Issho Fujita

‘In many cases, zazen instruction consists of a series of “how to’s” – how to cross legs, how to place the hands, how to drop the line of sight, how to keep the back straight, how to pull in one’s chin, how to settle one’s tongue, how to breathe, how to control one’s mind, and so on. With these “how to’s,” practitioners make a lot of effort to control all the body parts, the breath, and the state of mind by faithfully following those instructions one by one. That kind of effort is usually understood as “regulating body, breath and mind.” In this approach to zazen the shallow layer of the mind, the “conscious I” (the ego-consciousness, which is the product of thought), is trying to unilaterally give orders and force the rest of the mind and body to devotedly obey. It is as if it is telling them, “Because our instructor said so, you should do what I tell you without complaints or questions! That is zazen!” 

This approach might work to some extent in the beginning, but eventually there will be many problems – “I can’t sit still because of so much pain in my legs!,” “I can’t do anything about idle thoughts. My mind is out of control,” “I am not good at zazen…” It is no wonder because “I,” which is only a product of thought, is trying to control everything else without getting any agreement, consent, or cooperation from the layer of the mind and body which is much deeper, wider, and wiser than “I.” It is quite natural that the practitioner will experience many kinds of resistance, rebellion, disagreement, and complaint one after another in the form of sleepiness, chaotic thoughts, uncomfortable sensations and so on. If one tries to win this battle by willpower, one is bound to fail. The practitioner will just end up hurting the body and mind by doing too many unnatural things. 

Zen master Dogen calls this type of action go-i (forcible action). It means to do something intentionally, by force, aiming at certain goal. He sets un-i against go-i. Un-i is spontaneous action that emerges naturally in response to the situation beyond judgment and discretion. There is a common misunderstanding that zazen is done as accumulation of go-i. But Dogen says that zazen should be done by “letting go of both your body and mind, forgetting them both, and throwing yourself into the house of Buddha, with all being done by Buddha” (Shobogenzo Shoji). This means that zazen should be practiced as un-i. I show a photo of an infant’s sitting when giving zazen instruction because I hope it will prevent practitioners from practicing zazen as go-i. There is a sentence in the Bible (Matthew 18-3): ”Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Borrowing this famous phrase, I would like to say, “Unless you turn and sit like children, you will never enter the gate of zazen.”’ (Polishing A Tile)

Other perspectives on zazen after the last couple of days.


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