‘Hui Neng, the Sixth Ancestor, said, “To dwell on emptiness and to keep a calm mind is not zazen.” He also said, “Just to sit in a cross-legged posture is not Zen.” At the same time, I always say to you , “Just sit.” If you don’t understand what our practice is and stick to the words, you will be confused, but if you understand what real Zen is, you will know that the Ancestor’s words are a kind of warning for us.
Now our sesshin is almost at an end, and soon you will be going back to your homes and becoming involved in your everyday activity. If you have been practicing true zazen, you may be happy to go back to your everyday life. You may feel encouraged to go back, but if you feel hesitant to go back to your city life or everyday life, it means that you still stick to zazen. That is why the Sixth Ancestor said, “If you dwell on emptiness, and stick to your practice, then that is not true zazen.”
When you practice zazen, moment after moment, you accept what you have now, in this moment, and you are satisfied with everything you do. Because you accept it, you don’t have any complaints. That is zazen. Even if you cannot do that, you know what to do. Then sitting zazen will encourage you to do other things as well. Just as you accept your painful legs while sitting, you accept your everyday life, which may be more difficult than your zazen practice.’ (Not Always So)
This idea of the divide between formal practice and the ‘outside world’ is often expressed at Zen Center. I remember when I first went to Tassajara, a long-time resident who had recently left said on his next visit, ‘I realised it was okay to leave Tassajara when I was walking the streets of New York and it was still Tassajara.’ At the time I thought he was being a little pretentious, but now I can see where he was coming from. If you are going to cling to the idea of a ‘pure’ practice, as I certainly did for a time, you are not going to get vey far. Once you can let go of any notion of tension or division between different ways of being, then you will not, as Suzuki Roshi says, have any complaints.