(This article, from Zen master Dōgen, came from Japan
and unfortunately we have not got the translator’s name.)
Now, when you trace the source of the way, you find that it is universal and absolute. It is unnecessary to distinguish between ‘practice’ and ‘enlightenment’. The supreme teaching is free, so why study the means to attain it? The way is, needless to say, very far from delusion. Why, then, be concerned about the means of eliminating the latter?
The way is completely present where you are, so of what use is practice or enlightenment? However, if there is the slightest difference in the beginning between you and the way, the result will be a greater separation than between heaven and earth. If the slightest dualistic thinking arises, you will lose your Buddha-mind. For example, some people are proud of their understanding, and think that they are richly endowed with the Buddha’s wisdom. They think that they have attained the way, illuminated their minds, and gained the power to touch the heavens. They imagine that they are wandering about in the realm of enlightenment. But in fact they have almost lost the absolute way, which is beyond enlightenment itself.
You should pay attention to the fact that even the Buddha Shakyamuni had to practise zazen for six years. It is also said that Bodhidharma had to do zazen at Shao-lin temple for nine years in order to transmit the Buddha-mind. Since these ancient sages were so diligent, how can present-day trainees do without the practice of zazen? You should stop perusing words and letters and learn to withdraw and reflect on yourself. When you do so, your body and mind will naturally fall away, and your original Buddha-nature will appear. If you wish to realize the Buddha’s wisdom, you should begin training immediately.
Now, in doing zazen it is desirable to have a quiet room. You should be temperate in eating and drinking, forsaking all delusive relationships. Setting everything aside, think of neither good nor evil, right nor wrong. Thus, having stopped the various functions of your mind, give up even the idea of becoming a Buddha. This holds true not only for zazen but for all your daily actions.
Usually a thick square mat is put on the floor where you sit and a round cushion on top of that. You may sit in either the full or half lotus position. In the former, first put your right foot on your left thigh and then your left foot on your right thigh. In the latter, only put your left foot on the right thigh. Your clothing should be worn loosely but neatly. Next, put your right hand on your left foot and your left palm on the right palm, the tips of the thumbs lightly touching. Sit upright, leaning to neither left nor right, front nor back. Your ears should be on the same plane as your shoulders and your nose in line with your navel. Your tongue should be placed against the roof of your mouth and your lips and teeth closed firmly. With your eyes kept continuously open, breathe quietly through your nostrils. Finally, having regulated your body and mind in this way, take a deep breath, sway your body to left and right, then sit firmly as a rock. Think of nonthinking. How is this done? By thinking beyond thinking and nonthinking. This is the very basis of zazen.
Zazen is not ‘step-by-step meditation’. Rather it is simply the easy and pleasant practice of a Buddha, the realization of the Buddha’s wisdom. The truth appears, there being no delusion. If you understand this, you are completely free, like a dragon that has obtained water or a tiger that reclines on a mountain. The supreme law will then appear of itself, and you will be free of weariness and confusion.
At the completion of zazen move your body slowly and stand up calmly. Do not move violently.
By virtue of zazen it is possible to transcend the difference between ‘common’ and ‘sacred’ and attain the ability to die while doing zazen or while standing up. Moreover, it is impossible for our discriminating mind to understand either how the Buddhas and patriarchs expressed the essence of Zen to their disciples with finger, pole, needle, or mallet, or how they passed on enlightenment with a hossu, fist, staff, or shout. Neither can this be understood through supernatural power or a dualistic view of practice and enlightenment. Zazen is a practice beyond the subjective and objective worlds, beyond discriminating thinking. Therefore, no distinction should be made between the clever and the stupid. To practise the way single-heartedly is, in itself, enlightenment. There is no gap between practice and enlightenment or zazen and daily life.
The Buddhas and patriarchs, both in this world and that, in India and in China, have all preserved the Buddha-mind and enhanced Zen training. You should therefore devote yourself exclusively to and be completely absorbed in the practice of zazen. Although it is said that there are innumerable ways of understanding Buddhism, you should do zazen alone. There is no reason to forsake your own sitting place and make futile trips to other countries. If your first step is mistaken, you will stumble immediately.
You have already had the good fortune to be born with a precious human body, so do not waste your time meaninglessly. Now that you know what is the most important thing in Buddhism, how can you be satisfied with the transient world? Our bodies are like dew on the grass, and our lives like a flash of lightning, vanishing in a moment.
Earnest Zen trainees, do not be surprised by a real dragon or spend a long time rubbing only one part of an elephant. Exert yourself in the way that points directly to your original Buddha-nature. Respect those who have realised full knowledge and have nothing more to do. Become one with the wisdom of the Buddhas and succeed to the enlightenment of the patriarchs. If you do zazen for some time, you will realise all this. The treasure house will then open of itself, and you will be able to enjoy it to your heart’s content.
From the Nov 91 Buddhism Now.