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A General Recommended Way of Sitting Meditation

By Dogen Zenji

The Way is fundamentally complete and perfect, all-pervasive, how could it depend upon cultivation and realization?
The vehicle of the source is free; why expend effort? The whole being is utterly beyond defiling dust; who would believe in a method of wiping it clean? The great whole is not apart from here; why go someplace to practice? Nevertheless, the slightest discrepancy is as the distance between sky and earth: as soon as aversion and attraction arise, you lose your mind in confusion. Even though you may boast of comprehension and wallow in understanding, having gotten a glimpse of insight, and though you find the Way and understand the mind, though you may roam freely within the bounds of initial entry, you are still somewhat lacking in a living road of emancipation.
Even Gautama Buddha, who had innate knowledge, at upright for six years; this is a noteworthy example. When referring to the transmission of the mind seal at Shaolin, the fame of nine years facing a wall is still mentioned. Since the ancients did so, why should people today not do so? Therefore you should stop the intellectual activity of pursuing words and chasing sayings, and should learn the stepping back of turning the light around and looking back. Body and mind will naturally be shed, and the original countenance will become manifest. If you want to attain something, you should set right about working on it. For intensive Zen meditation, a quirt room is appropriate. Food and drink are to be moderate. Letting go of all mental objects, taking a respite from all concerns, not thinking of good or evil, not being concerned with right or wrong, halt the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness, stop assessment by thought, imagination, and view. Do not aim to become a Buddha; and how could it be limited to sitting or reclining? Spread a thick sitting mat where you usually sit, and use a cushion on top of this. You may sit in the full-lotus posture, or in the half-lotus posture. For the full-lotus posture, first place the right foot on the left thigh, then the left foot on the right thigh. For the half-lotus posture, just place the left foot on the right thigh. Wear loose clothing, and keep it orderly. Next place the right hand on the left leg, and the left hand on the right hand, with palms facing upward. The two thumbs face each other and hold each other up. Now sit upright, with your body straight. Do not lean to the left or tilt to the right, bend forward or lean backward. Align the ears with the shoulders, and the nose with the navel. The tongue should rest on the upper palate, the teeth and lips should be closed. The eyes should always be open. The breathing passes subtly through the nose. Once the physical form is in order, exhale fully through the mouth once, sway left and right, then settle into sitting perfectly still. Think of what does not think. How do you think of what does not think? It is not thinking. This is the essential art of sitting Zen meditation. What I call sitting Zen meditation is not practice of dhyana. It is just a method of comfort, a practical way of experiencing thoroughgoing investigation of enlightenment: objective reality becomes manifest, beyond any trap. If you can get the meaning of this, you will be like dragons taking to the water, like tigers in the mountains. You will know that the truth has spontaneously become evident, while oblivion and distraction will already have been overcome. When you are going to rise from sitting, move your body gradually, getting up gently. Do not be hasty or careless.

We have seen stories of transcending the ordinary and going beyond the holy, shedding the mortal coil while sitting or passing away while standing upright: all of these depend on the power in this.


And how about the transformations of state upon the lifting of a finger, a pole, a needle, a hammer? How about the realizations of accord on the raising of a whisk, a fist, a cane, a shout? They have never been susceptible to understanding but thought and conceptualizations; how could they be known by cultivated realization of supernatural powers? It could be called dignified behavior beyond sound and form; is it not a guiding example prior to knowledge and views? Being such, it is not an issue whether one has more or less intelligence, making no distinction between the quick and the slow. Focused, unified concentration is what constitutes work on the Way. The practice and realizations are spontaneously undefiled; the process of heading for the aim, furthermore, is being normal. Whatever they are, one's own world and the realms of others; West and East, they equally hold the seal of Buddha, based as one on the way of the source. Just work on sitting, remaining in an immobile state. Even though it seems there are myriad differences and a thousand distinctions, just attend to intensive meditation to master the Way. Why abandon a seat in your own house to idly roam in the dusty realms of alien countries? Take a single misstep, and you blunder past what's right in front of you. Having gotten the key to the human body, do not pass time uselessly: preserve and uphold the essential potential of the Buddha Way. Who has the folly to look forward to what lasts but a moment? Add to this consideration the fact that the physical body is like a dewdrop on the grass, a lifetime is like a lightning flash: all of a sudden they are void, in an instant they are gone. May those high-minded people who participate in this study and have long learned to feel an elephant by hand not be suspicious of a real dragon. Proceed energetically on the straightforward path of direct pointing, and honor people who have transcended learning and gone beyond effort. Join in the enlightenment of the Buddhas, inherit the state of mind of the Zen founders.
Having long been thus, we should be thus. The treasury opens of itself, to be used at will.