Zazen is the centre of our practice and also the centre of Dogen’s teaching. The Shobogenzo Zazenshin is one of Dogen’s writings in which he discussed the essential nature of his sitting practice. He wrote this text in 1242.
‘Za’ means ‘sitting’, and ‘zen’ is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word ‘chan’ which is the transliteration of the Sanskrit word ‘dhyana’, meaning ‘meditation’. A literal translation of ‘zazen’ is ‘seated meditation’. ‘Shin’ means ‘acupuncture needle’. Today’s acupuncture needle is made of some kind of metal, but in ancient times it was made from bamboo. An acupuncture needle is a kind of instrument to heal sickness. My translation of this title, Zazenshin, is ‘Acupuncture Needle of Zazen’. Zazen is an acupuncture needle to heal our sickness.
What is our sickness? I think it is very clear. Shakyamuni Buddha said that we have been shot with an arrow tainted by the three poisonous states of mind. These three states are greed, anger/hatred and ignorance of the reality of our life, that is: impermanence, egolessness and interdependent origination. Because of this ignorance, we think that we are independent and separate from all other beings. We grasp this as ‘I’ and think this is most important. To make this person powerful, important, famous, wealthy and healthy, these become the purpose of our life. If we are successful, then we are happy like heavenly beings. If not, we are miserable and it feels like being in hell. Because no condition stays forever, we transmigrate from one condition to another. This is the way our lives become transmigration within samsara [the cycle of existences]. According to the Buddha’s teachings, this is how our lives become suffering. This transmigration is actually happening moment by moment in our daily lives in this lifetime. Continue reading