Zazen sitting is the way of perfect tranquility: inwardly not a shadow of perception, outwardly not a shade of difference between phenomena. Identified with yourself, you no longer think, nor do you seek enlightenment of the mind or disburdenment of illusions. You are a flying bird with no mind to twitter, a mountain unconscious of the others rising around it.
Zen sitting has nothing to do with the doctrine of “teaching, practice, and elucidation” or with the exercise of “commandments, contemplation, and wisdom.” You are like fish with no particular design of remaining in the sea. Nor do you bother with sutras or ideas. To control and pacify the mind is the concern of lesser people. Still less can you hold an idea of Buddha and Dharma. If you attempt to do so, if you train improperly, you are like one who, intending to voyage west, moves east. You must not stray.
Also you must guard yourself against the easy conceptions of good and evil: your sole concern should be to examine yourself continually, asking who is above either. You must remember too that the unsullied essence of life has nothing to do with whether one is priest or layperson, man or woman. Your Buddha-nature, consummate as the full moon, is represented by your position as you sit in Zen. The exquisite Way of Buddha's is not the One or Two, being or non-being. What diversifies it is the limitations of its students, who can be divided into three classes-superior, average, inferior.
The superior student is unaware of the coming into the world of Buddhas or of the transmission of the non-transmittable by them: he eats when hungry, sleeps when sleepy. Nor does he regard the world as himself. Neither is he attached to enlightenment or illusion. Taking things as they come, he sits in the proper manner, making no idle distinctions.
The average student discards all business and ignores the external, giving himself over to self-examination with every breath. He may probe into a koan, which he puts mentally on the tip of his nose, finding in this way that his “original face” is beyond life and death, and that the Buddha-nature of all is not dependent on the discriminating intellect but is the unconscious consciousness, the incomprehensible understanding: in short, that it is clear and distinct for all ages and is alone apparent in its entirety throughout the universe.
The inferior student must disconnect himself from all that is external, thus liberating himself from the duality of good and evil. The mind, just as it is, is the origin of all Buddhas. In zazen his legs are crossed so that his Buddha- nature will not be led off by evil thoughts, his hands are linked so that they will not take up sutras or implements, his mouth is shut so that he refrains from preaching a word of dharma or uttering blasphemies, his eyes are half shut so that he does not distinguish between objects, his ears are closed to the world so that he will not hear talk of vice and virtue, his nose is as if dead so that he will not smell good or bad. Since his body has nothing on which to lean, he is indifferent to likes and dislikes. He negates neither being nor non-being. He sits like Buddha on the pedestal, and though distorted ideas may arise from him, they do so idly and are ephemeral, constituting no sin, like reflections in a mirror, leaving no trace.
The five, the eight, the two hundred and fifty commandments, the three thousand monastic regulations, the eight hundred duties of the Bodhisattva, the Buddha-nature and the Bodhisattva-hood, and the Wheel of the Dharma-all are contained in Zen sitting and emerge from it. Of all good works, zazen comes first, for the merit of only one step into it surpasses that of erecting a thousand temples. Even a moment of sitting will enable you to free yourself from life and death, and your Buddha-nature will appear of itself. Then all you do, perceive, and think becomes part of the miraculous Tathata-suchness.
Let it be thus remembered that beginners and advanced students, learned and ignorant, all without exception should practice zazen.
Excerpted from Zen: Poems, Prayers, Sermons, Anecdotes, Interviews-Edited and translated by Lucien Stryk and Takahashi Ikemoto
There’s room in practice for many kinds of students; at some stage in practice we have been them all. Everything is in a constant state of change, including us, and anything we think we understand about zazen is to be discarded to make room for even vaster insights. Trying to hold onto a point of view, an understanding, an achievement just leaves us stuck until we are forced to move on. Meiho’s admonition to “examine yourself continually” is one of those helpful tools in training. Who wants to fool themselves about something like this?
Zuigan called out to himself every day: “Master.”
Then he answered himself: “Yes, sir.”
And after that he added: “Become sober”
Again he answered: “Yes, sir.”
“And after that,” he continued, “do not be deceived by others.”
“Yes, sir; yes, sir,” he answered.
The most important thing is to begin and continue, leaving the details to be painted in over time. Language can be misleading; if you read “inferior student” as a beginner it helps to understand that form in the beginning is very necessary, but “beginner’s mind” is what also keeps practice alive and fresh through a lifetime of practice. Anytime anyone sits, the form is the same, just perhaps the attention required to attain it lessens over time.
To keep your spirit intact over a lifetime of distractions, to protect your oasis of sitting, to express your zazen in daily life, creates a rich and full life in any tradition
May your way be clear,