Kanzeon Bodhisattva


On Zazen

Uchiyama Kasho Roshi

In short, doing zazen is to stop doing anything, to face the wall, and to sit, just being yourself that is only the Self. While doing zazen we should refrain from doing anything, yet, being human, we begin to think; we engage in a dialogue with the thoughts in our minds. “I should have sold it that time; no, I should have bought it,” or, “I should have waited for a while.”

If you are a stockbroker you will think like this. If you are a young lover, you may find that your girlfriend inevitably appears all the time. If you are a mother-in-law who doesn’t get along with your daughter-in-law, you will think only of your son’s wife. Whatever situation you are involved, thoughts will arise of their own accord while you are doing zazen.

Once you realize that you are thinking when you are supposed to be doing nothing, and return to zazen, the thoughts which appeared as clearly before you as if they were pictures on the T.V. screen, disappear as suddenly as if you had switched off the T.V. Only the wall is left in front of you.

For an instant… this is it. This is zazen. Yet again thoughts arise by themselves. Again you return to zazen and they disappear. We simply repeat this; this is called kakusoku (awareness of Reality). The most important point is to repeat this kakusoku billions of times. This is how we should practice zazen.

If we practice in this way we cannot help but realize that our thoughts are really nothing but secretions of the brain. Just as our salivary glands secrete saliva, or as our stomachs secrete gastric juices, so our thoughts are nothing but secretions of the brain.

Usually, however, people do not understand this. When we think “I hate him,” we hate the person, forgetting that the thought is merely a secretion. The hatred occupies our mind, tyrannizing it. By hating the person, we subordinate ourselves to this tyrant. When we love someone we are also swept away by our attachment to this person; we become enslaved by this love. In the end, all of us live as vassals to this lord, thought. This is the source of all our problems.

For example, our stomachs secrete gastric juices in order to digest food. More is not better in this case; if too much is secreted, we may develop an ulcer or even stomach cancer.

Our stomachs secrete gastric juices to keep us alive, but an excess is dangerous. Nowadays, people suffer from an excess of brain-secretions; and furthermore, they allow themselves to be tyrannized by these secretions. This is the cause of all our mistakes.

In Reality, the various thoughts which arise in our minds are nothing but the scenery of the Life of the Self. This scenery exists upon the ground of our Life. As I said earlier, we should not be blind to, or unconscious of, this scenery.

Zazen commands a view of everything as the scenery of the Life of the Self. In ancient Zen texts, this is referred to as “honchino faku” (the scenery of original ground).

It is not the case that we become the universal Life as a result of our practice. Each and every one of us receives and lives this universeful-Life. We are one with the whole universe, yet we do not manifest it as the universe in the real sense.

Since our minds are discriminating, we perceive only the tail of the secretions. When we do zazen, we let go of the thoughts, and then the thoughts drop off. That which arises in our minds disappears. There the universeful-Life manifests itself.

Dogen Zenji called it shojo-no-shu, (practice based on enlightenment). The universeful-Life is enlightenment. Based upon that, we practice being the whole universe. This is also called shusho-ichinyo (practice and enlightenment are one.)

We would all prefer happiness to misery, paradise to hell, survival to immediate death. We are thus ever bifurcating Reality, dividing it into something good and something bad, something we like and something we don’t. Similarly we discriminate between satori and delusion, and strive to attain satori.

But the reality of the universe is far beyond such an attitude of aversion and attachment. When our attitude is “whichever, whatever, wherever,” then we manifest the whole universe.

In the first place, the attitude of trying to gain something is itself unstable. When you strive to gain satori you are definitely deluded because you desire to escape from a state of delusion.

Dogen Zenji taught that our attitude should be one of practice and diligent work in any situation whatsoever. If we fall into hell, we go through hell; this is the most important attitude to have. If we encounter unhappiness, we should work through it sincerely.

Just sit in the Reality of Life seeing hell and paradise, misery and joy, life and death, all with the same eye. No matter what the situation, we live the life of the Self. We must sit immovably on that foundation. This is essential; this is what “becoming one with the universe” means.

If we divide this universe into two, striving to attain satori and to escape delusion, we are not the whole universe. Happiness and unhappiness, satori and delusion, life and death; see them with the same eye. In every situation the Self lives the life of the Self -- such a self must do itself by itself. This universal Life is the place to which we return.

Uchiyama Kosho Roshi (1912-1998) studied Western philosophy at Waseda University in Tokyo. He taught at the Miyazaki Theological School for a while before he became a zen monk under Sawaki Roshi in 1941. Uchiyama Roshi has published many books in Japanese on Zen. Two of them have been translated into English, Approach to Zen (Japan Publications, Inc.), and Refining Your Life (Weatherhill).

Shikantaza - an introduction to Zazen
Edited and translated by Shohaku Okumura
Kyoto Soto-Zen Center, 1985

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