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Why Zazen Matters But Not For Enlightenment

These rains hitting dry, crusty, earth aren't helping much. 

The earth is good; the rain is good; they don't need anything. But yet, the water is not helping and the earth is not being helped. Water and soil can't meet. The hardened crust is too much; the hard rain is too much. 

It can be like this with Zazen and me. When I come to practice hardened with ideas or emotions, seeking refuge in this desperate way, bathing myself in Zazen, I often think, this isn't working, this is stupid, Dogen is a liar. This is just breath- bad breath. 

Nanyue said to Ma-tsu,

Oh, great one what are you aiming at by sitting there in meditation like that?  What do you want?
Ma-tsu said:  I want to become a buddha.

                    The teacher then picked up a ceramic tile and began to rub
                    it on a rock very vigorously in the dojo, right there.  This
                    got the student's attention.

Ma-tsu asked him: What are you doing?
Nanyue said:  I'm polishing it to make it into a mirror.  

 Ma-tsu said:  How can you make a mirror by polishing a tile?

 Nanyue said:  Granted, rubbing a tile will not make a mirror.  How can sitting meditation make a buddha?

 Ma-tsu said:  Then what would be right?
Nanyue said:  It's like the case of an ox pulling a cart. If the cart does not go, should you hit the cart or should you hit the ox?
Ma-tsu couldn't say anything.

Nanyue continued Do you think you are practicing sitting meditation or do you think you are practicing sitting buddhahood?

Hearing this, some fools I know go skipping out of the Zendo, "liberated" from practicing meditation, reviling sitting Buddhahood. This isn't because they're wise, it's because their lazy and sore and weak of heart. And under all of that is just real pain and sadness, the uncomfortable grapple that occurs when the self creates a self that tries to study the self. Unbridled balking from hitting the cart while the ox gets fat eating whatever the ox has rationalized as "true."

But Nanyue is not giving Ma-tsu an out from seated practice. He's urging him to really sit, to really take his seat. Not for enlightenment and not for buddahood. 

When you're dry crusty earth and the down pour is raging it's insane to go looking for rain, but at the same time you really need rain. Nanyue knew this. He went on because Ma-tsu wasn't satisfied:

          Your study of the mind ground is like
           planting seeds.  My expounding of the essence of reality is
           like the moisture in the sky.  Circumstances are good for
           you, so you will see the way.

Crusty earth in this severe drought year will soften; the rains will become gentle, I know it. It's not like that now, but it's inevitable. All the causes and conditions are seeded with the right seeds. Should we stand up and leave the Zendo? NO! No. We never had a reason to come to the Zendo and now we don't have a reason to leave. 

If you see me sitting, I know it's not shikantaza. I know not sitting is also not shikantaza. Just leave me to it.


  1. Did my comment get through just now? No, I don't think it did.
    I'm not getting email notices anymore when you post.
    For a refreshing change, try Fukanzazengi.

  2. It did. I just don't know what to say about Fukanzazengi.


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