‘I was working very hard to do zazen, but I realized that I was just doing shuzen (*). Effort is necessary, but somehow it’s a different kind of effort. One day I had a thought: what about the Buddha under the bodhi tree? When Buddha first sat under the bodhi tree, there was no manual. We have to think about what brought him to the bodhi tree. What did he do before that? According to legend, there was an episode right after he left the palace where he tried yogic meditation under a master. He learned the technique and quickly attained the goal of stopping the mind, but it wasn’t what he was looking for. Then he shifted his practice to the body, and did ascetic practice. He did it very thoroughly, almost dying, but he realized this was not the right way to nirvana. He did all the ready-made methods available in those days, learning them from the teachers, but he was not satisfied with those things and he didn’t solve his fundamental questions. He had nothing any more.
When he sat down under the tree, he did something very new, not based on a method or manual – something more spontaneous, more natural. By trial and error, he gradually learned how to sit in a stable way by paying attention to how he felt in the sitting posture. He learned how to be with the body and mind, without doing anything artificial or intentional. He gave up and surrendered, and that’s the origin of our zazen. There’s a big difference between what he did before and what he did under the bodhi tree. He tried all the shuzen types of practice and saw their futility; from this, zazen emerged.’ (Polishing A Tile)