On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

December 13, 2021

Stillness in Action

Takashina Rosen (1876-1968)

Stillness in the midst of action is the fundamental principle of Zazen (sitting in meditation). Some people think of Zazen as a sort of monopoly of the Zen sect, but the sect certainly has no monopoly on it.

Zazen is the basis of the universe. Heaven and earth sit in meditation, every object sits in meditation. Knowing nothing of the Zen sect, all things are performing their meditation.

What is called Zazen means to live at peace in the true basis of the universe, which is stillness. Movement is a secondary attribution: stillness is the real condition. Out of stillness comes all activity.

For instance, the water of the ocean, when disturbance of wind ceases, at once goes back to the state of calm; the grass and trees, when the cause of agitation dies away, become, as it were, calm. These things always return to rest in stillness which is their true nature.

And this is the principle of Zazen. In nature there is day and night; when the sun sets gradually there is a hush, until what is called the dead of night when all is still as if a current of water had ceased to flow. This is Zazen of nature.

As with everything else, so with human beings. Working by day, we sleep at night. Falling into deep sleep, people forget the existence of self and are absolutely at rest. This is a state of what is called in Zazen “body and mind loosed and dropped away.”

In nature the counterpart of the restless action of day is the absolute stillness of night, and to abide in that is the principle of Zazen. In this sense everything naturally practices Zazen.

I may know nothing of Zazen, yet if I know what it is to sleep in bodily and mental relaxation, then, all unconsciously, the benefits of Zazen rain upon me.

The Zazen of the Zen sect is to seek this way of stillness in the midst of activity. The method is to bring to stillness the mental activities, based on illusion, and conform to the stillness which is the fundamental nature of the mind.

When it is attained in Zazen, the result is called Satori or realization. Zazen is the practice of infinity, conforming to the infinity which is the principle of the universe.

Excerpted from A Second Zen Reader – Trevor Leggett

Those who have studied a martial way, one that weds meditation and a martial art, may have heard the following in their practice:

Always begin by returning to stillness. This art is one of action from stillness.

While Takashina Rōsen’s piece above sounds so simple, it embodies a deep principle of practice. And one that is easy for everyone to relate to. Not as easy to live, but a potent reminder of returning to stillness within before acting.

In the pressures and pulls of everyday life, this can feel like a luxury, but for those committed to the Way, it is germane to manifesting a life of practice. It can never be enough to leave one’s meditative mind on the cushion; what does it look like in the actions of everyday life?

“In motion like water
In stillness like a mirror
Respond like an echo
Become subtle as though disappearing.”

Chuang Tzu

Being here with you,

Elana, Scribe for Daily Zen

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