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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 11 28 When the true living power of zazen manifests, a very subtle movement occurs. Because of its subtlety, it is not easy to grasp; all we can do is practice it. Expressed in words, it is explained as, “Just believe in zazen and do it.” Not accepting this approach, people inquire from another perspective, want- ing to understand before actually doing it. In this regard, I have been asked: “I can’t always come here to receive instructions on how to practice zazen correctly, so how can I practice so that I won’t have the wrong mental attitude?” I respond in the following way: “Your wife and your child will know better than anyone else whether you are practicing zazen correctly. If your zazen elicits remarks like, ‘Since Father has been practicing zazen, he easily loses his temper and yells at us. I hate it. I wish he would stop practicing zazen,’ then you are practicing incorrectly. If, on the other hand, you hear remarks such as, ‘Since Father has been practicing zazen, he has become a better person. I thought it would be an inconve- nience when he decided to start practicing, but I agreed because I thought it was better than having him play around elsewhere. However, our relationship at home has improved, so let’s be quiet when Father is meditating,’ this is the kind of response that is necessary to indicate that you are practicing correctly.” So there is no need to trouble yourself over the proper effect of zazen. Just dive in and sit, or recite the nembutsu. At that time, if you practice zazen, the world of zazen will open to you, and if you recite the nembutsu, the world of nembutsu will open to you, in a clarity in which your personal thoughts will have no meaning. That is what we call shikantaza (just sitting) or “other power” nembutsu (the nembutsu that doesn’t come from your thoughts). At any rate, spending time in the practice of this kind of zazen or nembutsu recitation for a little while is without a doubt a splendid activity for us. Uchiyama Roshi responds in this teaching to students who say they practice zazen because they want to experience sudden enlightenment. Naturally I believe that the practice of shikantaza recom- mended by Zen master Dogen, the practice that my teacher Kodo Sawaki called “just sitting zazen,” is the correct under- standing of Zen meditation. Not, in other words, a zazen in which you attain kensho (seeing instantly into your own nature) or pass koans one after another in order to receive inkashomei (certification of your attainment), but rather a zazen in which you just sit. However, at present, it is not surprising that more than a few monks who are students from Dogen’s school (what is referred to as the Japanese Soto Sect) have doubts with regard to this kind of zazen. What those people quote as the authority for their doubts are passages such as: “The master said from the high seat, ‘When I was in China, I didn’t spend time in least to have a fresh perspective on things you fret over; for example, in the case of the opposite sex—you will feel quite different reflecting on it during this practice than you will when you delude yourself flirting with your playmate. The same phenomenon occurs with the practice of nem- butsu. You recite the nembutsu hoping to be embraced by the peaceful mind of Amida Buddha. In most cases, before you realize it, your recitation continues with your mouth as a result of a kind of inertia. However, your thoughts fly here and there like a wild horse or a monkey. You have to arouse the Way-seeking mind countless times, returning over and over to your natural state, simply reciting the nembutsu. Whether we are referring to the practice of zazen or the recitation of the nembutsu, it is a big mistake to think that the practice will open up in you a special state of mind or a unique environment. The reality is that anyone truly involved in one of the practices will at least realize there isn’t any special state of mind. To the contrary, if you think there is a special state of mind, you are involved in nothing more than the creation of delusion. However, I can say this much: practicing zazen truly has a positive effect on your daily life. When I was ordained, I lived in Daichuji temple in the mountains of Tochigi Prefecture. I was practicing with five or six other monks. We had two ses- shins a month with the exception of July and August when the monks who came from home temples returned for the obon festival [a festival to remember the dead]. During that summer period students on break from school came to stay at Daichuji. There were often times when morning and evening zazen was suspended, which we called hosan. Though those of us who had practiced zazen regularly were happy for the lei- surely break from our regular practice, as we continued with this leisurely lifestyle, at some point something would hap- pen and we would begin arguing among ourselves. However, September would come around and we would resume sesshins and morning and evening zazen on a regular basis and before we knew it we would forget about the problems that arose over the summer and they would disappear. I noticed that this pattern would repeat itself each year. While we practitioners were involved in religious practice together, we were teachers for each other in our common endeavor. But remove the common practice and we all became deluded people—a group of separate individuals who hap- pened to be gathered together. It is a big mistake to think that the practice will open up in you a special state of mind or a unique environment. There isn’t any special state of mind.