Attaining Equilibrium

Attaining Equilibrium May 16, 2008

Last night we finished up the series of study group sessions that began last September on what Dogen calls “…the essential art of zazen:” thinking, not-thinking, and non-thinking. One important aspect of this study and practice lies in the portability of zazen when it isn’t limited by a certain state of mind (e.g., blank consciousness) or a certain pose.

Dogen’s metaphor of the steelyard (a scale still used in the US in the various illegal transactions) referred to in an earlier post is extremely helpful here.

Although [the object, the steelyard, and its workings] hang in empty space, if you do not bring about equilibrium, fairness is not materialized. Just as the steelyard itself hangs in emptiness, so does it accept things to be weighed, regardless of their weight and lets them play freely in emptiness.

Unlike the scales of justice where two things are in balance, the steelyard has just one hook or clamp. The spirit of Zen practice, likewise, is to earnestly pick up one thing. Then the person, the object, and the scale all hang dynamically in emptiness. A common phrase from the koan literature, a person “stuck to the zero point of the scale,” comes alive in the context of the steelyard. I previously interpreted this as saying that a person is stuck in balance. In the context of the steelyard, however, the meaning is a bit different – the person stuck on the zero point hasn’t taken up their life. The call of the steelyard metaphor is to vividly take up our life because only in so doing can we attain equilibrium. Only in equilibrium are we fair to whatever phenomena presents itself and boundless openness.

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