The most vital matter is learning the Way is to practice zazen. In China, many people attained the Way entirely through the power of zazen. If one concentrates on practicing zazen continuously, even an ignorant person, who does not understand an single question, can be superior to an intelligent person who has been studying for a long time. Therefore, practitioners must practice shikantaza wholeheartedly without bothering to concern themselves with other things. The Way of the buddhas and patriarchs is nothing but zazen. Do not pursue anything else.
At that time, Ejo asked, “In learning both sitting and reading, when I read the collections of old masters’ sayings or koans, I can understand on thing out of a hundred or a thousand words, yet I have no such experience in zazen. Should we still prefer to practice zazen?”
Dogen replied, “Even if you may seem to have some understanding while you read koans, such studies will lead you astray from the Way of the buddhas and patriarchs. To spend your time sitting upright with nothing to be gained and nothing to be realized is the Way of the patriarchs.
Although ancient masters encouraged both reading and shikan zazen, they still promoted sitting wholeheartedly. Although there are some who have gained enlightenment using stories of the old masters, the attainment of this enlightenment is due to the merit of sitting. True merit depends on sitting.”
Selections from Komyozo-Zanmai
(Samadhi of the Treasury of the Radiant Light),
by Koun Ejo Zenji
I have some earnest advice for those who sincerely aspire to practice. Do not be pulled by a particular state of mind or by an object. Do not rely upon intellect or wisdom. Do not carry in your hands what you have learned on the seat in the samgha hall. Cast your body and mind into the Great Komyozo (the Treasury of Radiant Light) and never look back.
Neither seek to be enlightened nor drive away delusion. Neither hate the arising of thoughts nor love thoughts and identify with them. Just sit stably and calmly. If you do not continue to think, thoughts will not arise by themselves. Just sit as if you were the boundless empty sky or a ball of fire. Trust everything to the inhalation and exhalation. Even if eighty-four thousand idle thoughts arise, each and every one may become the Light of prajna (undiscriminating wisdom) if you do not pay them any attention and simply let them go.
Not only in sitting, but every step you take is the movement of the Light. Step after step, no discrimination. Throughout the day be like a dead person, completely without personal views or discrimination.
To inhale or to exhale, to listen or to touch, being without thoughts and discrimination is nothing other than the tranquil illumination of the Light in which body and mind are one. Therefore, when someone calls, you answer. This is the Light in which ordinary people and sages, the deluded and the enlightened, are one.
Even in the midst of change, the Light is not hindered by it. Forests, flowers, grass, and leaves; human beings or animals, big or small, long or short, square or round: all manifest themselves simultaneously, independent of discriminating thoughts or will.
This is proof that the Light is not obstructed by change.
The Light illuminates of itself; it does not depend on the power of the mind. From the beginning, the Light does not rest.
Even when Buddhas appear in this universe, the Light does not appear. When the buddhas enter nirvana, the Light does not enter nirvana. When you are born, the Light is not born. When you die, the Light does not die. It does not increase in buddhas, it does not decrease in sentient beings. Neither is it deluded, even if you are; nor enlightened, even if you are. It has not position, no appearance, no name. This is the whole-body of phenomena. You cannot grasp it; you cannot throw it away. Although it is unattainable, it penetrates the whole body. From the highest heaven down to the lowest hell, all places are perfectly illumined in this way. This is the divine, inconceivable, spiritual light.
If you trustfully open yourself to and believe the profound meaning of these words, you will not need to ask someone else what is true or false. You will be as intimate with the Reality as if you were to come face to face with your grandfather in a town.
Do not seek from your teacher certification of your enlightenment or a prediction as to when you will attain buddhahood. Much less should you be attached to clothing, food, or a place to live, or be driven by attachment to sexual desire.
From the beginning, this samadhi is the dojo (the place of practice) which is the ocean of buddhahood. This is zazen which is the sitting of the Buddha, the practice of the Buddha which has been faithfully transmitted.
Since you are already a child of the Buddha, sit stably in the manner of the Buddha’s practice. Never sit in the manner of hell-dwellers, hungry ghosts, animals, fighting spirits, human beings, heavenly beings, sravakas, or pratyeka-buddhas. Practice shikantaza in this way. Do not waste your time. This is the dojo of straight mind. This is called komyozo-zanmai, the inconceivable liberation.
Selections from Zazen Yojinki
(Things We Should Be Careful About Regarding Zazen)
by Keizan Jokin Zenji
Zazen allows a person to clarify the mind-ground and to dwell comfortably in one’s original nature. This is called revealing the original Self and manifesting the scenery of the original ground.
Both body and mind drop off in zazen. It is far beyond the form of sitting or lying down. Therefore, free from considerations of good and evil, it transcends the distinctions of ordinary people and sages, it goes far beyond judgments of deluded or enlightened, it is entirely apart from the boundary between sentient beings and the Buddha. For this, put aside all affairs, and let go of all associations. Do nothing at all. The six senses produce nothing.
Now, zazen is entering directly into the ocean-of-buddha-nature and manifesting the body of the buddha. The inherent pure and clear mind is actualized in the present moment; the original-light completely illuminates everywhere.
The water in the ocean neither increases nor decreases, and the waves never cease. Therefore, buddhas have appeared in this world for the sake of the One-Great-Matter: to show the wisdom and insight of the Buddha to all living beings and to make possible their entry therein. For this, there is a peaceful and pure way: zazen. This is nothing but the jijuyu-zanmai of all buddhas.
[the samadhi of the Self which is not separated from others]
It is also called zanmai-ozanmai (the King of Samadhis).
If you dwell in this samadhi for even a short time, the mind-ground will be directly clarified. You should know that this is the true gate of the Buddha-way.
If you wish to clarify the mind-ground, you should relinquish your various types of limited knowledge and understanding, throw away both worldly affairs and the buddha-dharma, and eliminate all delusive emotions. When the true mind of the sole Reality is manifest, the clouds of delusion will clear away and the moon of the Mind will shine brightly.
The Buddha said, “Listening and thinking are like being outside of the gate; zazen is returning home and sitting in peace.” How true this is! When we are listening and thinking, the various views have not been put to rest and the mind is still clogged up. Other activities are therefore like being outside of the gate. Zazen alone brings everything to rest and, flowing freely, reaches everywhere. Zazen is thus like returning home and sitting in peace.
The delusions of the five-obstructions [greed, anger, indolence, agitation, and doubt] all arise out of basic ignorance. Being ignorant means not clarifying the Self. To practice zazen is to clarify the Self. Even though the five obstructions are eliminated, if basic ignorance is not eliminated, you are not a buddha-patriarch. If you wish to eliminate basic ignorance, zazen- practice of the Way is the essential key.
An ancient master said, “When delusive thoughts cease, tranquility arises; when tranquility arises, wisdom appears; when wisdom appears, Reality reveals itself.”
If you want to eliminate delusive thoughts, you should cease to discriminate between good and evil. Give up all affairs with which you are involved; do not occupy your mind with any concerns nor become physically engaged in any activity. This is the primary point to bear in mind.
When delusive objects disappear, delusive mind dies away. When delusive mind disappears, the unchanging Reality manifests itself and we are always clearly aware. It is not extinction; it is not activity.
Therefore, you should avoid engaging in any arts or crafts, medicine or fortune-telling. Needless to say, you should stay away from music and dancing, arguing and meaningless discussion, fame and personal profit. While composing poetry can be a way to purify one’s mind, do not be fond of it. Give up writing and calligraphy. This is the fine precedent set by practitioners of the Way. This is essential for harmonizing the mind.
Wear neither luxurious clothing not dirty rags. Luxurious clothing gives rise to greed and may also arouse fear of theft. Thus, they are a hindrance for a practitioner of the Way. Even if someone offers them to you, it is the excellent tradition of the masters to refuse them. Therefore, if you already own luxurious clothing, do not keep it. Even if it is stolen, do not chase after or regret its loss.
Dirty or old clothes should be washed and mended; clean them thoroughly and put them on. If you do not clean them, they will cause you to become chilled and sick. This will be a hindrance to your practice. Although we should not be anxious about bodily life, insufficient clothing, insufficient food, and insufficient sleep are called the three insufficiencies and will cause your practice to suffer.
Do not indulge in fine foods. It is not only bad for your body and mind, but also shows you are not yet free from greed. Eat just enough to support your life and do not be fond of its taste. Moreover, if you sit after eating too much, you will get sick. Wait for a while before sitting after eating either big or small meals. Monks must be moderate in eating.
During zazen, your body may feel hot or cold, rough or smooth, stiff or loose, heavy or light, or astonishingly wide-awake. These sensations are all caused by a disharmony of your mind and breathing. You should regulate your breathing as follows: open your mouth for a little while, letting long breaths be long and short breaths be short, and harmonize it gradually.
Follow your breath for a while; when awareness comes, your breathing will naturally be harmonized. After this, breathe naturally through your nose.
Your mind may feel as though it is sinking or floating, dull or sharp, or as though you can see outside the room, the inside of your body, the body of buddhas or bodhisattvas, or sometimes, you may feel as though you have wisdom and can understand the sutras or commentaries thoroughly. These unusual and strange conditions are all sicknesses that occur when the mind and breath are not in harmony.
When you have this kind of sickness, place your mind on your feet. When you feel dull, place your mind on your hairline (three inches above the center of the eyebrows) or between your eyes. When your mind is distracted, place it on the tip of your nose or on your lower abdomen, one and a half inches below the navel (the tanden). Usually, place your mind on the left palm during sitting. When you sit for a long time, even though you do not try to calm your mind, it will, of its own accord, be free of distraction.
Also, although the ancient teachings are the traditional instructions for illuminating the mind, do not read, write, or listen to them too much. Running to excess scatters the mind.
Do not sit where there are fires, floods, high winds, thieves, or by the ocean, near bars, brothels, or where widows or virgins live, or near places where courtesans play music.
Do not live near kings, ministers, rich and powerful families, or people who have many desires, who seek after fame, or who like to argue meaninglessly.
Although grand Buddhist ceremonies or the construction of large temples are very good things, people who devote themselves to zazen should not be involved.
Do not be delighted by large assemblies; nor covet disciples.
Do not practice and study too many things.
Do not sit where it is too bright or too dark, too cold or too hot; nor should you sit where idle pleasure-seekers and harlots live.
Stay in a monastery where you have a good teacher and fellow practitioners. Or reside in the deep mountains or glens. A good place to practice kinhin (walking meditation) is where there is clear water and green mountains. A good place for purifying the mind is by a stream or under a tree. Contemplate impermanence; do not forget it. This will encourage you to seek the Way.
The zaniku (mat) should be thick for comfortable sitting. The dojo
(place for practice) should always be clean. Always burn incense and offer flowers to the guardians of the dharma, the buddhas and bodhisattvas, who secretly protect your practice. If you enshrine a statue of a buddha, bodhisattva, or of an arhat, no demons can tempt you.
Remain always compassionate and dedicate the limitless virtue of zazen to all living beings. Do not be arrogant; do not be proud of yourself and of your understanding of dharma. Being so is the way of non-buddhist and ignorant people.
Vow to cut off all delusion and realize enlightenment, and just sit without doing anything. This is the essence of zazen.
Always wash your eyes and feet, keep your body and mind at ease and tranquil, and maintain a proper demeanor.
Throw away worldly sentiments; and yet do not attach yourself to a sublime feeling of the Way.
Though you should not begrudge the dharma, do not preach it unless you are asked. Even if someone asks, keep silent three times; if the person still asks you from his or her heart, then teach them. Out of ten times you desire to speak you should remain silent nine; as if mold were growing around your mouth, or like a fan which is not open in December, or like a wind-bell hanging in the air which is indifferent to the direction of the wind - this is how a person of the Way should be.
Do not use the dharma to profit at the expense of others. Do not use the Way as a means to make yourself important. These are the most important points to keep in mind.
Selections from Jijuyu-zanmai
(Samadhi of the Self)
by Menzan Zuiho Zenji
Although a great many people practice zazen, most practice in the way of ordinary people, Hinayana practitioners, or bodhisattvas within the expedient Mahayana. Those who understand
jijuyu-zanmai as the realm of true enlightenment of all buddhas are rare.
That is why some, by wrestling with koans, hurry on their way to gain enlightenment. Some struggle within themselves, searching for the subject of seeing and hearing. Some try to rid themselves of their thoughts in order to reach the pleasant place of no-mind, no-thought. Many methods of practicing zazen were advocated in China’s Song, Yuan, and Ming dynasties.
Koan practice began in the Song dynasty in China. There was no such practice during the time of Bodhidharma or Eno (Huineng, the 6th patriarch). This tradition did not originate with Seigen (Qingyuan) or Nangaku (Nanyoe). It was established during the Song dynasty. Although some have said that koan practice was started by Obaku Kiun (Huangbo Xiyun), there is no basis for supporting this to be the case. It is nonsense to say that Obaku suggested that his students learn the koan of Joshu’s Mu (the story of a dog’s Buddha-nature) since Obaku had already died when Joshu talked about it. Also, not all koans were created in order to encourage people to practice zazen.
Searching for the subject of seeing and hearing is also useless. The harder you look for the subject, the more you will become tired of wastefully struggling, since what is seeking and what is being sought cannot be separated. Understand that your eyes cannot see themselves. Arousing the mind to eliminate thoughts is rather like pouring oil on a fire to extinguish it. The fire will blaze with increasing strength.
There are many other ways to practice zazen, but among these the properly transmitted original way is not to be found. This is why Dogen Zenji criticized the Zazengi, Zazenshin or Zazenmei in the Keitoku-Dento-roku and the Katai-Futo-roku, etc, saying that none expressed the Way which has been properly transmitted. The Zazengi in Zennen-Shingi written by Choro Sosaku Zenji (Zhanglu Zongze) is appreciated by many teachers, both in China and Japan. Nevertheless, Dogen Zenji criticized it, saying it had lost the essential point of the patriarchs’ teaching. This Zazengi is presently the last part of the Shiburoku.
Why did he criticize his predecessors’ teachings? The Song dynasty teachers thought that we are all deluded and that if we practiced zazen, we could gain enlightenment. They also thought that, after gaining enlightenment, there would be no further need to practice zazen. They compared it to needing a boat to reach the other shore, but, upon arrival, having no further use for the boat.
Modern man often practices zazen in this manner. This is the attitude of ordinary people. Hinayana practitioners, and bodhisattvas within the expedient-Mahayana practice of zazen.
They aspire to rid themselves of delusions and to gain enlightenment; to eliminate illusory thoughts and to obtain the truth. Such an attitude is just another form of dualism in that one escapes from one thing and chases after another. If we think this kind of practice is the same as that transmitted by the buddhas and patriarchs, as the Tathagata’s zanmai-o-zanmai, or as Bodhidharma’s sitting facing the wall for nine years, these also become mere methods to rid oneself of delusions and to obtain enlightenment. What a pitiful view!
In the last several hundred years, a great many have had this attitude, both in China and Japan. All mistake a tile for gold, or a fish eye for a jewel, because they do not yet clearly understand the essence of the great dharma.
The true zazen which has been transmitted by the buddhas and patriarchs is the Tathagata’s jijuyu-zanmai; it is the state in which the body and mind (self) of perfect nirvana always peacefully abide.
In the Lotus Sutra, the Tathagata’s zazen is called the samadhi of infinite meanings. In the Mahaprajna Paramita Sutra, it is called the King of Samadhis. It is referred to as zanmai-o-zanmai in the Daibon Hannyakyo, and Zen Master Tozan Ryokai called it the samadhi of the precious mirror.
Obviously, we do not practice zazen to get rid of delusion or to gain enlightenment. When the Buddha transmitted this zazen to the Venerable Mahakashapa, he called it shobogenzo-nehan-myoshin. Zen Master Sekito Kisen expressed it in Sandokai by saying, ‘The essence of the great master in India has been transmitted intimately from person to person in both East and West.’
Tozan Zenji also said, ‘The dharma of nyoze (suchness, or as-it-is-ness, the Reality of Life) has been transmitted intimately through the buddhas and patriarchs.’ This nehanmyoshin was transmitted for twenty-eight generations, right up to Bodhidharma in India.
This great master came to China and transmitted the same samadhi to the second patriarch Eka (Huiko). We must learn Bodhidharma’s teaching thoroughly. What is his teaching? - to live facing the wall without wavering and to see that ordinary people and sages are one and the same. We must fully penetrate the marvelous saying of the second patriarch, ‘Always be clearly aware.’
The essence of their teaching was transmitted through twenty-three generations, to Nyojo (Rujing) of Mt. Tendo, of the Song dynasty. Dogen Zenji went to China, practiced under Nyojo Zenji, and received the transmission of this jijuyu-zanmai. After he returned to Japan, he advocated this samadhi, calling it dropping-off body and mind, body and mind dropped off. This is another name for anuttara-samyak-sambodhi (ultimate awareness). This awareness transcends the ranks of ordinary people, Hinayana, and the ten stages of bodhisattvas. Therefore, it is said, ‘Directly penetrate the
reality of the Tathagata. Just be aware of the fundamental reality, and do not worry about trifling things.’
The practice of the six paramitas of bodhisattvas and all of the 84,000 ‘dharma-gates’ of Buddhism are without exception included in this jijuyu-zanmai. This is why it is said in the Shodoka, ‘As soon as you clarify the Tathagata-Zen, the six paramitas and all other practices are complete within yourself.’
It is said in another sutra, ‘When you sit, be aware of reality. All evil is like frost or a drop of dew - if you settle in this samadhi, all evil will disappear as promptly as frost or a drop of dew disappears under the sun.’
In Shodoka we find the expression, ‘Being aware of Reality there is neither object nor subject, and we are immediately released from the karma of the hell of incessant suffering.’
When you sit in this samadhi, you will enter directly into the realm of the Tathagata. Therefore it is endowed with the limitless virtue of the roots of goodness, the limitless obstructions of one’s evil deeds caused by evil karma will disappear without a trace. As this samadhi is the truly incomparable, great dharma wheel, and the practice of going beyond buddhahood, it is beyond words and discriminating thoughts.
If you were to encounter such true dharma in the infinite eons of transmigration in the rounds of life and death, even one day of your life would be more precious than millions of years without the true dharma. Therefore, waste no time; devote yourself diligently to this samadhi, cherishing every second.
Now I will explain in detail the Way to clarify and rely on this samadhi. This is done simply by not clouding the light of your true Self. When the light of the Self is clear, do not fall into either dullness or distraction. The Third Patriarch said in Shinjinmei (Verses on the Believing Mind), ‘When the cloudless light illuminates itself, there is no need to make mental effort.’
This is the essential principle of the practice and enlightenment of this samadhi.
‘The cloudless light’ means the light of the Self. ‘Not to make mental effort’ means not to add affective and intellectual thoughts and discriminations. When you make mental efforts, the brightness becomes the darkness of your own emotion-thoughts.
If you do not make mental effort, the darkness becomes the Self-illumination of the brightness. This is the meaning of the Third Patriarch’s ‘Light of a jewel illuminates the jewel itself.’
It is like the light of the sun or moon illuminating everything - mountains, rivers, human beings, dogs, et cetera - equally, without differentiation or evaluation. Also, a mirror reflects everything without bothering to discriminate among the objects.
In this jijuyu-zanmai, you should just keep the Light (of the Self) unclouded without discriminating among objects. This is the meaning of Wanshi Zenji’s expression in his Zazenshin;
(The Acupuncture Needle of Zazen):
Be-all of the Buddhas and end-all of the patriarchs
Knowing without being attached to things
Illuminating without setting up objects
When, through practice, you learn the reality of zazen thoroughly, the frozen blockage of emotion-thought will naturally melt away. If you think that you have cut off illusory thoughts, instead of clarifying how emotion-thought melts, the emotion-thought will come up again, as though you had cut the stem of a blade of grass or the trunk of a tree and left the root alive.
For this reason, when you practice the buddha-dharma, you must study the essence of practice-enlightenment of buddhas and patriarchs under the guidance of a true teacher to whom the dharma has been properly transmitted; otherwise, you will be wasting your time, no matter how long or hard you practice.