Zazen is a particular form of mindful meditation as practiced within Japanese Zen Buddhist traditions. Some see it as a particularly austere form of meditation, but I have found it to be extremely beneficial – even if, at times, like all forms of mindful meditation, it can be very challenging. One distinguishing feature of zazen is the emphasis placed on undivided attention to the whole field of consciousness, rather than on a particular aspect or focus of perception, thought or emotion.
Zen is a Japanese word, meaning ‘meditation’ (Chan, in Chinese). Zazen, means ‘sitting meditation’. Another term for zazen, is, shikan-taza – lit. ‘to sit single-mindedly’ – sitting just to sit. That is, of one mind, whole, unified, complete unto yourself as an ever-changing being, causally interdependent upon everything in the ever-changing universe. Undivided attention. Awake to whatever arises – yet abiding nowhere in particular. In the Chan tradition, this form of meditation is often known as ‘silent illumination’ or ‘the method of no-method.’
The Zen teacher, Sekkei Harada, writes: to practice zazen is ‘to sit in a dignified manner, without being moved by what is seen, heard, [felt] or thought’. That is, not moved by what happens in our embodied minds – events do not disturb us and become attached to us, we are not dragged around by them – we are free and untroubled. We attend to the whole field of consciousness without being drawn to anything in particular. We are free of attachment to experiences, yet we are present in their coming and going. We let go of the discriminating, acquisitive, reactive mind, and realise our Buddha nature, our non-dwelling mind, Zen mind. In this way, we learn to live in harmony with the ever-changing and interdependent processes of existence – we are at one with our flowing mind.
Another Zen teacher, Kodo Sawaki: ‘in zazen we become transparent’.
Kodo’s student, Kosho Uchiyama: ‘Zazen is a posture that enables us to see through the illusions of our thinking selves’. He also said: ‘What’s wrong with toddling and limping along the path of life, practicing zazen’.
Many Zen teachers have referred with approval to the Six Precepts (or Advices), of Tilopa (988-1069) – a north Indian Buddhist teacher: no thought; no reflection; no analysis; no cultivation; no intention; let it settle itself.
Over time, the practice of zazen gives rise to equanimity, poise, peace of mind, tolerance and compassion – however this is not the goal of zazen – these are gifts that arrive unintended and undemanded.