‘A practice called zazen’, I said. What is a practice? Although I do not know much about Christianity, I should say that the practice of Christianity is prayer and active charity. The essential practice of Zen is zazen.
Since there have been human beings, and in a different form even before that, there has been a form of meditation which the Buddha Shakyamuni, the historical Buddha, developed, and through which, or in which, he had the experience called satori, waking up – sitting very straight on a cushion, with crossed legs and hands forming an oval in front of the abdomen, breathing deep and quietly, letting thoughts come into the mind and go out of the mind without choosing, without rejecting. “Do not run after”, my master used to say, “and do not run away. Lean neither to left nor to right.”
Zazen is a combination of concentration and observation. Concentration on posture and breathing and attitude of mind; observation of – what? Of one’s own ego. Zazen is becoming intimate with the self.
But not self-preoccupied. Dogen wrote, “To study the Buddha way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self.” So what kind of study is this? Not like studying for an examination. And what kind of concentration? Perhaps a little, but only a little, like when you are standing on one leg trying to untie a complicated knot in your shoelace without falling over. Dogen wrote, about concentration in zazen, “Think from the very depths of not-thought. Not-think from the very depths of thought.” How do you do that? It is beyond thinking and not-thinking.
The result of this sitting and breathing and neither thinking nor not-thinking, is not madness or idiocy but equilibrium, balance.
And when we can learn not to lean right or left in our body’s posture and in our breathing and in the process of our mind, not choosing and not rejecting what we will think but letting our thoughts come and go like clouds around the mountain peak, then we can do the same thing in our life.
We can learn detachment. But detachment is not indifference.
The practice that follows from zazen, something on the order of the active charity of Christianity, is called the Bodhisattva ideal. That ideal is expressed in four vows which we chant every day. Very approximately, what they say is, “Living things are innumerable; however innumerable they are, I vow to save them all. Illusions, attachments, passions are unending; however unending they are, I vow to put an end to them all. Truths, teachings, cannot be comprehended; however incomprehensible they are, I vow to master them. The Buddha-way is unattainable; however unattainable it is, I vow to attain it.”
Those vows, plainly, are directions to a practice, an ethics or code of behaviour, a way of living.
But it is the practice of zazen that governs all the rest – the zazen that we practise, not in order that we may become Buddhas and save all living things; not in order to free ourselves from all our weaknesses; not in order to master all the teachings; not for any personal goal or objective; not even just to practise.
In the end, all that can be said is: Here and now we practise.
In the end, all that can be said is: Here and now.