90. A Quality of This Moment

Artwork by Blair Thomson
Kusen 90 collaboration by Blair Thomson

Zazen is often called the mountain still state, the balanced state.

What we need to understand is that the state is momentary. It is a quality of this moment.

Not the person, the moment.

This moment rolls in and out of balance. When out of balance, self, world and linear time all arise, together. When in balance, it is not that the self and the myriad things are negated or affirmed but, as the shin jin mei tells us, they cease to exist in the old way.


83. Shikantaza

Our practice, shikantaza, is usually rendered as ‘just sitting’. And this is usually interpreted as meaning that we are not sitting with the expectation that we will gain something.

And of course, that’s true. But the practice isn’t me just sitting, it’s just sitting. Taken that way, the practice is an affirmation with the whole body and mind that the cause of suffering is separation, not impermanence.

Outside the open window, the noise continues. But the house is empty.


60. Practice Enlightenment

We are told that we should sit like a mountain. Zazen is described as the still-still state, the mountain – still state.

The mountain is the ground made visible. Just because the mountain endures and accepts everything, we cannot say it has no feeling. Because it is the ground made visible, it is all feeling.

Zazen is the great matter made visible.


36. Awareness

In zazen, we cultivate unadorned awareness. We simply allow our experience, without making any judgement.

This awareness operates at a number of levels. Most obviously, we are aware of our ego sustaining chatter. Then we are aware of our strategies to avoid our experience–distraction, fatigue, agitation, and so on.

And deeper still, we are aware of our habitual attitudes towards our experience while sitting: anxiety, frustration, hopelessness, resignation and so on, and this habitual attitude mirrors our attitude to our life generally, and so what is unconscious becomes conscious.

Awareness is like a deepening ocean. As it becomes deeper, it becomes clearer. And so, everything is illuminated.


33. The Balanced State

A person prone to waking in the night, who imagines himself an insomniac, would be unaware when he is asleep.

Similarly, although when we sit we are frequently in the balanced state, we cannot see it, since there is no one to see. It is as if we oscillate between the dreams of the mind and the dreams of the body.

My teacher would say that we are always passing through the balanced state, in this movement between body and mind.

It is not that there is a something. It is not that there is a nothing.


32. Undefended

In zazen we lay down our arms.

We place one hand on top of the other. The world is unmanipulated and not held at bay.

It comes right up to the heart.


29. The Ground of Zazen

We can talk of our practice and life in terms of form and emptiness, or delusion and enlightenment. We can also talk of both in terms of ground and space, earth and sky, heaven and earth.

In Inmo, Dogen comments on the phrase:

Those that fall to the ground get up relying on the ground. To get up without relying on the ground is, in the end, impossible.

One of the most difficult things for people to experience when they start zazen is their ungroundedness. They are caught up in a storm of thought and emotion. And through practice, they learn to experience falling back into the feeling, experiencing body, the ground.

We can experience this physically. If we sit properly, allowing our weight to drop down through our sit bones, then we can receive a reciprocal push upwards from the earth, up our spine and up through the top of our head.

This falling down and getting up is the activity of our lives. And in this activity, we actualise heaven and earth.


24. With All Of Us

Because zazen is wholehearted action in the present moment, it breaks down the false distinction between physical and mental.

For example, we will often come to zazen tired, or anxious, or distracted. We put our body into balance, and our breathing comes into balance. We breathe like a baby; from the belly, intercostally. And what we thought of as our mental process changes too.

Our heart sits on top of our breath.


16. Stillness

Dogen said [in Gyoji]:

Master Bodhidharma sat in stillness facing the wall, but he was not learning Zen concentration.

and also [in Fukanzazengi]:

Zazen is simply the peaceful and joyful Gate of Dharma.

Stillness is suchness. We fall backwards into it from the discriminating mind. It is always present. The trees are still. The wind is still. It is suchness, not the absence of movement.

At great cost, the ego keeps us suspended several inches above the ground. Zazen is not learning concentration. It is learning to fall.


9. Sitting is Buddha

In Zazen, do we rely on ourself? Or do we rely on Buddha?

In some schools of Zen, there is a plain reliance on the self. Sitting is the means by which we accumulate the capacity to experience enlightenment. Equally, in other Japanese traditions, particularly Pure Land, reliance is on the other, on Buddha; faith, devotion, surrender feature prominently.

Dogen’s view is that we rely neither on Self or other. We do not sit to become a Buddha and we do not sit in devotion to something other than ourself which we call Buddha. Sitting is Buddha.

We are lifted up by the same ground.