareness witnessing nature, the body, etc. have the idea to meditate - to sit and be still and then we do it. Where did the idea come from? We have a sense of what it can do for us, and so we find ourselves sitting. We follow an impulse (nature). Is it like water wanting to level? I want to understand your take on all of this.

Seikan:

Where the idea to sit comes from? My take on it is that these sorts of questions are interesting, but trying to answer them is of little relevance to meditation practice. It becomes just another trajectory into more ideas. Practicing Zen meditation is about just sitting, not about why we do it. As the term "practice" suggests, it is something practical rather than speculative or metaphysical. As Zen master Kodo Sawaki Roshi (1880-1965) described it: "To practice Zazen is to do self with the self by the self ... which is one with the universe".

IFP:

So the actual sitting is a mystery? Perhaps it is just what is done, and there is no reason to understand the why of it. You refer to structure as being so important. Why sit? Why meditate? Why not something else? I understand the quote too. I do. But "to do self with self by self" by imposing structure on self?

Seikan:

No, sitting is no mystery. It is manifestly precise and clear. As for the "why" of sitting, yes, there is no need to try and create "understanding" here. Again, our wanting to understand is understandable, however it is a different pursuit and in a different realm. "Just sitting" is its own pursuit and its own end. As our thinking mind starts to settle, our sitting can start to know itself - that is, our body can sit itself, the breath can breathe itself, pains can feel themselves, sounds can be sounds, and so on.

Dogen Zenji (1200-1253), founder of Japanese Soto Zen, famously summed it up as follows: "To practice the Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, to forget the self is to be enlightened by all things of the universe." As we read this, though, it is important to be very clear that it speaks of something beyond intellectual understanding. So when we think we "understand", it is a good reminder that we have actually missed the point and are back in the realm of ideas. Likewise with Sawaki's saying, "doing self with the self by the self". To start thinking that we know only moves us further away from Zen practice.

So another saying by Sawaki Roshi may be more useful in this context - "What is Zazen good for? Absolutely nothing! This has got to sink into your flesh and bones until you actually practice what is truly good for nothing. Until then, your Zazen is just good for nothing." Sawaki's advice helps to bring us back to the essence of Zen meditation practice, without the usual detours into our ideas and expectations. Basically the choice is between either sitting for its own sake, or else engaging in other pursuits - such as developing ideas, or watching TV. The choice becomes clear and simple, and the practice of just sitting is itself very concrete and simple.

IFP:

I get what you are saying now, especially with your words "the breath can breathe itself, pains can feel themselves, sounds can be sounds". In this way there is no identification going on. Everything is happening by itself. You spoke early on of the intent to meditate as an idea-that this idea fades as we begin to actually just sit. The process is initiated out of the intent to sit and start meditation. I am curious about this intent.

When I ask about where the idea to sit comes from, I am really asking about what it is that draws us to meditation (i.e. the intent). Do you feel that the intent to sit is supported by this same simplicity-that the body knows of sitting inherently-just as the breath breathes itself? I want to assure that my intent here is not to talk in circles, but I suppose if we are talking then we must expect circles. There is something I want to get at in earnest and that has to do with this draw towards meditation. Otherwise, everyone everywhere would already be involved in sitting meditation practice.

Seikan:

I do not know what it is that specifically draws someone to Zazen, and how their intent arises. Most probably it varies somewhat depending on the individual and their circumstances. Again, I would firstly say that it is not so important to try and get to the bottom of this. Having said that, though, our intent will obviously influence our approach and attitude to our practice. In Zen, the most direct path comes from an attitude which is wholehearted and non-expecting, in other words not weighed down by any particular intent. So I often use the phrase: "Let your motivation bring you to the practice, then leave it at the door."

A more common scenario is that we hold on to what has brought us to meditate, and this then upholds, but also complicates, our sitting practice for some time. I mean you are exactly right, if sitting Zazen was happening as naturally as breathing or having ideas, then everybody everywhere would be doing it now. One of the reasons why people do not sit Zazen is because there are countless alternative activities that are much more enticing, entertaining, pleasurable, distracting, and/or mind-numbing than to be sitting still. There are many many toys on offer in life, and naturally we tend to keep on playing with these toys for as long as we can.

If and when our toys of choice start to become unavailable or less effective, we can start practicing Zen more easily, even without too many promises or expectations. In my own case, I probably only started sitting wholeheartedly once I felt there was nothing better to do. So the starting point can sometimes involve a measure of despair, which then makes it easier to start sitting and accept the practice as it is.

So why sit Zazen? For no reason! It simply becomes a way of being at the most basic level, something along the lines of "You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave." - And yes, talking about it as we are now invariably involves dancing around in circles. So thanks for the dance Benjamin.

Continue with Interview: Zazen Practice


Related Posts

How to Practice Zazen
How to Practice Zazen
IFP:What was your first experience with meditation? Seikan:My earliest memory of meditation is sitting on a sled ...
Read More
Seikan Cech 2
Seikan Cech 2
IFP: Thank you for those details. I understand. You speak of structure being essential. Are you speaking of an impose...
Read More
Seikan Cech 1
Seikan Cech 1
MP: What was your first experience with meditation? Seikan: My earliest memory of meditation is sitting on a sled i...
Read More
Back to blog