References: Kusen 273

‘It is not entirely without reason that Zen Buddhism is known as the Meditation School. Visitors to the modern Zen monastery, even if they are prepared to find meditation there, cannot but be struck by the extent to which the practice dominates the routine. The novice monk spends his first days almost entirely within the meditation hall, and, although he is expected during this period to learn some rudimentary features of clerical decorum, it is primarily his willingness to submit to the discipline of long hours of meditation in the cross-legged posture that will determine his admission into the community.’

From an article by Carl Bielefeldt – Tsung tse’s Manual of zen meditation (at the end of article). Here is the text of the manual:


The bodhisattva who studies prajñā should first arouse the thought of great compassion, make the extensive vows, and vigorously cultivate samadhi. Vowing to save sentient beings, you should not seek liberation for yourself alone.

Now cast aside all involvements and discontinue the myriad affairs. Body and mind should be unified, with no division between action and rest. Regulate food and drink, so that you take neither too much nor too little; adjust sleep, so that you neither deprive nor indulge yourself.

When you sit in meditation, spread a thick mat in a quiet place. Loosen your robe and belt, and assume a proper posture.  Then sit in the cross-legged position : first place your right foot on your left thigh; then place your left foot on your right thigh. Or you may sit in the semi-cross-legged position: simply rest your left foot on your right foot. Next, place your right hand on your left foot, and your left hand on your right palm. Press the tips of your thumbs together. Slowly raise your torso and stretch it forward. Swing to the left and right; then straighten your body and sit erect. Do not lean to the left or right, forward or backward. Keep your hips, back, neck, and head in line, making your posture like a stūpa. But do not strain your body upward too far, lest it cause your breathing to be forced and unsettled. Your ears should be in line with your shoulders, and your nose in line with your navel. Press your tongue against your palate, and close your lips and teeth. The eyes should remain slightly open, in order to prevent drowsiness. If you attain samadhi [with the eyes open], it will be the most powerful. In ancient times, there were monks eminent in the practice of meditation who always sat with their eyes open. More recently, the Ch’an master Fa-yün Yüan-t’ung criticized those who sit in meditation with their eyes closed, likening [their practice] to the ghost cave of the Black Mountain. Surely this has a deep meaning, known to those who have mastered [meditation practice].’

Once you have settled your posture and regulated your breathing, you should relax your abdomen. Do not think of any good or evil whatsoever. Whenever a thought occurs, be aware of it; as soon as you are aware of it, it will vanish. If you remain for a long period forgetful of objects, you will naturally become unified. This is the essential art of seated meditation.

Honestly speaking, seated meditation is the Dharma-gate of ease and joy; if, nevertheless, people often become ill [from its practice], it is because they do not take proper care. If you grasp the point of this [practice], the four elements [of the body] will naturally be light and at ease; the spirit will be fresh and sharp; thoughts will be correct and clear; the flavor of the Dharma will sustain the spirit; and you will be calm, pure, and joyful. One who has already developed clarity may be likened to the dragon gaining the water or the tiger taking to the mountains. Even one who has not yet developed it, by letting the wind fan the flame, will not have to make much effort: if you just assent to it, you will not be deceived. Nevertheless, as the path gets higher, demons flourish, and agreeable and disagreeable experiences are manifold. Yet, if you just keep right thought present, none of them can obstruct you. The Śūraṅgama-sūtra, T’ien-t’ai’s Chih- kuan, and Kuei-feng’s Hsiu-cheng i give detailed explications of these demonic occurrences, and those who would be prepared in advance for the unforeseen should be familiar with them.

When you come out of samadhi, move slowly and arise calmly; do not be hasty or rough. After you have left samādhi, always employ appropriate means to protect and maintain the power of samādhi, as though you were protecting an infant; then your samadhi power will easily develop.

This one teaching of meditation is our most urgent business. If you do not settle [the mind] in meditation, or dhyāna, then, when it comes down to it, you will be completely at a loss. Therefore, [it is said,] “To seek a pearl, we should still the waves; if we disturb the water, it will be hard to get.” When the water of meditation is clear, the pearl of the mind will appear of itself. Therefore, the Perfect Enlightenment Sūtra says, “Unimpeded, immaculate wisdom always arises dependent on meditation.” And the Lotus Sūtra says, “In a quiet place, he practices control of the mind, abiding motionless like Mt. Sumeru.” Thus, we know that transcending the profane and surpassing the holy are contingent on the condition of dhyāna; shedding [this body] while seated and fleeing [this life] while standing are dependent on the power of samādhi. Even if one devotes oneself to the practice one’s entire life, one may still not be in time; how then could one who procrastinates possibly overcome karma? Therefore, an ancient has said, “Without the power of samādhi, you will meekly cower at death’s door.” Shutting your eyes, you will return [to the earth] in vain; just as you are, you will drift [in samsara]. Friends in Ch’an, go over this text again and again. Benefiting others as well as ourselves, let us together achieve perfect enlightenment.

Waka poem by Dogen Zenji with some translations:


あら磯の波もえよせぬ高岩に かきも付くへきのりならはこそ


Araiso no
Nami mo eyosenu
Takayowa ni
Kaki mo tsukubeki
Nori naraba koso

Special transmission outside the teaching

The Dharma, like an oyster
Washed atop a high cliff:
Even waves crashing against
The reefy coast, like words,
May reach but cannot wash it away.

(Translation: Steven Heine, The Zen Poetry of Dogen)

Separate transmission outside teachings

wild coastal waves
can’t get near the high rocky spinal shards
where seaweed clings on
all the dharma can be written completely
safely permeating all space

(Translation: Blair Shogen)

In zazen, we are a high cliff, white as bone
The ocean’s push is a baby’s hand:
The Dharma is written everywhere
Like white ink on white paper

(Response to poem by John Fraser)

Links to related Kusen and teachings by John:
This world of samsara is a stormy ocean
Master Dogen’s poem ‘Special transmission outside the scriptures’ (adapted)