Tuesday, February 28, 2006


I would like to talk about what I call zazen mind.
As we know, Zen is living completely and fully in one’s true self. Some masters and some teachers refer to “finding” one’s true self,” as if one’s true self were a pair of socks hidden away in a back corner of a dresser drawer. Such a notion passes wide of the mark.
There is no finding of one’s true self because true self was never lost and is never lost. One does not discover true self, rather one wakes up to it.
Remember the story of The Ten Bulls, and the Oxherding Pictures. One’s inherent Buddha-nature has never gone away, so wandering around, searching for it is pointless.
     As elite as we humans might like to think we are, true self is not something dished out only to Buddhists, or to followers of Zen. Every living being, and every object, possesses true self. Wakening to, or comprehending, true self is the rub. Unfortunately, some people never grasp the hidden nature of things, or perceive in an intuitive manner.
On the other hand, one wonders what the world would be like if all beings realized their true selves. Would the planet be an ideal, perfect place? Would that realization ring in the golden age? Would there be an era of ideal happiness?
I don’t have an answer. Only the questions.
In Zen, the key to awakening, to intuitive perception, is the practice of zazen. Meditation.
Meditation is not unique to Zen. Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, Muslims, and Jews all practice meditation in one form or another. The difference is that in zazen the mind does not concentrate on some other thing and attempt to make sense of that some other thing.
Nor in zazen does the mind dwell on nothing, as it may do in some Yoga forms of meditation.
If there is one word that states what zazen is about, that word is awareness. Zazen is implementation in awareness.
     During any given day we humans are inundated with sounds, sights, choices, decisions, and haphazard thoughts. Our minds try to sort all this input and relate it to our selves. As we work, or read, or converse with other people, we are continually occupied with what someone has referred to as “The Drama of Me.”
We are busy, busy, busy with ourselves.
Zazen—mindful attention—focuses the mind. Not on this or that—especially not on that old obsessive object, “Me”—but opens the mind to complete awareness. On true self, which goes way beyond self-image.
     In working toward quieting the ego, some people who meditate may center on an object, a word, or their breath. In the beginning of one’s practice this helps to keep the mind from drifting aimlessly or from bouncing all over the place. With training—that is, through the cultivation of daily zazen—a wandering mind learns to disregard thought patterns that revolve around the inner self, and mind settles down to identify with true self.
     I am sometimes asked about the benefits of zazen. “What good will it do me?” people want to know. “Will I become a better citizen, or a good parent, or a first-class mate?” “If I join the current craze, can I make money?” “What’s the gain?” “What’s in it for me?”
Meditating for gain is like meeting a new person and wondering how that person can be used to one’s individual benefit. Profits and returns have no part in meditation because thoughts of payback only butt in and mess everything up.
     Some people say meditation helps them feel at ease. Others say it gives them mental focus. Others say it brings a sense of peace and well-being. Others say it calms anger. Such fringe benefits may be fine, but to count on compensation can cause more harm than good.
Rather than expecting positive results from meditation, one would do better being aware of the experience itself, and nothing more. That is what zazen is about: awareness.
     It is of little importance if zazen rewards you with peace of mind or radiant bliss. What is important is consistency in the practice. Regularity in zazen will lead to a heightened sense of awareness not only during meditation sessions but also throughout the entire day.
That is what one’s true self is all about.
     Some people wonder about the difference between zazen and relaxation, or thinking, or concentration. Relaxation is letting go, becoming limp in body and mind. You can relax by kicking back with an enjoyable book or sprawling in a hot tub. Meditation is a process in which you are aware of your awareness. It is not an escape from stress, but recognition of it, and has a more-lasting effect.
     I mentioned thinking. As any student will tell you, thinking can be tiring. Thinking is a brain activity, a mental action. Meditation goes beyond cogitation. Meditation is mindful awareness, and awareness does not involve movement or action as such. Awareness is recognition of the instant without dwelling on the instant or evaluating it.
You are probably familiar with the statement of Rene Descartes, “I think, therefore I am.” Someone asked the philosopher if it was going to rain. Descartes said, “I don’t think …,” and he vanished.
     As for concentration, concentration also requires thought activity. Keeping the mind centered on a candle or a mantra means exertion, which may help to dissipate random thoughts, but it detracts from awareness.
Zazen mind is pure awareness.
Awareness is enough.
Awareness is what Zen is all about.


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