The Wisdom Blog: Classic & Contemporary Buddhism

Monday Mindful Morsel: The Art of Just Sitting

by Lydia Anderson
December 16, 2013
Mon, 12/16/2013 - 10:30 -- landerson

Today's morsel comes from the compliation, The Art of Just Sitting: Essential Writings on the Zen Practice of Shikantaza, edited by John Daido Loori. The selection below is from “Zazen Yojinki: Notes on What To Be Aware of in Zazen” by Keizan Jokin, translated by Yasuda Joshu and Anzan Hoshin. Here Keizan Jokin gives instructions for zazen, including where (and where not to) sit and live:

When you are sitting in zazen, do not prop yourself up against a wall, meditation brace, or screen. Also, do not sit in windy places or high, exposed places, as this can cause illness.

Sometimes, when you are sitting, you may feel hot or cold, discomfort or ease, stiff or loose, heavy or light, or sometimes startled. These sensations arise through disharmonies of mind and breath-energy. Harmonize your breath in this way: open your mouth slightly, allow long breaths to be long, and short breaths to be short, and it will harmonize naturally. Follow it for awhile until a sense of awareness arises and your breath will be natural. After this, continue to breathe through the nose.

The mind may feel as if it were sinking or floating, it may seem dull or sharp. Sometimes you can see outside the room, the insides of the body, the forms of Buddhas or Bodhisattvas. Sometimes you may believe that you have wisdom and now thoroughly understand all the sutras and commentaries. These extraordinary conditions are diseases that arise through disharmony of mind and breath. When this happens, sit placing the mind in the lap. When the mind sinks into dullness, raise attention above your hairline or before your eyes. When the mind scatters into distraction, place attention at the tip of the nose or at the tanden [hara]. After this, rest attention in the left palm. Sit for a long time and do not struggle to calm the mind and it will naturally be free of distraction.

Although the ancient Teachings are a long-standing means to clarify the mind, do not read, write about, or listen to them obsessively because such excess only scatters the mind.

Generally, anything that wears out bodymind causes illness. Don’t sit where there are fires, floods, or bandits, by the ocean, near bars, brothels, where widows or virgins live, or near where courtesans sing and play music. Don’t live near kings, ministers, powerful or rich families, people with many desires, those who crave name and fame, or those who like to argue meaninglessly. Although large Buddhist ceremonials and the construction of large temples might be good things, one who is committed to practice should not get involved.

Don’t be fond of preaching the Dharma, as this leads to distraction and scattering. Don’t be delighted by huge assemblies or run after disciples. Don’t try to study and practice many different things.

Do not sit where it is too bright or too dark, too cold or too hot. Do not sit where pleasure-seekers or whores live. Go and stay in a monastery where there is a true teacher. Go deep into the mountains and valleys. Practice kinhin by clear waters and verdant mountains. Clear the mind by a stream or under a tree. Observe impermanance without fail and you will keep the mind that enters the Way.

The mat should be well padded so that you can sit comfortably. The practice place should always be kept clean. Burn incense and offer flowers to the Dharma Protectors, the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and your practice will be protected. Put a statue of a Buddha, Bodhisattva, or arhat on the altar and demons of distraction will not overwhelm you.

Remain always in Great Compassion, and dedicate the limitless power of zazen to all living beings.

Do not become arrogant, conceited, or proud of your understanding of the Teachings; that is the way of those outside of the Way and of usual people. Maintain the vow to end afflictions, the vow to realize Awakening and just sit. Do nothing at all. This is the way to study Zen.

Wash your eyes and feet, keep bodymind at ease and deportment in harmony. Shed worldly sentiments and do not become attached to sublime feelings about the Way. Though you should not begrudge the Teachings, do not speak of it unless you are asked. If someone asks, keep silent three times; if still they ask from their heart, then give the teachings. If you wish to speak ten times, keep quiet nine; it’s as if moss grew over your mouth or like a fan in winter. A wind-bell hanging in the air, indifferent to the direction of the wind—this is how people of the Way are.

Do not use the Dharma for your own profit. Do not use the Way to try to make yourself important. This is the most important point to remember.

To read more from The Art of Just Sitting, click here.

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