Dogen writes in Jijuyu Zanmai that “when one displays the Buddha mudra or Buddha seal with one’s whole body and mind, one is expressing unfabricated and profound prajna.”
The Buddha seal is like a stamp or a seal of authenticity. Our effort to take the posture of a Buddha during zazen is allowing the Buddha seal to be stamped on us. Strictly speaking, it is always stamped on us and on all beings and all phenomena. Our inherent Buddha nature is always present but in addition to that, consciously, we are abandoning our afflictions and allowing ourselves to surrender to the Buddha seal. We are surrendering to a Buddha form and in doing that; we are letting go of all the resistances.
In order to sit zazen, especially during a longer retreat, the schedule and the form of sesshin force us to let go of our own desire system of like and dislike. We let go of our greed, hate and delusion, and our clinging to any sense perceptions, in order to simply sit down and follow the schedule.
This is as Dogen’s teacher Nyojo Zenji said, “Dropping off body and mind is to get rid of our 5 desires and 5 coverings.” The 5 desires are the grabbing on that comes through the 5 senses (seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching). The 6 covering are similar to the hindrances: greed, anger or hatred, sleepiness or dullness, distraction, doubt, with the addition of ignorance.
I didn’t really believe Katagiri Roshi when he said all I had to do was “sit down and shut up”. I wanted there to be some huge peak experience where everything changes permanently and suffering disappears. Such a dualistic and compartmentalized notion I had! What I didn’t understand is that the human act of sitting down and shutting up, of going beyond my belief systems and my desires, is in itself, dropping off body and mind. Though there are moments of peak experience and there are subtle and gross levels of dropping off body and mind, the main point is that in any moment that you go beyond your own grasping and the afflictions of the 3 poisons; greed, anger and ignorance, etc; that is dropping off body and mind. Our efforts are truly not in vain and our efforts are in the present moment, not the future. Practicing in this way builds up the momentum of dropping off body and mind and that momentum brings a continually deepening understanding of what “dropping off body and mind” means.
Our zazen belongs to the Buddha. It is the Buddha seal, no matter what our evaluations of it are.
As Shokaku Okumura Roshi says, “Take an upright posture, breath through our nose, keep our eyes open, holding our hands in Buddha mudra, let go of everything coming up in our minds, this is how we show our whole Buddha mudra/seal. This action belongs to Buddha, not to any one of us. This action gives up owning these 5 skandhas. We don’t use them during sitting. We offers our 5 skandhas to Buddha, for the sake of Buddha.”