KEIZAN JOKIN’S ZAZEN YOJINKI
What to be aware of in zazen, sitting meditation
Translated by Thomas Cleary
Timeless Spring : A Soto Zen anthology. Weatherhill, Tokyo-New York, 1980, pp. 112-125.
(A couple of years ago I shared the translation of this text by the Venerable Reiho Masunaga. Possibly the most important early text on Zen meditation in the Soto school, here is the version by the American scholar Thomas Cleary.)
Zazen just lets people illumine the mind and rest easy in
their fundamental endowment. This is called showing the
original face and revealing the scenery of the basic ground.
Mind and body drop off, detached whether sitting or lying
down. Therefore we do not think of good or bad, and can
transcend the ordinary and the holy, pass beyond all conception
of illusion and enlightenment, leave the bounds of
sentient beings and buddhas entirely.
So, putting a stop to all concerns, casting off all attachments,
not doing anything at all, the six senses inactive –
who is this, whose name has never been known, cannot
be considered body, cannot be considered mind? When
you try to think of it, thought vanishes; when you try to
speak of it, words come to an end. Like an idiot, like an
ignoramus, high as a mountain, deep as an ocean, not
showing the peak or the invisible depths – shining without
thinking, the source is clear in silent explanation.
Occupying sky and earth, one’s whole body alone is
manifest; a person of immeasurable greatness – like one
who has died utterly, whose eyes are not clouded by any-
thing, whose feet are not supported by anything – where
is there any dust? What is a barrier? The clear water never
had front or back, space will never have inside or out.
Crystal clear and naturally radiant before form and void
are separated, how can object and knowledge exist?
This has always been with us, but it has never had a
name. The third patriarch, a great teacher, temporarily
called it mind; the venerable Nagarjuna provisionally
called it body – seeing the essence and form of the enlightened,
manifesting the bodies of all buddhas, this,
symbolized by the full moon, has neither lack nor excess.
It is this mind which is enlightened itself; the light of
one’s own mind flashes through the past and shines
through the present. Mastering Nagarjuna’s magic symbol,
achieving the concentration of all buddhas, the mind has
no sign of duality, while bodies yet differ in appearance.
Only mind, only body – their difference and sameness are
not the issue; mind changes into body, and when the body
appears they are distinguished. As soon as one wave
moves, ten thousand waves come following; the moment
mental discrimination arises, myriad things burst forth.
That is to say that the four main elements and five clusters
eventually combine, the four limbs and five senses suddenly
appear, and so on down to the thirty six parts of the
body, the twelve fold causal nexus; fabrication flows along,
developing continuity – it only exists because of the combining
of many elements.
Therefore the mind is like the ocean water, the body is
like the waves. As there are no waves without water and
no water without waves, water and waves are not separate,
motion and stillness are not different. Therefore it is
said, “The real person coming and going living and dying
– the imperishable body of the four elements and five
Now zazen is going right into the ocean of enlightenment,
thus manifesting the body of all buddhas. The in-
nate inconceivably clear mind is suddenly revealed and the
original light finally shines everywhere. There is no increase
or decrease in the ocean, and the waves never turn
back. Therefore the enlightened ones have appeared in the
world for the one great purpose of having people realize
the knowledge and vision of enlightenment. And they had
a peaceful, impeccable subtle art, called zazen, which is
the state of absorption that is king of all states of concentration.
If you once rest in this absorption, then you directly
illumine the mind – so we realize it is the main
gate to the way of enlightenment.
Those who wish to illumine the mind should give up
various mixed-up knowledge and interpretation, cast away
both conventional and buddhist principles, cut off all delusive
sentiments, and manifest the one truly real mind –
the clouds of illusion clear up, the mind moon shines
anew. The Buddha said, “Learning and thinking are like
being outside the door; sitting in meditation is returning
home to sit in peace.” How true this is! While learning
and thinking, views have not stopped and the mind is still
stuck – that is why it is like being outside the door. But
in this sitting meditation, zazen, everything is at rest and
you penetrate everywhere – thus it is like returning home
to sit in peace.
The afflictions of the five obscurations all come from
ignorance, and ignorance means not understanding yourself.
Zazen is understanding yourself. Even though you
have eliminated the five obscurations, if you have not
eliminated ignorance, you are not a buddha or an ancestor.
If you want to eliminate ignorance, zazen to discern the
path is the most essential secret.
An ancient said, “When confusion ceases, tranquility
comes; when tranquility comes, wisdom appears, and
when wisdom appears reality is seen.” If you want to put
an end to your illusion you must stop thinking of good
and bad and must give up all involvement in activity; the
mind not thinking and the body not doing is the most essential
point. When delusive attachments end, illusion dies
out. When illusion dies out, the unchanging essence is revealed
and you are always clearly aware of it. It is not absolute
quiescence, it is not activity.
Hence you should avoid all arts and crafts, medical prescription
and augury, as well as songs and dance and
music, disputation, meaningless talk, and honor and profit.
Though poetry and song can be an aid to clarifying the
mind, still you should not be fond of making them; to give
up writing and calligraphy is the superior precedent of the
people of the way, the best way for harmonizing the mind.
You should not be attached to either fine clothing or
dirty rags. Fine clothing instigates greed, and there is also
the fear of theft – therefore it is a hindrance to someone
on the way. To refuse it when someone gives it for some
reason is a praiseworthy act exemplified from ancient
limes. Even if you happen to have fine clothing, still don’t
be concerned about taking care of it; if thieves take it,
don’t chase after it or regret the loss. Old dirty clothes,
washed, mended, and completely cleaned, should be
worn; if you don’t get rid of the dirt you’ll get cold and
become sick – this too causes obstruction on the way. Although
we are not to be anxious for our lives, if clothing,
food, and sleep are not sufficient, this is called the three
insufficiencies, and are all causes of regression.
Any living things, hard things, and spoiled things –
impure food – should not be eaten; with gurgling and
churning in the belly, heat and discomfort of body and
mind, there will be difficulty in sitting. Do not indulge in
attachment to fine food – not only will your body and
mind be uncomfortable, but it means you are still greedy.
You should take enough food just to support life; don’t
savor its taste. If you sit after having eaten your fill it can
cause illness. After big or small meals, don’t sit right
away; rather, wait a while before sitting. In general, men-
dicant monks should be moderate in eating; that means to
limit their portions, eat two parts of three and leave on
part. All usual medicaments, sesame, wild yams, etc., can
be eaten. This is the essential technique of tuning th
When sitting in zazen, do not lean against any wall,
meditation brace or screen. Also don’t sit in a windy place
or up on a high exposed place. These are causes of illness.
When sitting in meditation, your body may seem hot or
cold, uneasy or comfortable, sometimes stiff, sometimes
loose, sometimes heavy, sometimes light, sometimes startled
awake. This is all because the breath is not in tunc
and needs to be tuned. The way of tuning the breath is as
follows: open your mouth, letting the breath be, long or
short, gradually harmonizing it; following it for a while,
when a sense of awareness comes, the breath is then in
good tune. After that let the breath pass naturally through
The mind may seem to sink away or float off, sometimes
it seems dull, sometimes it seems sharp. Sometimes you
see through outside the room, sometimes you can see
through your body, sometimes you see forms of buddhas
or bodhisattvas. Sometimes you comprehend scriptures or
treatises. Extraordinary things like this are diseases from
lack of harmony between awareness and breath. When
they happen, sit with the mind resting in the lap. If the
mind sinks into torpor, rest your mind between your eyes
on your hairline (three inches above the center of the
eyebrows). If your mind is distracted and scattered, rest
your mind on the tip of your nose and your lower belly
(one and a half inches below the navel). When sitting all
the time rest the mind in the left palm. When you sit for a
long time, though you do not force the mind to be calm, it
will naturally not be scattered.
Now as for the ancient teachings, though they are traditional
lessons for illuminating the mind, don’t read, write,
or listen to them too much – too much causes disturbance
10 the mind. In general, anything that wears out body and
mind can cause illness. Don’t sit where there are fires,
floods, or bandits, or by the sea, near wineshops, brothels,
or where widows, virgins, or singing girls are. Don’t hang
Mound kings, important officials, powerful people, or
people full of lust and eager for name and fame, or tellers
of tales. As for mass buddhist services and large construction
projects, though they are good things, people who are
concentrating only on sitting should not do them.
Don’t be fond of preaching and teaching, for distraction
and scattered thoughts come from this. Don’t take delight
in crowds or seek for disciples. Don’t study or practice too
many things. Don’t sit where it is extremely bright or
dark, extremely cold or hot, or around roustabouts and
playgirls. You can stay in a monastery where there is a real
teacher, deep in the mountains and hidden valleys. Green
waters and verdant mountains are the place to walk in
meditation; by the streams, under the trees are places to
clear the mind. Observe impermanence, never forget it;
this urges on the will to seek enlightenment.
A sitting mat should be spread thick for comfortable sitting,
and the place of practice should be clean – always
burn incense and offer flowers: the good spirits who guard
the true teaching, as well as buddhas and bodhisattvas,
will cast their shadows there and give protection. If you
place an image of a buddha, bodhisattva, or saint there, no
evil demon or spirit can get at you.
Always abide in great compassion, and dedicate the
boundless power of sitting meditation to all living beings.
Don’t become proud, conceited or self-righteous – these
are qualities of outsiders and ordinary people. Remember
the vow to end afflictions, the vow to realize enlightenment.
Just sitting, not doing anything at all, is the essential
technique for penetrating zen. Always wash your eyes
and feet (before zazen). With body and mind at ease, be-
haviour harmonious, abandon worldly feelings and don’t
cling to feelings of the way.
Although one should not begrudge the teaching, don’t
speak about it unless you are asked – then hold your
peace for three requests, comply if there is a fourth request
in earnest. Of ten things you would say, leave off nine.
Mold growing around the mouth, like a fan in winter, like
a bell hung in the air, not questioning the wind from all
directions – this is characteristic of people of the way. Just
go by the principle of the teaching, don’t care about the
person; go by the path and do not congratulate yourself –
this is the most important point to remember.
Zazen is not concerned with teaching, practice, or realization,
yet it contains these three aspects. That is to say,
the criterion of realization depends on enlightenment –
this is not the spirit of zazen. Practice is based on genuine
application – this is not the spirit of zazen. Teaching is
based on eliminating evil and cultivating goodness – this
is not the spirit of zazen. Although teaching is established
within zen, it is not ordinary teaching; it is direct pointing,
simply communicating the way, speaking with the
whole body. The words have no sentences or phrases;
where ideas are ended the reason exhausted, one word
comprehends the ten directions. And yet not a single hair
is raised – is this not the true teaching of the buddhas
and enlightened ancestors?
And although we speak of practice, it is practice without
any doing. That is to say, the body doesn’t do anything,
the mouth does not recite anything, the mind does not
think anything over, the six senses are naturally pure and
clear, not affected by anything. This is not the sixteen-fold
practice of the buddhist disciples or the twelve-fold practice
of those enlightened through understanding of causality,
or the six ways of transcendental practice undertaking
myriad actions done by bodhisattvas; not doing anything
at all, it is therefore called buddhahood, the state of enlightenment.
Just resting in the absorption self-experienced by all enlightened
ones, roaming at play in the four peaceful and
blissful practices of bodhisattvas, is this not the profound,
inconceivable practice of buddhas and ancestors?
Though we may speak of realization, this is realization
without realization, this is the absorption in the king of
concentration, the state of awareness in which you disrover
knowledge of birthlessness, all knowledge, and
spontaneous knowledge;  it is the gate of illumination
through which the wisdom of the realized ones  opens
up, produced by the method of practice of great ease. It
transcends the patterns of holy and ordinary, goes beyond
the sense of confusion and understanding; is this not the
realization of innate great enlightment?
Also zazen is not concerned with discipline, concentration,
or wisdom, but contains these three studies. That is,
discipline is to prevent wrong and stop evil; in zazen we
see the whole substance as non dual, cast aside myriad
concerns and lay to rest all entanglements. Not concerned
with the buddhist way or the worldly way, forgetting feelings
about the path as well as mundane feelings, no affirmation
or denial, no good or bad – what is there to prevent
or stop? This is the formless discipline of the mind
Concentration means undivided contemplation; in zazen
we slough off body and mind, abandon confusion and understanding,
immutable and imperturbable, not acting, not
befuddled, like an idiot, like a dunce, like a mountain, like
an ocean, no trace of either motion or stillness arises –
concentrated without any sign of concentration, because
there is no form of concentration, it is called great concentration.
Wisdom is discerning comprehension; in zazen knowledge
disappears of itself, mind and discriminating con-
sciousness is forever forgotten. The wisdom eye throughout
the body has no discernment, but clearly sees the essence
of buddhahood; fundamentally unconfused, cutting
off the conceptual faculty, open and clearly shining all the
way through, this is wisdom without any sign of wisdom;
because it has no sign of wisdom it is called great wisdom.
The teachings expounded by the buddhas in their lifetimes
are all contained in discipline (morality), concentration
(meditation), and wisdom (knowledge); in this zazen,
there is no discipline that is not maintained, no concentration
that is not cultivated, no wisdom that is not
realized. Vanquishing demons, attaining the way, turning
the wheel of the true teaching and returning to extinction,
all depend on this power. Supernormal powers and their
inconceivable functions, emanating light and expounding
the teaching are all in the act of sitting. Investigation of
zen also is sitting in zazen.
If you want to sit in meditation, first find a quiet place
and lay a thick cushion; do not let wind or smoke, rain or
dew in. Keep a clear place to sit, with enough room for
your knees. Although there were people who sat on diamond
seats or boulders in ancient times, they all had sitting
cushions. Where you sit should not be light in the
daytime or dark at night; it should be warm in winter and
cool in summer – that’s the technique.
Cast off mind, intellect, and consciousnesses, cease recollection,
thought, and observation. Don’t aim at becoming a
buddha, don’t be concerned with right or wrong; value
time, as though saving your head from burning. The
Buddha sat upright, Bodhidharma faced a wall, singleminded,
without any other concerns at all. Shishuang was
like a dead tree, Rujing admonished against sleeping while
sitting; “you can only succeed by just sitting, without
need to make use of burning incense, prostrations, remembrance
of buddha names, repentance ceremonies,
reading scriptures or ritual recitations.”
Whenever you sit, you should wear a kashaya (kesa) (exccpt
during the first and last parts of the night when the
daily schedule is not in effect) – don’t neglect this. The
cushion (twelve inches across, thirty-six in circumference)
should not support the whole thighs – it should reach
from midthigh to the base of the spine. This is the way the
buddhas and patriarchs sat. You may sit in full or half
lotus position; the way to sit in full lotus is to put the right
foot on the left thigh, then put the left foot on the right
thigh. Loosen your clothes and straighten them; next put
your right hand on your left foot and your left hand on
your right hand, with your thumbs together near the body
about the level of your navel. Sit up straight, without leaning
to the left or right, front or back. The ears and shoulders,
nose and navel, should be aligned. The tongue is
kept on the roof of the mouth and the breath should pass
through the nose. The mouth should be closed, while the
eyes should be open, though not too widely or too
slightly. Having attuned your body in this way, breathe
deeply through the mouth a couple of times. Next, sitting
steady, sway your body seven or eight times, going from
larger to smaller movements. Then sit upright and intent.
Now think of what doesn’t think –  how to think of it?
Not thinking. This is the essential method of zazen. You
should break directly through afflictions and personally
realize enlightenment. When you want to rise from stillness,
first put your hands on your knees, sway your body
seven or eight times, going from small to larger movements.
Open your mouth and breathe out, put your hands
on the ground and lightly rise from your seat.
Walk slowly, circling to the right or left. If torpor and
sleepiness overcomes you while sitting, always move your
body or open your eyes wide; also put your mind on your
hairline between your eyebrows. If you still are not wakeful,
rub your eyes or body. If that still doesn’t wake you
up, get up and walk around, always circling to the left.
Once you have gone a hundred steps or so, your sleepiness
should have vanished. The way to walk is to take a
half step with each breath. You walk as though not walking
anywhere, silent and unmoving. If you still don’t wake
up after walking around like this, either wash your eyes
and cool your forehead, or recite the preface to the precepts
for bodhisattvas, or some such thing – just find
some way not to fall asleep. You should observe that the
matter of life and death is a great one, and impermanence
is swift – what are you doing sleeping when your eye of
the way is not yet clear? If torpor and drowsiness come
over you repeatedly, you should pray, “My habits are
deepseated, and that is why I am enshrouded by drowsiness
– when will my torpor disperse? I pray that the buddhas
and enlightened ancestors will be so compassionate
as to remove my darkness and misery.”
If your mind is scattered, fix your mind on the tip of
your nose and lower belly and count your incoming and
outgoing breaths. If that doesn’t stop your distraction,
then bring a saying to mind and keep it in mind to awaken
you – for example, “What thing comes thus?” “A dog
has no enlightened nature.” “When no thought arises, is
there still any fault? – Mount Everest!” “What is the
meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West? – the
cypress tree in the garden:’ Flavorless sayings like this are
suitable. If (scattering distraction) still doesn’t stop, sit and
focus on the point where the breath ends and the eyes
close forever, or else where the embryo is not yet conceived
and not a single thought is produced; when the
twin void suddenly appears, the scattered mind will
surely come to rest.
After coming out of stillness, when you carry on your
activities without thinking, the present event is the public
affair (koan); when you accomplish practice and realization
without interfusion. then the public affair is the present
happening. That which is before any signs appear, the
situation on the other side of the empty aeon, the spiritual
capacity of all buddhas and patriarchs, is just this one
thing. You should just rest, cease; be cool, passing myriad
years as an instant, be cold ashes, a dead tree, an incense
burner in an ancient shrine, a piece of white silk. This
NOTES TO ZAZEN YOJINKI
1. In an incident well known in zen circles, the fourteenth patriarch
of zen, the Indian master Nagarjuna, once manifested the
appearance of a circular figure, like the full moon, where he sat to
expound the Dharma; the full moon represents the dharrnakaya,
or body of reality.
2. The body-mind is represented as being made up of organs
and functions corresponding to the four gross elements: earth,
water, fire, and air; since early times buddhists in India represented
the being to be made up of five clusters: matter, sensation,
perception, relational functions (including emotions, judgements,
etc.), and consciousness.
3. The five obscurations. or coverings, of the mind in meditation
are greed and lust, anger and hatred, folly and delusion,
drowsiness, and excitement and regret.
4. This principle is one of the so-called ‘four reliances’ – to rely
on the truth, not the person, which means that anyone can see
reality and become enlightened if they go by the truth which is
as it is because that is its real nature; it is not a question of
human feelings. The other three reliances are to rely on the definitive
teaching, not the incomplete teaching, to rely on the
meaning and not the words, and to rely on wisdom, not conventional
5. The way this is worded it could refer to mystic spells, and/or
to silent recitation.
6. This refers to the sixteen stages of mind on the path of insight
(darsanamarga) as defined in the Abhidharmakosa: they
consist of the tolerance and knowledge of the corresponding
truths of suffering, etc., in the ‘higher’ worlds of form and
formlessness (eight more).
7. This refers to the application of the understanding of the
twelve links of causality: ignorance, activity, consciousness, name
and form, six senses, contact, sensation, desire, attachment, becoming,
birth, old age and death. By removing one link the chain
can be broken.
8. The six ways of transcendental practice are generosity without
conception of giver, receiver, or gift; morality; tolerance;
effort; meditation; and wisdom. These are transcendent in that
their accomplishment is supposed to involve no sense of subject
9. This refers to blissful and peaceful activities of body, mouth,
and mind, and of carrying out vows. According to the Lotus
scripture, for the body this means not associating with powerful
aristocrats, with sorcerers, with criminals or prostitutes, with
butchers, with followers of the vehicles of disciples or selfenlightened
ones, desirous thoughts, with hermaphrodites,
dangerous places, censured things, or keeping young children as
acolytes; once one avoids these ten kinds of people or actions,
one is at ease. As far as the mouth is concerned, it means not to
indulge in talking about the errors of other people or the scriptures,
not to belittle others, not to praise others, not to slander
others, and not to be resentful. As far as mind is concerned, it
means to avoid flattery, depredation, to avoid scorning those of
small actions with one’s own grandiose actions, and to avoid contention.
Carrying out vows in peace and bliss means using the
power of one’s vow to rescue all beings to govern oneself.
10. Knowledge of the birthlessness, or nonorigination of all
things, was sometimes understood to mean unborn knowledge,
or knowledge that is natural and not fabricated. All knowledge is
spoken of as general and particular; knowing universal relativity,
and knowing the particular relations. Spontaneous knowledge is
the knowledge that has no teacher, that doesn’t come from without.
11. Tathagata, one who has realized thusness, is an epithet of a
12. This is a statement of Rujing, Dogen’s teacher.
13. Rujing told Dogen that it was all right to close the eyes. A
number of recommendations about meditation found in this little
work seem to have come from Rujing’s teaching.
14. This could be read think of the unthinkable, or think of
what doesn’t think; this is a famous saying of Yaoshan, a disciple
of Shitou and one of the early ancestors of Soto zen in China.
15. The foot should be moved a distance equal to the length of
the foot. This method of walking in meditation (kinhin) was
taught to Dogen by Rujing.
16. This refers to the voidness of person and things.
17. Interfusion means nondifferentiation, so not interfusing
means differentiation, each thing abiding in its characteristic
state – so called ‘mountain is mountain, river is river.’