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I want to talk a little bit about zazen. There is "Koan Zen" (or Rinzai Zen) and whatís called "Shikantaza," or the Soto style of practice. For Koan Zen, the old dialogues of the ancient teachers help us to find our own Buddha nature. For example, Master Joshu was asked by a monk, "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" and Master Joshu replied, "Wu." ("Wu" is Chinese; in Japanese, it is "Mu.") We would say, "No." Then, one day a monk asked, "Does a dog have Buddha nature?" and Joshu said, "Yes." This is a koan.

"Shikantaza" means "just doing," and this was the practice of Suzuki Roshi and his lineage: "Just doing." When we sit zazen, when we sit in meditation, it is "just doing." We donít sit meditation in order to get something. We donít sit in order to accomplish good health, or to make us more intelligent, or to gain some kind of advantage. When we sit, we just sit. Sitting is just sitting, in the same way eating is just eating, and walking is just walking. In our busy life, we have many goals, so we forget "just walking," "just eating," "just sitting" and so on. When we bring "just sitting" into our daily life, in the midst of our life based on accomplishment, so we can be completely whole in our activity, this is zazen. In Zen, we are always dealing with the absolute side of our nature and the relative side of our nature, and how to make ourself whole, all one: to resume our original nature, which is not dual.

Be Yourself Completely, pt. 2

Sojun Mel Weitsman
Abbot of the
Berkeley Zen Center

Talk given to the Chapel Hill Zen Center, March, 1993

"Za" means "sitting," and "zen" means "emptiness." I just said that. You canít say what Zen really means. Iím just saying that. Zen means "emptiness." What is emptiness? Emptiness is a word which is used in Buddhism and often misunderstood. We say, "All things are empty." Everything is empty of its own nature. In other words, nothing exists independently. Another word for emptiness is "interdependence." Everything is interdependent with everything else. Everything is a part of everything else. There is no thing which stands alone. Nothing. If we keep looking for the final particle, we just keep uncovering more and more stuff. According to Buddhist understanding there is no final particle. The final particle has no special shape or form, and no characteristic, but all shapes and forms are the characteristics of this "no shape or form."

If you want to understand, or identify, emptiness, then you just have to look at the forms. If you want to identify this primal, unidentifiable thing, you have to find it within its forms. So every form is the form of "it." You have to call it "it." So "it" is everything we point to. We can say, "it." This is "it," and thatís "it." But we really canít say what "it" is. So when we sit without trying to accomplish anything, we just allow "it" to be "it," with whatever characteristic it has, and we experience our true self, unhindered by our biases, by our habits, by the self we stick on top of our self. So to sit in meditation, to sit zazen, is to sit in our unconditioned selfĖto be our unconditioned self, the self which is not conditioned by anything. This is what zazen is. It is to express this; not to get strong legs or make ourself better in some way, but just to be ourself. To be our true self. To resume our true nature.

In zazen, we let go of our discriminating mind. To "discriminate" means to compartmentalize. When you discriminate, you cut something in two. But before there is discrimination, there is only one thing. We tend to only see the world around us in terms of its parts, but it is difficult to see it in terms of its wholeness, before division. So zazen is just coming back to ourself. There is no step-by-step way to get to someplace. The first time you sit zazen is just like the ten thousandth time you sit zazen, except that your experience may not be the same.

To sit without discriminating mind means to let whatever comes, come, and to let whatever goes, go. The two qualities that we are always dealing with in our life are the qualities of holding on to something that we like, and pushing away something that we donít like. This is called, "discriminating mind." We take what we like, and we push away what we donít like, and weíre always doing this. When something comes that we like, we try to hold on to it, and when something comes that we donít like, we try to push it away or keep it out. Our life is a life of wanting something, and not wanting something else.

Whatever it is that we like and try to hold on to is changing. So the more we hold on to it, the less we have of it, because there is nothing that can be preserved. If we have a happy, or wonderful, or joyous feeling, eventually it turns into something else. As soon as we donít like something, it becomes a source of suffering to us. So we want to keep out suffering by keeping out something we donít like. What we experience in zazen is the truth of duality, which means that by dividing into "like" and "dislike," and "want" and "not want," we create suffering for ourselves.

Itís very difficult to have a non-dualistic mind. Because if you have a non-dualistic mind, it means you have to accept pain as pain, and pleasure as pleasure, without discriminating them. When there is pain, it is just a feeling. When I donít like it, it becomes suffering. When there is some pleasure, I want to hang on to it. I become attached to it. But when it changes and I canít have it, then I have suffering. So suffering comes with not being able to have what I want, and having what I donít want. These are the two basic aspects of the causes of suffering. Not being able to maintain what I like, and having to deal with what I donít like is brought about by discriminating mind, and we all have this mind.

Non-discriminating mind is being able to accept joy and let it go, and being able to accept pain and not try to get rid of it, that is, to accept everything in an equal manner. The way that we can really best come to terms with this and understand it is through zazen, because you feel the effect of it immediately. If you sit for a certain length of time and you feel uncomfortable, then you start to say, "When is this going to end?" As soon as you say, "When is this going to end?" you are no longer in the moment. You lose your life of the moment, and then youíre just waiting for something to happen. Youíre waiting for something to end. And when youíre waiting for something to end, it becomes worse and worse and worse.

So you learn to be able to live with whatever it is you have on each moment, and you can do that. When you learn to do that, you can be very comfortable, very still, very settled, and nothing can push you around. There is nothing to be afraid of. Master Dogen wrote in his Genjokoan, "To study the Buddha way is to study the self, and to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things, and to be enlightened by the ten thousand things is to free the body and mind of yourself and the bodies and minds of others. This traceless enlightenment continues on and on forever."

He begins, "To study the Buddha way is to study the self," which means not to study Buddhism from a book, but to practice something over and over until you absorb it through your pores. "To forget the self" means giving up self-centered activity. If emptiness means interdependence, then forgetting the self means to take your place with the whole universe. How do you find your place in the universe with everything, as a piece of the universe, supported by the universe and completely supporting the universe? Everything that we do has some effect on our surroundings. My self plus my surroundings is "myself." I donít really exist apart from my surroundings.

Today we have a lot of concentration on ecology, and we realize how all the ecosystems are interdependent, and the only way that we can possibly save the universe, to save our world, so to speak, is to let go of our self-centeredness. More and more, people are asserting their self-centeredness and destroying the world. We are urging each other to mayhem in this world because we donít understand how we belong in it, and we just use it up, as if it were a commodity. Self-centered means, "I am the center of the universe. Everything revolves around me. I am the subject, and everything out there is an object for me." This is extreme egotism.

Actually, we donít really exist as "myself." "Myself" only exists as the universe exists. One way to realize this is to look at your breathing. We say, "I am breathing," right? Are you breathing? NoĖyou are not breathing. You are being breathed. You donít have anything to do with it. It just goes on and on and on. Inhaling and exhaling, and inhaling and exhaling, but we say, "I am breathing." I am breathing, but actually, I am being breathed.

We say, "I am living." Thatís arrogance. The fact is, I am being lived. I am being lived as an expression of the universe. We say, "I am walking down the street." But actually, we are being walked by the street. We say, "I am driving my car." But we are being driven by our car as well. Whatever we do is an interaction with what we are doing with. But we always see everything from the point of view of "I am," and it makes it difficult to understand how we get into trouble. Itís called, "partiality."

Suzuki Roshi used to talk about "the board-carrying fellow;" a person who is carrying a board on their shoulder like this, and you can see this way, but you canít see this way. Board-carrying person. So we are always looking at things one way, but we canít see from the other side. This is extreme discrimination. Partiality. So the purpose of Zen meditation is to allow us to see clearly, to see things as they really are, not through the eyes of partiality, or bias, or out of one corner of the eye. Itís difficult, because it means that we have to accept everything the way it really is. It means we have to completely give up our predisposition to favor ourself.

It would be nice if we could just sit for a few minutes. Iíd like to guide you through a few minutes of sitting. To begin, place your feet on the ground and sit up straight without leaning against the back of your chair. If you have a bad back, you can lean against the back of your chair. But if you can, sit up straight and donít lean against anything. The first step in meditation is not to lean against something, but to find the balance of your upper body, how you balance your upper body. Most of our postures are determined by the way we meet circumstances. So our postures are conditioned by circumstances, the way we meet things.

Our fears determine our posture. Our anxieties determine our posture. Zazen is letting go of our usual postures, and assuming an unconditioned posture, a posture in which there is no fear, and there is no anxiety. There is no desire for anything. Itís good to sit like this [seated in the "lotus" position], but you can sit zazen in a chair. For all of you people who already know how to sit zazen, it might be interesting for you to learn how to sit in a chair.

We hold our hands in this mudra, with the left hand on top of the right hand, and the thumbs form a circle. This is called the "cosmic mudra," and it has the feeling of holding a large gem in your hands. Bring your teeth together and just breathe normally through your nose. Even though the universe is breathing you, it is good to let your breath come down so that youíre breathing deeply. Your lower abdomen expands when you inhale, and, when you exhale, your lower abdomen compresses. This is normal breathing. Often we breathe up here in our chest, especially if we have a lot of anxiety. If you want to let go of anxiety, just let your breath come down so that youíre breathing like a kid. Little kids breathe down here, because this is our normal breathing. So this practice is just assuming our normal posture and normal breathing, which is easy to lose.

As we grow up and get older, our postures solidify and we lose our innocence, so we just resume our innocent posture, meaning no fear or anxiety, just natural. Let your shoulders drop. There is no need to hold your shoulders up high. There is no need to have tenseness. Just allow yourself to be, to have this pure existence, without having to do anything, without having any place to go or anything else to do. Then just watch the rising and falling of your lower abdomen as you breathe. In order to see how well concentrated your mind is, try to count to ten, one number for each exhalation, and see if you can get to ten. Just let your breath come and go naturally, without trying to control it. If thoughts come into your mind, just let them come and go, and keep returning to your posture and your breathing. If you canít count to ten very easily, just start again with one.

Transcribed by Patti Fogg

© Copyright Sojun Mel Weitsman, 2008

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