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Dogen on Zen Sitting (Zazen)

"Only people who have experienced, in the mountain still state, the Zazen that is different from thinking, are able to grasp it." - Dogen, in Shobogenzo, Vol 4, p 247
"What is the spirit of practicing in a monastery?" Dogen said, "Just sit. Practice continuous sitting in a hall or pagoda. Don't socialize, but sit like a deaf or a dumb person. Take joy in sitting harmoniously with yourself." - Dogen, in Tanahashi 2004, 10

Sitting Zen

Zazen is another word for Zen contemplation (ie meditation), Zazen is the training in sitting and contemplating as hinted at below - and it is a very basic exercise in Zen:

The Tathagatas [Arrivers] of the past, present, and future and the patriarchs in India and China have also attained enlightenment through zazen. - Dogen, in the "Bendowa" chapter of the Shobogenzo

More of Dogen

There are innumerable ways of understanding Buddhism . . . [but] do zazen [and] The [inward] treasure house will then open of itself. You should enjoy it.

Having started from his outskirts he joins the way, but he has hardly begun -

Who possesses innate knowledge all the same has to practice awakening.

You may use a sitting posture (zazen) - or a lying posture.

Let reality manifest in a daily life. . . . Why give up your seat at home to wander in the dust and the dew on the grass?

There may be true students who are not concerned with fame and gain, who allow their thought of enlightenment to guide them and earnestly desire to practice the buddha way. - Dogen, in Tanahashi 2004, 13


Sit down and Train Yourself ☼

1. Sit down, get glad; gladness may be trained.

The sitting meditation practice in Soto Zen was imported from China by Dogen in the early 1200s. Furthermore, it is said to be essentially the same as the Mahamudra (Great Symbol) teachings of Northern Buddhism:

A useful and succinct formula of comparison for Chinese Zen and Tibetan Mahamudra is that Zen is esoteric Mahamudra and Mahamudra is exoteric Zen. - Professor Garma Chen-chi Chang (in Evans-Wentz 196xxx Tiy xxxix - More on it]

In contradistinction to the Mahamudra, the later Zen provides no 'map' for its students. [...] By offering to the novice a step-by-step guide to one end goal, the Mahamudra is closer to the Indian tradition, and perhaps easier and safer. - Professor Garma Chang (Ib.)

Go beyond thinking by observing serenely.

For beginners: do it for at least ten to fifteen minutes (preferably 25) every day.

Zen serenity and furtive living stem from recognizing things for what they are - in tune with: "Don't ever let others condition you." [Zuigan]

Dogen wrote an essential guide for Zen training - it is included in the English Shobogenzo translation too. (Nearman 2007; Cleary 1986)

Zazen gazing can melt away certain mind-forged distances.

The zazen of even one person at one moment imperceptibly accords with all things and fully resonates through all time. - Dogen, in Tanahashi 2004, 16

2. From deep within might be best.

You had better do the sitting in a quiet room. One session is to last about 30-35 minutes eventually.

Gladness from deep inside is called Giu-Zamhai in Zen. It is happiness from within that warms your heart. It is attuned to the real essence of our life. Buddha thought that Giu-Zamhai was to be reckoned with too. In fact, he taught Giu-Zamhai, gladness of being, a felicity which comes from inside of us. Thus, feel that you are alive and experience how bright the world can seem.

3. Train yourself in watching the natural flow of breath too. [That is one way of meditation and fit for many]

Train and exert yourself in breath-watching, and go on from there - investigate and probe well - and know yourself too.

So To make life fulfilling and rewarding, probe into meditation, come up with suitable outlets, and train yourself to observe and investigate candidly what courses around you - little by little as needs be: It may turn very worthwhile. 

What do you understand of the merit attained by reading sutras, chanting buddha's name, and so on? It is futile to think that just moving the tongue and making a sound is meritorious Buddhist activity. If you regard these as the buddha-dharma, it will be further and further away.

Actually, the meaning of studying sutras is that if you understand and follow the rules of practice for sudden or gradual realization taught by the buddha, you will . . . attain enlightenment. In studying sutras you should not expend thoughts in the vain hope that they will be helpful for attaining realization. . . .

To be consumed with words and letters while ignorant of the way of practice is like a physician forgetting how to prescribe medicine – what use can it be? - Dogen, in Tanahashi 2004, 18.

Dogen Recommendations

Nothing is separate from this very place; why journey away? - Dogen, in Tanahashi 2004, 3.

If you wander about and get an initial glimpse of understanding, you may still lack the vital path that allows you to leap free of the body. - Dogen, ib. 3

Turn the light inward. Your body-mind of itself will drop away and your original face will appear. - Dogen, ib. 4.

For zazen, a quiet room is appropriate. - Dogen, ib. 4.

In an appropriate place for sitting [you can sit] straight up without leaning to the right or left and without bending forward or backward. - Dogen, ib. 3-4, 8.

The zazen I speak of is . . . simply the dharma gate of enjoyment. - Dogen, ib. 5.

When you stand up from sitting, move your body slowly and rise calmly, without haste. - Dogen, ib. 5.

Practice-realization is . . . a matter for every day. - Dogen, ib. 5.

Why give up the sitting platform of your own house and wander uselessly in the dust of a remote land? - Dogen, ib. 6.

Having received a human life, do not waste the passing moments. - Dogen, ib. 6.

Form is like a dewdrop on the grass, life is like a flash of lightning – transient and illusory, gone in a moment. - Dogen, ib. 6.

Endeavor on the immediate. - Dogen, ib. 6.

Revere the mind that goes beyond study with effortless effort and surpasses all doing. - Dogen, ib. 6.

The concentrated endeavor of the way I am speaking of allows all things to come forth in realization to practice beyondness in the path of letting go. - Dogen, ib. 12.

An ancestor said, extolling it, "Zazen is the dharma gate of enjoyment and ease." Thus, we know that sitting practice, among the four bodily presences, is the way of enjoyment and ease. - Dogen, ib. 21.

I recommend to students who are already studying with a teacher, as well as all those distinguished people who seek for the truth of buddha-dharma, to practice zazen and endeavor in the way under the guidance of an authentic teacher, and investigate the teaching of the buddha ancestors without distinguishing between beginning or advanced, and without being concerned with ordinary or sacred. - Dogen, ib. 22.


Dogen on meditation, Koso Joyo Daishi, Dogen Zenji, Dogen Kigen, Eihei Dogen of Soto Zen, Mahayana Buddhism, Literature  

Abe, Masao. A Study of Dogen: His Philosophy and Religion. Ed. Steven Heine. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1992.

Bielefeldt, Carl. Dogen's Manuals of Zen Meditation. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1988.

Cleary, Thomas, tr. Eihei Koroku I-V: Speeches of Zen Master Dogen. Amazon Kindle ed. 2013.

Cleary, Thomas, tr. Shobogenzo: Zen Essays by Dogen. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1986.

Dogen, Eihei. Beyond Thinking: A Guide to Zen Meditation. Ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi. Boston: Shambala, 2004.

Leighton, Taigen Daniel, Shohaku Okumura, trs. Dogen's Pure Standards for the Zen Community: A Translation of the Eihei Shingi. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1996.

Masunaga, Reiho tr: A Primer of Soto Zen. A Translation of Dogen's Shobogenzo Zuimonki. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1975.

Nearman, Hubert, tr. Shobogenzo: The Treasure House of the Eye of the True Teaching. Mount Shasta, CA: Shasta Abbey Press, 2007. On-line.

Tanahashi, Kazuaki, ed. Beyond Thinking: A Guide to Zen Meditation. London: Shambhala, 2004.

Tanahashi, Kazuaki, and John Daido Loori, trs. The True Dharma Eye: Zen Master Dogen's Three Hundred Koans with Commentary and Verse by John Daido Loori. Boston: Shambhala, 2011.

Waddell, Norman, and Masao Abe, trs. The Heart of Dogen's Shobogenzo. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2002.

Harvesting the hay

Symbols, brackets, signs and text icons explained: (1) Text markers(2) Digesting.

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