Zazen is a state of mind


Recently I was (once again) banned without warning from a website called Zenforuminternational, probably due to criticizing a certain robed “Nonin” (one more example for the decline of the Suzuki Roshi lineage) for having denied Daito Kokushi the status of a zen teacher. You may follow this thread here. “Nonin” on the other hand named TNH as an authorized teacher although Zen (Thien) died out hundreds of years ago in Vietnam (according to Nguyen, Zen in Medieval Vietnam) and this crooked guy did things like bestowing the title “dharmacarya” on a former chairman of the German Buddhist Union, not without receiving a multi-digit donation of Deutschmarks from him.

The Zenforuminternational is run with the help of some so called lineaged and certified zen teachers. Their tolerance is low, as one can expect, because they are part of a religious organisation, in that case the Soto school. This school has one huge dogma created by Dogen Zenji, which “Nonin” put like this: “Practice and realization are one and the same, so awakening and zazen practice are not two.” It is the dumb repetition of rhetorics that often manifests the lack of understanding of those practitioners. Because it also goes the other way round: Awakening and daily deeds are not two! Only then have you arrived at the core of zen when you no longer separate a ritual of seated meditation from your doings, and that happens when zazen is not just sitting (requiring a certain posture) but a state of the nonjudgemental, nonattached mind. Whatever (physical) posture you are in, you are “practicing”, you are “realizing”. This is the point where you detect false teachers. Their zazen becomes a compulsion neurosis, they just can’t let go. Beware! If you cannot handle your zazen freely, where is your nonattachment? A teacher who misleads you is the one who has “not arrived”, i.e. that he has not gotten the understanding that an awakened one is free to let go of anything, even sitting meditation.  (This does not reject training monasteries etc. that offer rigorous zazen for those who are interested – because there is nothing wrong in doing excessive sesshin as long as you are not addicted to it.) Let’s see how some masters in the past have said it. Even if they themselves taught zazen and stuck to it, they knew. False teachers on the other hand will deny.

In the forum I mentioned two books of Buddhologists, McRae’s “Seeing through Zen” which provides a taste of the hagiography (myths and their meaning) but is not about earliest chan, wherefore I recommend Broughton’s “Bodhidharma Anthology”. In the writings of early chan-adepts neither sila (rules for moral behaviour) nor sitting meditation were central. When sitting meditation comes into play, it was always a means to set the mind straight. In Buddhism means like that are called upaya, they may be replaced by others or dropped in the course of one’s life. That is why Bodhidharma did accept his disciple after he had cut off his arm, not after he had sit sesshin, and why Huineng was confirmed a dharma heir after having been an illiterate cook, not after having studied sutras and done shikantaza.  Remember that due to zen hagiography the core of zen was transmitted by the Buddha holding up a flower and Mahakashyapa smiling (again: not through sitting meditation). If you ask where the “nine years of zazen in front of a wall” of Bodhidharma come in, just look for the connecting element of many of those myths. It is surely not the sitting but the effort, the ability to neglect comfort in search for a higher “truth”, or let’s better call it: wisdom. Therefore it should be the “nine years” that we emphasize, not the sitting.

Today zazen has often become a means to make the mind intolerant and blindsided. Just compare the late insights of really enlightened masters like Hsu Yun: “Chan does not mean sitting in meditation. The so called zen hall and the so called zen sitting are only given to those who in this age of decadence face adamant obstacles.” (Lu K’uan Yü, Ch’an and Zen Teaching, 1970). Or Enni Bennen (1202-1282) from the Yang-chi lineage of Lin-chi. He considered Bodhidharma as a “self-awakened”, zazen and the pointing to one’s own mind were two methods that appeared only after self-awakening (see “A Zen Reader”, Berkeley 1996). Or Daito Kokushi (1282-1334): “One could suppose that the ‘heart Buddha’ is only known through sitting meditation. This is wrong. Yungchia taught: ‘Walking is zen, sitting is zen.’ If you move the body or not, it is in peace.” Or Tetsugen Doko (1630-1682): “During daily practice I do not know anything about ‘sinking’ (zazen). When I am hungry, I eat, when I am tired, I go to sleep.” Do you get the slight but crucial difference to what was said by some teachers and adepts in the Zenforum?

Of course, quotes are often taken out of a context. The same goes for Dogen’s “Zazen and awakening are one”, just combine it with “Mountains and waters right now are the actualization of the ancient Buddha way. Each, abiding in its phenomenal expression, realizes completeness.” (taken from the Shobogenzo-chapter “Sansuikyo”). If what mountains and waters do is complete and awakened, you are able to do zazen by living your natural life, while you sit in a movie theater or a bar or while you are shopping. Dogen and other masters have given us two kinds of wisdom. One is for those in need of a formalized training method, the other one is “higher wisdom” which can obviously not be understood by teachers who do only quote what supports their ritualized life. Enlightened zen masters always find a way to hint to “higher wisdom”, and it is a shame when certain teachers diminish Dogen Zenji or great men like Pai-chang by seeing only the upholders of a monastery tradition  in them. Those teachers just don’t get that Dogen, Pai-chang, Hsu Yun etc. were or would have been (most probably) able to “let go” of even their priestly attachment, which is a requirement of the masters and not present in most of today’s lineage holders.

I myself had an “awakening” experience, i.e. one that significantly changed the course of my life and my mind’s frame, without previous zazen. I was a religious person at that time, at the age of 19, a Christian, and I had started doing martial arts and have heard of the zen or rather taoist koan “If you want to find wisdom, do not search for it”. Suddenly this wisdom opened my eyes and I understood when walking through the woods and having a kind of flashlight vision. Only then did I decide to dig deeper into Taoism, then found Zen, then began sitting meditation, reading the (zen) canon etc. Throughout the history of Buddhism, starting with Shakyamuni himself, self-awakening without a personal teacher was common. And as we see in the examples given in (hagiographic) zen tradition, there were always other prominent figures who made the big leap without zazen. Or those who became enlightened by reading a sutra, like Tsung-mi. Or those who founded most prominent zen traditions without any dharma transmission, like Chinul did in Korea. Because the big leap is one of the mind. For me, the main turning point was before zazen as a certain posture.

Nowadays, as I said in the forum but couldn’t explain more explicitly, I believe that there are persons with “obstacles” (to quote Hsu Yun) who will find a good training method in zazen. Others will not need it to become unattached and nonjudgmental. If you meet persons who are but have never followed Buddhism or Zen, you will know. What this means is not obvious when you retreat and sit quietly with a peer pressure group of the same rhetorics as yours. If you are unattached and nonjudgemental will be proven for example when you run a zenforum where posters contradict you. When your colleagues at work find your opinions, habits, morals and “practice” ridiculous. When you leave an astonishing beautiful woman to your greedy pal who just feels so great having you beaten in what he believes to be a competition. When you have a front tooth of a poor pleasure girl fixed instead of fucking here a month long. When you speak up frankly where others duck. In other words, when you make a difference because you dare, you are able to take the risk (esp. of losing status, property, health and life), you follow your instincts and are not hindered by dogma or second thoughts, you act out of your freed mind. There will always be situations where (while in no need to stand out in daily life) it will come natural to you to act as nonconformist. Because nonconformist is often simply what others will call your being unattached. Unattached is not uninterested and uninvolved, it is being free from the thought “I can’t do this, I am supposed to act like that, it would be a shame to …” It means dropping fear. It is not the fear of spiders or mice, it is the fear of being considered outrageous, unadapted, foolish, even within your own “zen circle”.

Teachers who cannot understand that a life without sitting meditation can be a zen (chan) life have not seen through. They slander Bodhidharma, Huineng, Ikkyu, Hsu Yun, Taisen Deshimaru (whose only dharma heir dropped zazen completely) and even Kodo Sawaki whose favourite nun was one who never did zazen but sewed robes. This is where you might miss “by a hairbreadth”. As you can detect from the moral handicaps of established teachers (“Nonin’s” for example was Dainin Katagiri who indulged in sex with female disciples) excessive zazen, sticking to sila as a code of conduct or taking Bodhisattva vows has probably no significant effect on refining your humanity.

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