Wednesday, January 19, 2011


To do zazen you don’t have to park yourself on the floor facing a wall. Sitting, or standing, or walking, you can practice zazen.

Instead of socializing in your head, or running mental videos, or jabbering aimlessly:

Be silent.
Be content.
Be zazen.

And remember that enlightenment and zazen are one. So, don’t wait for enlightenment to wallop you alongside the head.

Some years ago . . . . Or maybe it was a few months ago. It’s hard to keep track of rapidly changing times. Anyway, some time ago a popular saying made the rounds. The words went something like: “Don‘t just stand there, do something.”

Those words became stale in a short while, but occasionally you still hear them. They have to do with self-help.

Or maybe they relate to business acumen.

Or they may be part of an old Bob Dylan song.

Don‘t just stand there, do something.

The phrase bring to mind something older than pop-culture, something that can be attributed to Zen Master Dogen. It has to do with relaxation and discipline.

Whoa! Wait up, you say. In Zen aren’t relaxation and discipline contradictory terms?

They may be. But isn’t Zen itself incongruous, ambiguous, and paradoxical?

Without getting sidetracked, let’s take a look at a couple of terms and see where it leads us.

Discipline and dedication.

Is there a difference between discipline and dedication? If there is, can they co-exist?

Discipline is often thought of as something rigorous, sometimes even painful. In past years disobedient school children were paddled on their rear ends, or else whacked on their hands, with a wooden ruler.

That was known as discipline.

Spare the rod, spoil the child.

By the way, that’s a Bible teaching: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” (Proverbs 13:24)

Oops, I’m getting sidetracked.

In a softer sense, discipline can be thought of as a form of self-control.

How about dedication?

Remember the old story of piano virtuoso Vladimar Horowitz, wha was strolling along New York’s Fifth Avenue when he was approached by another pedestrian.

“How can I get to Carnegie Hall?” the other fellow asked.

“Practice, practice, practice,” Horowitz answered.

That’s dedication.

Dedication can also be thought of as steadfastness, or commitment.

Discipline and dedication go together in many areas of Japanese culture.

Brush painting.
Flower arranging.
Tea ceremony.
Taiko drumming.

These are not casual activities. They require control and commitment.

They are Zen pursuits.

Discipline and dedication.

Discipline to practice painting a bamboo leaf over and over again until you can paint a bamboo leaf the way it looks in a strong wind, or glistening with rain, or bent down with snow.

Dedication to stick with drumming no matter how sore your arms get, and no matter how painfully your ears throb.

Sitting in zazen also requires discipline and dedication.

I’ve been asked, “Where’s the fun in sitting cross-legged, staring at the wall, and not thinking?”

That’s a good question because zazen is not intended to be fun. It isn’t amusing or entertaining.

Zazen isn’t a getaway. It isn’t a reward.

Zazen is awakening. It’s a bringing to life.

Zazen may cause you to be a better person, but that’s not the point of zazen.

Can you do something that has no point, no reward?

When you sit, just sit.

Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Meditation is not an escape from life, but preparation for really being in life.”