People sit for a variety of reasons. “Zen
meditation” may be encountered these days in
a variety of settings and presented with a variety
While these are all realistic and quite natural
motivations for meditating, in this course we are
approaching Zen meditation as a way
of addressing our questions of "Huh?"
What zazen is not
Let’s start by being clear about what zazen
is not. It is not
shutting things out.
a state of blankness.
a state of extreme passivity.
a self-improvement program.
thinking about something.
Zazen as meditation
“Meditation” is something of an umbrella
term for practices some of which are similar and
some of which very different. For now it’s
important for you to hear that in Zen meditation
not trying to shut out the external world, nor are
we trying to manipulate our minds artificially to
obtain some state of consciousness.
This may seem a
bit confusing. Remember that I described Buddha
as sitting under the Bodhi tree “... too
busy questioning.” How
do you question without thinking?
So for now, let’s say that zazen is studying
yourself but not thinking about yourself
(or anything else).
Meditation is a great deal more than simply concentration. Although concentration is an important part of the
zazen and you will learn techniques for zazen that
require concentration, it is not the discipline itself.
Think of times when you have been
truly focused. It may not be a smashed
thumb. Perhaps it's playing a musical
instrument, playing sports, caring
for a child, listening to music...
Try to recall that concentrated
The first practice in learning to sit zazen is to
calm and quiet the mind. This
practice enables you to pay attention for extended
periods of time without being constantly interrupted
by your stream of consciousness, thoughts, memories
or emotions. You develop an ability to simply sit
still, like a cat watching a mouse hole, waiting
patiently without expecting anything.
The goal of zazen is the maintenance of this
steady, calm, quiet state. In
this state you experience an attenuation of
tendency to either identify with the contents of
your mind or to comment upon it, either
jugementally or analytically.
Reaching this goal requires the
investment of time and energy to the
practice of concentratiton. Over time wih concentration
you build a kind of mental muscle that allows you
to experience your internal and environemental worlds
as one thing, without either identifying with the
contents of our mind or playing with them in the
form of internal commentary.
What is zazen? The word is a Japanese
rendering of the Chinese tso-chan which
is in turn a transliteration of the Sanskrit term dhyana – which
is usually translated as meditation. As za means
sitting, zazen is sitting zen.
Zazen is also referred to as sitting meditation.
Dhyana, however, has meanings beyond what we usually
think of as “meditation.”
Dhyana can also mean stillness – a dynamic
stillness – and from that perspective zazen
is more than an activity (“meditating”),
it is also something one is.
Set aside all involvements
and let the myriad things rest. Zazen
is not thinking good, not thinking
bad. It is not conscious endeavor.
It is not introspection. Dogen
Dhyana also refers to a state beyond dualities,
beyond subject and object, a state in which one apprehends
unity in the presence of what we normally experience
Because the term “meditation” is used
in so many different ways by different people, in
this course we will use the word zazen, which encompasses
the states of dhyana I’ve mentioned which soon
we’ll explore a bit more.
But please hear this right now, at the beginning
of this meditation course: while much of this course
is instruction on sitting Zen, zazen is not just
Zenji isn’t just giving a lecture
on how to do zazen; he is, in fact, really
urging everybody to do it. Taizan
The same is true for this course.
Remember Bodhidharma's words about
special transmission outside the
not on words and letters;
directly to the human mind;
into one's nature, one becomes