Four Essential & Brief Zen Meditation Manuals

Four Essential & Brief Zen Meditation Manuals May 23, 2018




Here are four critical meditation manuals within the Zen tradition. They are arranged in the order they were composed, starting from sometime at the beginning of the twelfth century to the early or middle eighteenth century.

We know almost nothing about Zhanglu Zongze the author of the first of these manuals. It is believed to have been written at the beginning of the twelfth century. This text is considered foundational within the Japanese Rinzai school.

The second is from the great Soto Zen master Eihei Dogen and was published either in 1227 or 1233. Interestingly it is closely patterned on the earlier document, including verbatim passages.

The third is from another Soto master, Keizan Jokin, a fourth generation successor to Dogen often considered the second founder of Japanese Soto Zen. I can’t find a first publication date, but Keizan died in 1325.

The fourth document is from the renowned reviver of Japanese Rinzai, Hakuin Ekaku. Similarly I do not see the first publication date, but Hakuin died in 1768.

Between these documents ranging from what is perhaps the first mature explication of Zen’s unique meditation system to Dogen’s focusing it, to Keizan’s expansion on several important details of the practice, to Hakuin’s song of joy within this practice, we can find the depth and power that so many people over many generations have found transforming their lives.


Guidelines for Seated Meditation

Zhanglu Zongze

(translated by Ruben Habito)

One who embarks on the path of awakening aspiring to master Wisdom is a Bodhisattva motivated by Great Compassion, taking the Great Vows to save all beings with the cultivation of Samadhi, and not seeking Liberation for one’s own sake alone.

In taking this path you must abandon entanglement in the multitude of external events, putting everything to rest, and allowing the mind and body to be as one and come to a point of stillness.
Regulate your intake of food and drink – neither too little nor too much. Find a balance in your sleep, neither being sleep-deprived nor oversleeping.

To practice seated meditation, find a quiet place and prepare to sit on a thick mat, wearing loose and comfortable clothing. Sit with a proper posture in a formal and dignified manner. One may sit in the full cross-legged (lotus) position, first placing the right foot upon the upper left thigh area, and then placing the left foot upon the upper right thigh area, with soles of both feet upward. Or one may sit in the half cross-legged (lotus) position, whereby the left leg is laid across the right thigh – with the left foot resting upon the right upper thigh area. Then on the left foot, place the right hand (palm upwards). Rest the left hand (palm upwards) on the palm of the right hand and allow the thumbs to touch.

Slowly raise the upper torso by straightening the lower back, and sway the body gently to the left and right, then front and back, allowing it to settle so that an upright sitting posture is achieved. Sit without leaning to the left nor to the right, neither bend over forward nor lean backward. With your back straightened, align the neck and head with one another, and take the form of a seated Buddha, steady and unmoved. Arrange your posture in a way that enables the breath to come in and out freely and unhindered.

The ears should be aligned with the shoulders; the nose with the navel. The tongue should touch the palate, the teeth together, and the lips closed. The eyes should remain slightly open so as to prevent sleepiness. Attaining samādhi in this way will be a powerful experience. Monks in ancient times sat in meditation in this way– with the eyes slightly open. Chan master Fayan Yuantong would loudly scold those who sat in meditation with their eyes closed – telling them that they were abiding in the ‘Black Mountain Cave of Mara’, that is, falling into the trap of nihilism. This is very important for those of you who are earnest practitioners: do not fall into this trap.

The body should be settled and stable, so you can breathe with awareness, and tension should be released from the entire mid-section of your body. Think no thoughts of good or evil. When a thought arises – be aware of it – awareness dissolves the thought. As you keep on practicing in this way over time, thoughts are set aside and oneness is attained. This is the heart of seated meditation.

It is my humble view that the practice of seated meditation is the Dharma Gate of true ease and joy. Some of those who try this practice may become ill – this is because they do not pay careful attention to how this should be practiced correctly. If one truly practices with a correct understanding and pay careful attention to the instructions, the natural outcome is for one to become lighthearted and joyful, with a clear mind, and one will be able to engage in one’s day to day activities with a sense of genuine inner freedom and contentment.

One who attains this state of enlightened mind is like a dragon that has touched the water and freely roams the sky, or a tiger whose roar echoes through the deep mountains. Even for those practitioners who have not gone that far, this practice will propel them with an inherent power like the wind blowing through flames and making them even stronger. If you apply yourself wholeheartedly to this practice of seated meditation, you will be carried on by a gentle wind blowing and guiding you on in the right direction, without exerting too much effort, and enlightenment will be on your horizon. Therefor you must unflaggingly engage in this practice in an earnest way and not give up when adversities arise.

As one goes further to higher levels of awareness, Mara the tempter may lurk along the way, placing obstacles before you. However, if you keep your eyes straight on the path and not be deflected, and without giving in to doubt, you will prevail. Texts such as the Surangama Sutra, Tiantai’s ‘Great Calm Insight’, and Guifeng’s ‘Principles of Practice and Enlightenment’, explain in detail about these tempters and their wiles, and how one might be able to overcome them. Read these works, so one need not be overly concerned about these matters.

In coming out of the state of Samadhi, move your body slowly, remaining calm, without hurrying – maintain a state of serenity through the transition from one state to another. After formal meditation practice is over, it is important to maintain that momentum of Samadhi at all times, taking appropriate measures to be able to do so. Holding on to this power of Samadhi is a serious undertaking – like that of holding a precious baby in your arms. Holding it in this way, the power of Samadhi will gradually increase in one’s day to day life.

Cultivating Samadhi is of utmost importance. If one’s Samadhi is not ripe, one will have no sense of direction and will be confused even in attaining an experience of realization.

To find a pearl that lies deep underneath the waters, one must first calm the waves of the ocean. If the water continues to be perturbed, there is no way of finding that pearl. Only as the water becomes still, and the view becomes clear, will the pearl appear in its natural brilliance, and will thus be discovered.
The Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment says; ‘The unhindered and pure Wisdom arises from Samadhi.’ The Lotus Sutra says; ‘In a quiet place let one practice stillness, regulating the mind. Sit in this way, and be like the unmovable Mount Sumeru.’

To arrive at that state that is beyond the ordinary and the holy, Samadhi is vital and necessary. Monks in ancient times were able to freely determine their time of death, seated or standing up, through the power of their Samadhi. There are those who do not fully understand that seated meditation is geared toward the realization of one’s true self, and are thus not able to overcome the pull of evil karma. People of ancient times said, ‘Those without Samadhi become confounded and don’t know what to do when they approach the time of their death’.

For those of you who earnestly aspire to practice seated meditation, I encourage you to read the above over and over. In doing so, and in engaging yourself wholeheartedly in the practice, you will bring benefit both to self and other, and with no doubt at all come to a full realization of your true self.


Universal Instructions for Zen Meditation

Eihei Dogen

(Translated by Norman Waddell & Masao Abe)

The Way is originally perfect and all-pervading. How could it be contingent upon practice and realization? The Dharma-vehicle is utterly free and un-trammeled. What need is there for our concentrated effort? Indeed, the Whole Body is far beyond the world’s dust. Who could believe in a means to brush it clean? It is never apart from you right where you are. What use is there going off here and there to practice?

A means to brush it clean is an allusion to the famous verse contest by which the Sixth Zen Patriarch Hui-neng received the Dharma transmission from the Fifth Patriarch Hung-jen. The verse of Shen-hsiu, Hung-jen’s chief disciple, was: “This body is the Bodhi tree; the mind like a bright mirror on a stand. Constantly strive to brush it clean. Do not allow dust to collect.” Hui- neng responded with the verse: “Basically, Bodhi is not a tree. Neither does the mind-mirror have a stand. From the first there is not a single thing, so where can dust collect?” (CTL, ch. 5).

And yet if there is the slightest discrepancy, the Way is as distant as heaven from earth. If the least like or dislike arises, the mind is lost in confu- sion. Suppose you gain pride of understanding, inflate your own achievement, glimpse the wisdom that runs through all things, attain the Way and clarify your mind, raising an aspiration to escalade the very sky. You are making an initial, partial excursion through the frontiers of the Dharma, but you are still deficient in the vital Way of total emancipation.

Look at the Buddha himself, who was possessed of great inborn knowledge—the influence of his six years of upright sitting is noticeable still. Or Bodhidharma, who transmitted the Buddha’s mind-seal—the fame of his nine years of wall sitting is celebrated to this day. Since this was the case with the saints of old, how can people today dispense with negotiation of the Way?

You should therefore cease from practice based on intellectual under- standing, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inward to illuminate your self. Body and mind will drop away of themselves, and your original face will manifest itself. If you wish to attain suchness, you should practice suchness without delay.

For the practice of Zen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Cast aside all involvements, and cease all affairs. Do not think good, do not think bad. Do not administer pros and cons. Cease all the movements of the conscious mind, the gauging of all thoughts and views. Have no designs on becoming a Buddha. The practice of Zen (sanzen) has nothing whatever to do with the four bodily attitudes of moving, standing, sitting, or lying down.

At the place where you regularly sit, spread out a layer of thick matting and place a cushion on it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus posture. In the full-lotus posture, you first place your right foot on your left thigh and your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus, you simply press your left foot against your right thigh. You should have your robes and belt loosely bound and arranged in order. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left palm facing upwards on your right palm, thumb-tips touching. Sit upright in correct bodily posture, inclining neither to the left nor the right, leaning nei- ther forward nor backward. Be sure your ears are on a plane with your shoulders and your nose in line with your navel. Place your tongue against the front roof  of your mouth, with teeth and lips both shut. Your eyes should always remain open. You should breathe gently through your nose.

Once you have adjusted yourself into this posture, take a deep breath, inhale, exhale, rock your body to the right and left, and settle into a steady, unmoving sitting position. Think of not-thinking. How do you think of not-thinking? Nonthinking. This in itself is the essential art of zazen.

The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the Dharma-gate of repose and bliss. It is the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is things as they are in suchness. No traps or snares can ever reach it. Once its heart is grasped, you are like the dragon when he reaches the water, like the tiger when he enters the mountain. You must know that when you are doing zazen, right there the authentic Dharma is manifesting itself, striking aside dullness and distraction from the first.

When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Do not rise suddenly or abruptly. In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of ignorance and enlightenment, and dying while sitting or standing, have all depended entirely on the strength gained through zazen.

Moreover, enlightenment brought on by the opportunity provided by a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, the realization effected by the aid of a fly whisk, a fist, a staff, or a shout, cannot be fully comprehended by human discrimination. It cannot be fully known by the practice-realization of supernatural powers. It is activity beyond human hearing and seeing, a principle prior to human knowledge or perception.

This being the case, intelligence, or lack of it, does not matter. No distinction exists between the dull and sharp-witted. If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, you are thereby negotiating the Way with your practice-realization undefiled. As you proceed along the Way, you will attain a state of everydayness.

The Buddha-mind seal, whose customs and traditions extend to all things, is found in both India and China, both in our own world and in other worlds as well. It is simply a matter of devotion to sitting, total commitment to immovable sitting. Although it is said that there are as many minds as there are people, all of them must negotiate the Way solely in zazen. Why leave behind your proper place, which exists right in your own home, and wander aimlessly off to the dusty realms of other lands? If you make even a single misstep, you stray from the Great Way lying directly before you.

You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. Do not let your time pass in vain. You are maintaining the essential function of the Buddha Way. Would you take meaningless delight in the spark from a flintstone? Form and substance are like dewdrops on the grass, destiny like the dart of lightning—vanishing in an instant, disappearing in a flash.

Honored followers of Zen—you who have been long accustomed to groping for the elephant—please do not be suspicious of the true dragon. Devote your energy to a Way that points directly to suchness. Revere the person of complete attainment beyond all human agency. Gain accord with the enlightenment of the Buddhas. Succeed to the legitimate lineage of the patriarchs’ samadhi. Constantly comport yourselves in such a manner and you are assured of being a person such as they. Your treasure-store will open of itself, and you will use it at will.

Devote your energy to a Way that points directly to suchness. Revere the person of complete attainment beyond all human agency. Gain accord with the enlightenment of the Buddhas. Succeed to the legitimate lineage of the patriarchs’ samadhi. Constantly comport yourselves in such a manner and you are assured of being a person such as they. Your treasure-store will open of itself, and you will use it at will.

Points to Watch in Zazen

Keizan Jokin

(Translated by Reiho Masunaga)

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.


Song of Zazen

Hakuin Ekaku

(Translated by Norman Waddell)

All beings by nature are Buddha,
As ice by nature is water.
Apart from water there is no ice;
Apart from beings, no Buddha.
How sad that people ignore the near
And search for truth afar:
Like someone in the midst of water
Crying out in thirst,
Like a child of a wealthy home

Wandering among the poor.
Lost on dark paths of ignorance,
We wander through the Six Worlds,
From dark path to dark path–
When shall we be freed from birth and death?
Oh, the zazen of the Mahayana!
To this the highest praise!
Devotion, repentance, training,
The many paramitas–
All have their source in zazen.
Those who try zazen even once
Wipe away beginning-less crimes.
Where are all the dark paths then?
The Pure Land itself is near.
Those who hear this truth even once
And listen with a grateful heart,
Treasuring it, revering it,
Gain blessings without end.
Much more, those who turn about
And bear witness to self-nature,
Self-nature that is no-nature,
Go far beyond mere doctrine.
Here effect and cause are the same,
The Way is neither two nor three.
With form that is no-form,
Going and coming, we are never astray,
With thought that is no-thought,
Singing and dancing are the voice of the Law.
Boundless and free is the sky of Samádhi!
Bright the full moon of wisdom!
Truly, is anything missing now?
Nirvana is right here, before our eyes,
This very place is the Lotus Land,
This very body, the Buddha



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