On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

June 09, 2008

The World of Intensive Practice

 Kosho Uchiyama  (1912-1999)

Regardless of conditions, what is essential in doing zazen is just to sit, aiming at zazen and waking up to zazen.   In just sitting and waking up to zazen, the various conditions going on in our heads simply become the scenery of our zazen!

The world we live in is not something that exists independently of our thoughts and ideas.  Our world and these thoughts and ideas appear to us as a unified whole.  Depending on what our thoughts and ideas are, our world may appear to us in completely different ways.  These thoughts and feelings constitute our psychological condition.  Moreover, our psychological condition is at the same time our physiological condition.  When something breaks down inside of us physically, our minds no longer remain clear.  And if our minds are not clear, then the eyes with which we see the world and our views of life become dark.  Our lives and the whole world take on a gloomy appearance

On the other hand, when we feel healthy our minds brighten, and consequently our outlook on everything becomes brighter.  Furthermore, our physiological conditions are tremendously influenced by the environment in which we live.  The changes and conditions of climate and weather both affect us.  This cause and effect relationship is particularly easy to see when you lead a life as unvaried and devoid of distractions as the sesshins at Antaiji.

The essential matter here is the attitude of just striving to wake up regardless of the conditions you are in.  It is not about arriving at some state where all thoughts have disappeared.  To calmly sit amidst these cause-and-effect relationships without being carried away by them is shikantaza.

Like the weather, there are all sorts of conditions in our personal lives:  clear days, cloudy days, rainy ones, and stormy ones.  These are all waves produced by the power of nature and are not things over which we have control.  No matter how much we fight against these waves, there is no way we can make a cloudy day clear up.  Cloudy days are cloudy; clear days are clear.  It is only natural that thoughts come and go and that psychological and physiological conditions fluctuate accordingly.  All of this is the very reality and manifestation of life.  Seeing all this as the scenery of life, without being pulled apart by it-this is the stability of human life, this is settling down in our life.

This is the same as the zazen we do.  We always try to sit zazen aiming at being steadily awake here and now.  Yes, it’s not a matter of being able to adhere to the sitting, since we inevitably slide away from it.  So we move away from sitting and then we wake up again; we move away again, and wake up to it again.  Zazen is the very posture of forever waking up.  As long as we have this attitude, all thoughts that occur to us when we move away from the sitting become the scenery of zazen.  The times when we can strictly maintain the posture and awareness of sitting are also the scenery of zazen.  It is not that the cessation of all thought is satori and good, and the arising of thoughts and the tendency to chase after them is delusion and bad.  Just sitting, transcending good or evil, satori or delusion, is the zazen that transcends the sage and the ordinary person.

In The Record of Linji (Rinzai Roku), Linji Yixuan says:

“The true practitioner of the Way  completely transcends allthings.  Even if heaven and earth were to tumble down, I would have no misgivings.  Even if all the buddhas in the ten directions were to appear before me, I would not rejoice. Even if the three hells were to appear before me, I would have no fear. Why is this so?  Because there is nothing I dislike.”

For Rinzai, the appearance of all the buddhas in the past, present, and future was not something to rejoice over, nor was the appearance of the three hells something of which to be afraid.  Of course, not being afraid of the appearance of some hell doesn’t mean that for Rinzai hell had no existence.  For him, hell was a kind of scenery that was different from the scenery of the buddhas.  The point is that whether some hell, all the buddhas, or anything else appeared before him, Rinzai saw nothing but the scenery of our zazen.

I hope that people who practice zazen will continue regular sesshins and daily zazen for at least ten years.  It’s a tremendous thing to be able to give oneself to this kind of practice and not be caught up in distractions.  Our deepest mental suffering will come up during these years of zazen, and we will be able to continue our practice only if we have the stability to see this suffering as the scenery of our life and not be carried away by it.  Working through these ten years, we develop a posture of living out the reality of our true self.

If we lead this sort of life and sit zazen, at whatever age, there is no doubt that we will come to have a commanding view of who we are.  When we live this way, not only zazen, but daily life itself, is such that we cannot find the value of our existence in what other people say or in things that we want.  It is a life that is unbearable unless we discover the value of our existence within ourselves.

 Kosho Uchiyama  (1912-1999)

Excerpted from Opening the Hand of Thought by Kosho Uchiyama 2004

Reading this piece reminds me of listening to a piece of classical music.  Each movement transitions so skillfully into the next that we are barely aware that we have just entered a new room filled with new tempos and phrasing, all skillfully balanced around the theme of zazen as the bedrock of our lives.

We begin in the purity of zazen which is really present in sitting, standing, walking, interacting with others- the foundation of a life of awakening, should we choose to experience life this way.  Then we are gently reminded of the organic connection of our own inner life and the world that “appears” outside us; both mysteriously mirroring the other.  And then back to the connection of returning to zazen, allowing all things, thoughts, and feelings to come and go, just like the weather.

The clean and clear explanation of zazen itself becomes the next movement which is like a return to the beginning melody, so succinctly and clearly presented that we seem to really get that zazen is the posture of forever waking up.  

Then the classic quote from Rinzai which epitomizes the imperturbability of years of practice, the steadiness, the unwavering center resulting from years of commitment to the Way.

And as the finale, the blessing that should we stick to practice, we all will reside in that deepest sense of who we really are….

In Peace ,


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