We concentrate our mind and settle our mind in zazen. We do this not to get somewhere, a certain state, but to avail ourselves of the most useful and serviceable mind possible in order to live our lives and help others. I’ve had a deeper understanding of this recently.
It was very hard for me to let go of the idea that I was going somewhere in zazen. I was very attached to special states:
1. Rapture and energetic bliss states
3. Profound silence
These are but by-products of concentration. They are very inspiring, but also, simply, part of the landscape that flows past us as we sit. But they are not “it”. What does the Sandokai say, “Merging with emptiness is still not enlightenment”. Just as we don’t cling to anything, we let go too of these special states. What emerges, then, is a pliant and fluid mind that receives everything, beyond our speculations of good or bad, right or wrong, special or ordinary. We receive and manifest our life in simplicity. Some of the Tibetan teachers say, “It's so easy and simple, you just can’t believe it.” In this simplicity, the special states can come back to us as a continuous sense of awe. But this awe is grounded in our actual karmic lives as human beings.
What are we doing when we concentrate, then? It is clearing up our minds so that our non-reactive awareness is strong, still, and open. So much so, that we can actually experience the present moment “as it is” in its full vitality without commentary. “As it is”, means, to be completely one with the particulars of the passing landscape as they arise. And because our minds are concentrated, we can fully, clearly see the present arising. Ironically, as we see it, it is also gone.
Katagiri Roshi writes of zazen: “To live our lives fully from moment to moment, we must learn to settle into the vast openness of the sky. This is zazen. We see both sides of every experience – enlightenment and delusion. Real zazen is when our bodies and minds are completely balanced. Just try to be right in the middle of the world.”
Here is a poem by Ryokan, the 18th century Zen priest/poet that illustrates how the sacred becomes ordinary, the life of our 24 hours, with my commentary in parentheses.
Carrying firewood on my shoulder
(This is exactly our daily life, the task in front of us to do, the mundane details and chores of life itself)
I walk in the green mountains along bumpy roads
(Our journey in life has many vicissitudes, up and down, success and failure, bumpy, indeed!)
I stop to rest under a tall pine;
(ah, the sacred pause. The surrender of our false sense of control that brings relaxation)
Sitting quietly, I listen to the spring song of the birds.
(This is clear seeing and hearing. Permeating seeing and hearing and manifesting as nirvana.)