Temple of Peace

Adult practice: Part 10
Ideal and Reality

Breath the breath of your whole life, each single breath, each single moment.

For the last three months I have been reflecting about the first impressions I got at Antaiji. I described how the image of "zen" that I had as an university student differed quite a lot from the life that I found in the Zen monastery. And just as I wrote before, I was especially surprised to find the monks mostly sleeping during zazen. This reality drastically contradicted the romantic idea that I had of Zen practice.

I realize that I am pretty good at finding other people's faults. I am not so good though at seeing my own faults. I also have the tendency to look for my ideal somewhere "out there", and when I can not find it in reality, I will blame it on my surroundings and the people I see there. But isn't it myself who has to realize the ideal in reality, rather than wait for the ideal to jump out of reality like a jack-out-of-the-box? I think it was this simple point that Miyaura Roshi wanted me and all of his other disciples to wake up to when he told us that "you create Antaiji". But because we do not understand this simple point, we get disappointed by the reality we find and start to hate our environs, or we go to the other extreme and throw our ideal into the trash box, fooling ourselves into thinking that this is what is called "to accept things as they are". Needless to say, both ways to react to reality have nothing to do with what I call "adult practice".

When we deal with the problem of sleeping during zazen, adult practice has to start with two realizations: First, we have to realize that we are actually sleeping. Second, we have to realize that it is ourselves that are sleeping.
Both things seem to be trivial, but actually it is more difficult than we would expect. Last month I already referred to an episode that happened on one day, when the snoring during the morning zazen had been especially loud. During the tea-meeting of that day, our teacher, Miyaura Roshi, remarked: "Zazen and sleep are not the same thing. Don't fool yourselfs!"
After the meeting, the monk with the snore said: "Who was he possibly talking about? I didn't see anyone sleeping!" One of his Dharma-brothers replied: "Why, of course not, it was you!" This again led to his remark: "Oh really, well, maybe that's just how it is. Can't be helped..."
When we are really fast asleep, it is only natural that we do not realize that we are sleeping. The problem starts when someone opens our eyes to the reality. Do we realize that only we can take responsibility for our zazen, and that if we want to wake up, we have to wake up by ourselves? Later, the monk with the snore left Antaiji, and I was surprised to find his words on the Internet:

"I received instruction in the tradition of Sawaki Kodo Roshi. What I was told was to just shut up and sit. Things like concentrating on the breath or counting the breath are forbidden there, that is why the demons of sleep overcame me, or I was usurped by random thoughts."
"The problem is that we do not know exactly what just sitting (shikantaza) is. I think the most important help to let us know is our master."
"It is a big difference to understand Dogen Zenji's Fukanzazengi as a practical instruction to be used in one's actual daily life, rather than some lofty theory with no relation to one's practice. If you have no special means to make you realize this point clearly, you will never get a grip on your mind. You will be like a kindergarten kid trying to study at university."

When we read these quotes, we have to see clearly the difference between a childish attitude and adult practice. Otherwise we will fall into the same pit hole.
First, about the remark that concentrating on the breath or counting the breath are forbidden in the tradition of Sawaki: This is certainly not true (and my brother knew that very well). In his "Instructions for Zazen", which unfortunately I haven't translated into English at the present moment, Sawaki Roshi quotes Keizan Zenji's "Zazenyojinki" when discussing the question where to put the mind during zazen.

Sawaki Roshi says: "If your mind is distracted put it on the tip of your nose, or in your lower belly (tanden) area. Or you can also count your breath."

Uchiyama Roshi, Sawaki Roshi's disciple, says in an article (which you find in full here):

"Breathe the breath of your whole life, each single breath, each single moment. To live means to breathe this breath right now, and therefore to live your "raw/fresh" life naturally doesn't mean to think about it in your head. It means to accept life as life - as "raw, fresh and alive" - and to develope an attitude of living. When you do this, that is exactly (what Dogen Zenji calls in the "Bendowa") "the great matter of a life time of study coming to the end". It is also the start of true practice of shikantaza ("just sitting")".

Isn't it pretty obvious that words like these are NOT meant as "some lofty theory with no relation to one's practice"? What could they possibly be if not "a practical instruction to be used in one's actual daily life"? So how can we complain that because nobody taught us what shikantaza really is, "the demons of sleep overcame me, or I was usurped by random thoughts"?! I am repeating myself, but I have to say it again: When we sleep during zazen, WE sleep during zazen. Nobody else is responsible for that. It is a great mistake to blame it on the "demons of sleep" or on the missing instruction of the teacher. First of all, was that instruction really missing, or did we just not hear it, because it did not please our ears?

I am continuing to critize my Dharma-brother, but was he really so stupid that he did not understand such a trivial matter? Actually no, he certainly was not. He understood perfecly well in his head. Unfortunately, he did not practice it with his body. Although the monks at that time slept a lot during zazen, they discussed nothing more enthusiastically than questions like: "What the hell IS shikantaza ("just sitting")" "What does it really mean to practice the Buddha way?"
Especially this one Dharma brother of mine never stopped asking these questions to himself and others. All of his articles in the old "Antaiji Yearbooks" for example are dedicated to these questions.

I want to take a look at them next month, before I procede with my own experiences and difficulties. I also hope to offer some concrete suggestions of how to read "Instructions for Zazen" and the like, and how to deal with all kinds of difficulties during zazen and practice on the whole. Until then, I will have to ask for a lot of your patience.

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