Temple of Peace

Adult practice: Part 23
You have to "Fall in love with zazen!"

Last month we had a look at one version of "Instructions for Zazen" by Sawaki Kodo Roshi. Comparing them to a map, we found that it was a rather crude map that needs to be handled with a lot of care and good common sense, otherwise we will go astray. For the next couple of months I want to investigate a different set of "Instructions on how to sit correctly in zazen" by Sawaki Roshi. There are two versions, an older one which is included in the appendix of Sawaki's first book "Zendan" (lit: "Informal Zen talks", first published 1938. Sawaki actually never wrote a book by himself, so this book - like all the others - is a collection of talks), and a revised version which can be found in a Japanese booklet for beginners of Zen dating from 1968 (Sawaki Roshi died 1965).

Compared to the zazen instructions of last month, these versions can be called maps on a scale far closer to reality, but also including much more of the whole landscape. One reason for this difference is, I think, that the instructions in "Zendan" and the booklet were meant to be read by someone with no experience with Zen, while the instructions which we examined last month were probably oral instructions that were given out directly to the listeners in the sitting hall. These listerners most likely had no experience with Zen either, and maybe were lacking motivation to practice zazen in the first place, but Sawaki Roshi and his assitants were there to check and correct people's postures. That means that even when the Roshi tells people to "pull back your chin till it hurts" or to "point the anus straight backwards" he or his assitants were in a position to show the correct posture to the students by actually touching there bodies or giving an example with their own. So the listener could see with his own eyes and feel with his own body what the Roshi was aiming at, and thus knew when certain expressions were exaggerations. With a book that is not possible, so Sawaki Roshi had to be much more careful and detailed with his instructions here. Still, he beings them with the words:

"These are only simple instructions intended to help the beginner to actually practice and experience zazen in his own place. If there are readers who aspire to deep study of zazen, they might start with these instructions but then have to look for the guidance of a real teacher."

I won't be able to deal with every point of these instructions, but I would like to concentrate on those points which are not mentioned in the instructions we read last month (and there are quite a few). There are also "Introductions to Zazen" in English, which are widely available through Soto Zen dojos throughout the world. Two of them - one in a book called "Shikantaza", first published in 1985, the other almost identical but with different photographs in "Soto Zen", published in 2002 - seem to be based largely on the instructions that can be found in "Zendan". "Shikantaza" even features two photographs of Sawaki Roshi that stem from "Zendan" and are somewhat queer - I will talk about that later. Wherever there are major difference between the Japanese texts and these English versions, I will comment on them too.

The appendix of "Zendan" consists of two parts. The first is the Fukanzazengi in its old Japanese reading, as it is sometimes chanted during evening sitting in Zen dojos. The second part, which is twenty pages long, are the instructions I will be dealing with during the next months. They are mainly based on Keizan Jokin Zenji's Zazen-yojinki: For each instruction Sawaki gives, he quotes the respective passage from the Zazen-yojinki. To make things easier, I will omit most of the quotes from the Zazen-yojinki and rather quote from the English "Shikantaza" book whenever there is no essential discrepancy with the Japanese text of "Zendan".
First, let me give the contents of Sawaki Roshi's "Instructions on how to sit correctly in zazen":

1) Before you start with zazen
a) Where to sit
b) Physical preparations
c) What to wear
d) About the cushion

2) How to settle the body in zazen

3) What to keep in mind
a) Where to put the mind
b) About the attitude of the mind

4) Various things to watch out for during zazen
a) When you get sleepy
b) How to do kinhin (walking practice)
c) About the kyosaku (wake-up stick)
d) How to do gassho (hold hands with palms touching each other)
e) How to make prostrations
f) How long should one sitting be?
Before I start with the first point next month, I would like to have a look at the last point 4f) right now, as it is an important question that people ask me from time to time. Sawaki Roshi says:

"How long should one sitting be?

It is of vital importance that you give all of yourself during zazen, even if that zazen is only short. What is more important than the length of time you sit in zazen, is the question how serious your effort is? One period should be between 20 minutes and one hour long. If you think that you have to sit for as long as possible, the practice will only become a strain for you. It is more important that you sit regularly. You have to fall in love with zazen!"

When you sit with a group of practioners, you should of course sit just as long or short as everyone else does. No, you can not get up during zazen and take a rest in your room, but it is also not good to keep sitting in zazen when everyone else is doing kinhin because you think you have just reached a "deep state of samadhi" and don't want to interupt whatever it is you are doing there on the cushion. At Antaiji, a period is usually 45 minutes long during sesshin and one hour on the other days.
How long you want to sit is only a question when you sit on your own, and you have to find your own answer. What is most important here is Sawaki's last sentence: We have to fall in love with zazen, otherwise there is no way we continue with this practice which is "good for nothing". If you think that zazen is a kind of punishment - leave it!

<<< Previous chapter Contents Next chapter >>>

Switch to Japanese Switch to French Switch to German Switch to Spanish Switch to Italian Switch to Polish Switch to Russian