Points to Watch in Zazen
A classic Zen meditation manual
by Keizan Jokin
Translated by Reiho Masunaga
Lightly edited from his study, the Soto Approach to Zen
Zazen clears up the human-being mind immediately and lets us dwell in our true essence. This is called showing one’s natural face and expressing one’s real self. It is freedom from body and mind and release from sitting and lying down.
So think neither of good nor on evil. Zazen transcends both the unenlightened and the sage, rises above the dualism of delusion and enlightenment, and crosses over the division of beings and Buddha. Through zazen we break free from all things, forsake myriad relations, do nothing, and stop the working of the six sense organs.
Who does this? We still do not know the true name. We should call it neither body nor mind. If we try to imagine it, it defies imagination. If we try to describe it, it defies description. It is like the fool – and also the sage. It is high as the mountain and deep as the sea – impossible to see the top or bottom. It shines without an object, and the eyes of wisdom penetrate beyond the Body; the Body expressed itself and forms emerge. The ripple of one wave touches off 10,000 waves. The slight twitch of consciousness brings the 10,000 things bubbling up. The so-called four elements and five aggregates combine, and the four limbs and five organs immediately take form. In addition the 36 bodily possessions and the 12 mutual causes arise and circulate in successive currents. They interpenetrate with myriad things.
Our mind is like the ocean water, our body, like the waves. Just as there is not a single wave outside the ocean waters, not a drop of water exists outside waves. The water and waves are not different; action and inaction do not differ. So it is said: “Even though living and dying, going and coming, they are true men. Even though possessing the four elements and five aggregates, they have the eternal body.” This zazen directly enters the ocean of the Buddha Mind and immediately manifests the Buddha Body. Then the Mind-inherently unexcelled, clear, and bright-suddenly emerges, and the supreme light shines fully at last. The ocean waters know no increase or decrease, and neither do the waves undergo change. All Buddhas appear in this world to solve its cloud. It reaches without thinking and radiates the essential teaching in silence. Sitting in both heaven and earth, we express our whole body in freedom. The great person who has sloughed off thinking is like one who has died the Great Death. No illusions distort her or his sight; that person’s feet pick up no dust. No dust anywhere and nothing obstructs.
Pure water has neither front nor back. In a clear sky there is essentially no inside and out side. Like them – transparent and clear – zazen shines brightly by itself. Form and void are undivided nor are objects and wisdom apart. They have been together from time eternal and have no name. The Third Patriarch, a great teacher, tentatively called it “Mind”; the respected Nagarjuna called it “Body.” It expresses the form of the Buddha and the body of the Buddhas. This full-moon form has neither lack nor excess. Anyone self-identified with this mind is a Buddha. The light of this self, shining both now and in the past, gains shape and fulfills the samadhi of the Buddhas.
The Mind essentially is not two; the Body takes various shapes through causality. Mind-only and Body-only cannot be explained either as different or the same. The Mind changes and becomes the most crucial problems by giving all beings direct access to the Buddha’s wisdom. They teach a wonderful way of calmness and detachment zazen. It is, in fact, the self-joyous meditation of the Buddhas. It is the sovereign of meditations. Dwelling in this meditation even for a moment will clear away your delusions. This, we know, is the right gate to Buddhism.
Those who would clear up their mind must abandon complex intellection, forsake the world and Buddhism, and make the Buddha Mind appear. Then the cloud of delusion lifts and the moon of the mind shines anew.
The Buddha is supposed to have said that hearing and thinking about Buddhism is like standing outside the gate but that zazen is truly returning home and sitting down in comfort. This is true. In hearing and thinking of Buddhism, opinions prevail. The mind remains confused; it is truly like standing outside the gate. But in this zazen all things disappear; it is not conditioned by place. It is like returning home and sitting down in comfort.
The delusion of the five hindrances arises from ignorance. Ignorance stems from not knowing the self – the self, that zazen enables us to know. Even if we cut off the five hindrances, we still remain outside the sphere of the Buddhas and patriarchs unless we also free ourselves from ignorance. And the most effective way to do this is zazen. An ancient sage has said: “When delusions disappear, calmness emerges, When calmness emerges, wisdom arises. When wisdom, arises, there is true understanding.
To get rid of delusive thoughts we have to stop thinking about good and evil. We have to sever all relations, throw everything away, think of nothing, and do nothing with our body. This is the primary precaution. When delusive relations disappear, delusive thoughts disappear. When delusive thoughts disappear, there emerges the reality that gives us clear insight into all things. It is not passivity, nor is it activity.
Free yourself from all such trifles as art, technique, medicine, and fortune telling. Stay away from singing, dancing, music, noisy chatter, gossip, publicity, and Profit-seeking. Although composing verse and poetry may help quiet your mind; don’t become too intrigued by them. Also abandon writing and calligraphy.
This advice represents a supreme legacy from the seekers of the way in the past. It outlines the prerequisites for bringing your mind into harmony.
Also avoid both beautiful robes, and stained clothing. A beautiful robe gives rise to desire, and there is also the danger of theft. It, there fore, hinders the truth-seeker. If someone hap pens to offer you a rich robe, turn it down. This has been the worthy tradition from long ago. If you have such a robe from before, discount its importance. And if someone steals it, don’t brood over your loss.
Wear old clothes but mend any holes and wash off any stain or oil. If you don’t clean off the dirt, your chances of getting sick increase, and this would obstruct training.
Lack of clothing, lack of food, and lack of sleep – these are the three lacks. They become a source of idleness. In eating, avoid anything unripe, indigestible, rotten, or unsanitary. Such food will make your stomach rumble and impair your body and mind. You will merely increase your discomfort in zazen. And don’t fill up with delicacies. Such gorging not only will decrease your alertness, but also will show everyone that you still have not freed yourself from avarice. Food exists only to support life; don’t cling to its taste. If you do zazen with a full stomach you create the cause of sickness. Avoid zazen immediately after breakfast or lunch; it is better to wait awhile.
Generally, monks watch the amount of food they eat. Watching their food intake means limiting the amount: eat two thirds and leave one third. In preparing for zazen, take cold Preventing medicine, sesame seed and mountain potatoes, In actually doing zazen, don’t lean against walls, backs of chairs, or screens. Stay away from high places with strong winds even if the view is good. This is a fine way to get sick.
If your body is feverish or cold, dull or active hard or soft, or heavy or light, you probably aren’t breathing correctly. Check your breathing, too, if your body feels overly irritable. You must make sure that you are breathing harmoniously at all times during zazen.
To harmonize breathing, use this method: open your mouth for awhile and if a long breath comes, breathe long; if a short breath comes, breathe short. Gradually harmonize your breathing and follow it naturally. When the timing becomes easy and natural, quietly shift your breathing to your nose. When breathing and mind are not coordinated, certain symptoms arise. Your mind sinks or rises, becomes vague or sharp, wanders outside the room or within the body; sees the image of the Buddha or Bodhisattvas, gives birth to corrupting thoughts, or seeks to understand the doctrines of the sutras. When you have these symptoms, it means your mind and breathing are not in harmony. If you have this trouble, shift your mind to the soles of both feet. If the mind sinks, put it on the hairline and between the eyebrows. If your mind is disturbed, rest it on the tip of the nose or on the solar plexus. In ordinary zazen, put your mind in your left palm. In prolonged sitting, even without this the mind naturally remains undisturbed. The old teaching emphasized illumination of mind, but doesn’t pay too much attention to this.
Any excesses lead to a disturbed mind. Anything that puts a strain on body and mind becomes a source of illness. So don’t practice zazen where there is danger of fire, flood strong winds, and robbery. Keep away from areas near the seashore, bars, and red light districts, homes of widows and young virgins, and theaters. Avoid living near kings, ministers, and high authority or near gossips and seekers after fame and profit.
Temple rituals and buildings have their worth. But if you are concentrating on zazen, avoid them. Don’t get attached to sermons and instructions because they will tend to scatter and disturb your mind. Don’t take pleasure in attracting crowds or gathering disciples. Shun a variety of practices and studies. Don’t do zazen where it is too light or too dark, too cold or too hot, or too near pleasure-seekers and entertainers. You should practice inside the meditation hall, go to Zen masters, or take yourself to high mountains and deep valleys. Green waters and Blue Mountains – these are good places to wander. Near streams and under trees – these places calm the mind. Remember that all things are unstable. In this you member that all things are unstable. In this you may find some encouragement in your search for the way.
The mat should be spread thickly: zazen is the comfortable way. The meditation hall should be clean. If incense is always burned and flowers offered the gods protecting Buddhism and the Bodhisattvas cast their shadows and stand guard. If you put the images of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas and Arhats there, all the devils and witches are powerless.
Dwelling always in great compassion, you should offer the limitless merits of zazen to all beings. Don’t let pride, egotism, and arrogance arise; they are possessions of the heretical and unenlightened. Vow to cut off desire; vow to obtain enlightenment. Just do zazen and nothing else. This is the basic requirement for zazen.
Before doing zazen, always wash your eyes and feet, and tranquilize your body and mind. Move around easily. Throw away worldly feelings, including the desire for Buddhism. Although you should not begrudge the teaching, don’t preach it unless you are asked. After three requests, give the four effects (indicate, instruct, benefit, rejoice). When you feel like talking, keep quiet nine out of 10 times-like mold growing around the mouth and a fan used in December or like a bell hanging in the sky that rings naturally without reliance on the four directions of the wind.
For the trainee this is the main point to watch: possessing the teaching but not selling it cheap. Attaining enlightenment but not taking pride in it. This zazen does not attach itself one-sidedly to doctrine, training, or enlightenment. It combines all these virtues. Enlightenment ordinarily means Satori, but this is not the spirit of zazen. Training ordinarily means actual practice, but this is not the spirit of zazen. Doctrine ordinarily means stopping evil and doing good, but this is not the spirit of zazen.
Although Zen has doctrines, they differ from those of Buddhism in general. The method of direct pointing and true transmission is expressed by the whole body in zazen. In this expression, there are no clauses and sentences. Here, where mind and logic cannot reach, zazen expresses the 10 directions. And this is done without using a single word. Isn’t this the true doctrine of the Buddhas and patriarchs?
Although Zen talks about training, it is the training of no-action. The body does nothing except zazen. The mouth does not utter the Dharani, the mind does not work at conceptual thinking; the six sense organs are naturally pure and have no defilement. This is not the 16 views (toward the Four Noble Truths) of the Sravaka, or the 12 causal relations of the Pratyekabuddha, or the six paramitas and other training of the Bodhisattvas. Nothing is done except zazen, and this zazen is called the Buddha’s conduct. The trainee just dwells comfortably in the self-joyous meditation of the Buddhas and freely performs the four comfortable actions of the Bodhisattvas. This then is the deep and marvelous training of the Buddhas and patriarchs.
And although we talk about enlightenment, we become enlightened without enlightenment. This is the king of samadhi. This is the samadhi that gives rise to the eternal wisdom of the Buddha. It is the samadhi from which all wisdom arises. It is the samadhi that gives rise to natural wisdom. It is the clear gate that opens into the compassion of the Tathagata. It is the place that gives rise to the teaching of the great comfortable conduct (zazen) – It transcends the distinction between sage and commoner; it is beyond dualistic judgment that separates delusion and enlightenment. Isn’t this the enlightenment that expresses one’s original face?
Though zazen does not cling to virtue, meditation, and wisdom, it includes them. So-called virtue protects one from wrong and stops evil. But in zazen we see the total body without two-ness. We abandon all things and stop varied relations; we do not cling to Buddhism and worldly affairs; we prized religious sentiment and worldly thoughts. There is neither right and wrong nor good and evil. What is there to suppress and to stop? This is the formless virtue of Buddha nature. Usually zazen means concentrating the mind and eliminating extraneous thoughts. But in this zazen, we free ourselves from dualism of body and mind and of delusion and enlightenment. Neither the body nor mind changes, moves, acts, or worries.
Like a rock, like a stake, like a mountain, like an ocean, the two forms of movement and rest do not arise. This is meditation without the form of meditation. Because there is no form of meditation, it is called just meditation. But in this zazen we naturally destroy the obstacle of knowledge (ignorance), forget the delusive activity of the mind; our entire body becomes the eye of wisdom; there is no discrimination and recognition. We clearly see the Buddha nature and are inherently not deluded. We cut the delusive root of the mind and the light of the Buddha mind shines through suddenly.
This is wisdom without the form of wisdom. Because it is wisdom without form, it is called Great Wisdom. The teachings of the Buddha and the sermons of Sakyamuni (in his life) are all included in virtue, meditation, and wisdom. In this zazen we hold all virtue, train all meditation, and penetrate into wisdom. Suppression of demons, enlightenment, serand death all depend on this power. Superior work and illuminating sermon are all in the zazen. Interviewing the Zen master is also zazen.
If you want to do zazen, you must first find a quiet place. You should sit on a thick cushion. You should allow no smoke or wind to enter. You should keel away from rain and dew. Take care of the sitting place and keep it clean. The Buddha sat on a diamond seat, and the patriarchs sat on huge rocks, but in each case they used cushions. The sitting place should neither be too light during the day nor too dark during the night. It should be warm in winter and cool in summer. These are precautions regarding the place abandon the functioning of the mind; stop dualistic thinking, and do not plan to become a Buddha. Don’t think about right and wrong. Do not waste time make efforts as though saving your burning head.
The Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree and Bodhidharma wall gazing concentrated only on zazen and did nothing else. Sekiso (Shih-shuang Ch’ing-chu) (807-888) sat like a withered tree. Nyojo (Ju-tsing) (1163-1228) warned against taking a nap while doing zazen. Nyojo always said that you can obtain your goal for the first time by merely sitting – without burning incense, giving salutation, saying the Nembutsu, practicing austerity, chanting the sutra, or performing various duties. Generally when doing zazen you should wear a kesa; you must not leave this out. You should not sit completely on the cushion; it should be put halfway back under the spine. This is the sitting method of the Buddhas and the patriarchs. Some meditate in paryanka and others in half-paryanka. In paryanka you must put your right thigh. Wearing your robe loosely adjust your posture.
Next rest your right hand on your left foot and your left hand on your right palm. Touching your thumbs together, bring your hands close to your body. Put them close to your navel. Sit upright and do not lean either to the left or right. Neither should you lean forward nor backward. Place your navel. Keep your tongue against the palate, and breathe through your nose. Keep your lips and teeth firmly closed. You should keep your eyes open. Neither open them too wide nor narrow them too much. After you have seated your self comfortably, inhale sharply. To do this you open your mouth and breathe out once or twice.
After sitting you should move your body seven or eight times from the left to right, going from large motions to small. Then you should sit like an immovable mountain. In this position try to think the unthinkable How do you think the unthinkable? By going beyond both thinking and unthinking. This is the key to zazen. You should cut off your delusions immediately and enlighten the way suddenly.
When you want to get up from zazen, put your hands on your thighs with palms up and move your body seven or eight times from left to right with the motions getting progressively larger. Then open your mouth and inhale; put your hands on the floor; gently arise – from the cushion; and quietly walk around. Turn your body to the right and walk to the right. If you feel sleepy during zazen, you should move -your body and open your eyes widely. Concentrate your mind on the top of your head, edge of your hair, or between your eyebrows. If this doesn’t make you – wide awake, stretch out your hand and rub your eyes, or massage your body. If even this does not awaken you, get up from your seat and walk around lightly. You should walk around to the right. If you walk in the way for about 100 steps, your sleepiness should go away. The method of walking is to take a breath every short step (about half of the average step); like moving without moving, it should be done quietly. If even all this does not awaken you, wash your eyes and cool your head. Or read the introduction of the precepts of the Bodhisattva. By these various means you should avoid sleep.
The most important thing is to transcend the problem of birth and death. Though this life moves swiftly, the eye for seeing the way is not open. We must realize that this is no time to sleep. If you are about to be lulled to sleep, you should make this vow: “My habitual passion from former actions is already deep-rooted; therefore I have already received the hindrance of sleep. When will I awake from the darkness? Buddhas and the patriarchs I seek escape from the suffering of my darkness through your great compassion.
If your mind is disturbed, rest it on the tip of the nose or below the navel and count your inhaled and exhaled breath. If your mind still is not calm, take a Koan and concentrate on it. For example consider these non-taste the stories: “Who is this that comes before me?” (Hui-neng); “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” (Chao-chou); Yun men’s Mt Sumeru and Chao-chou’s oak tree in the garden. These are available applications. If your mind is still disturbed, sit and concentrate on the moment your breath has stopped and both eyes have closed forever, or on the unborn state in your mother’s womb or before one thought arises. If you do this, the two Sunyatas (non-ego) will emerge, and the disturbed mind will be put at rests.
When you arise from meditation and unconsciously take action, that action is itself a Koan. Without entering into relation, when you accomplish practice and enlightenment, the Koan manifests itself. State before the creation of heaven and earth, condition of empty kalpa, and wondrous functions and most important thing of Buddhas and patriarchs – all these are one thing, zazen.
We must quit thinking dualistically and put a stop to our delusive mind, cool our passions, transcend moment and eternity, make our mind like cold ashes and withered trees, unify meditation and wisdom like a censer in an old shrine, and purify body and mind like a single white strand. I sincerely hope that you will do all this.