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Manifest this place of holding on to nothing at all and deepen from its wisdom...
Harada Roshi

Teisho on Hakuin Zenji´s Song of Zazen #4

The zazen of the Buddha is full lotus. It is called Kekka fuza in Japanese, taking the right foot and placing it on the left thigh, then taking the left foot and placing it as deep as possible on the right thigh. I am saying this from my own experience that it is important to tuck in the feet deeply. Most people feel that this is too tight and place the foot only slightly on the thigh. If we do this, we twist our knees and easily hurt our knees. Since they will start to hurt, finally we put our legs down again. If we continue in this way, we will never be able to sit for many hours and our zazen will be more about fighting with our pain in the legs. More and more we become unable to sit correctly, and even our posture becomes worse and worse.


When we sit in this way, the soles of our feet face upward towards the heavens. This shows that our lower back is tucked in correctly, and our posture is correct. You may think this is difficult, yet for young people it is easy. It may not be so easy when you get older. You can sit in half lotus if full lotus is not easy for you. Yet even when sitting in half lotus, it is important to place the feet deep onto the thigh or else this posture looses its meaning. When you get used to sitting in this way you will understand yourself. If you do not tuck in your feet deeply, then for certain you will hurt your knees. This is what you have to be aware of. The knees cannot be twisted, thus placing the feet deeply on the thigh actually is more natural to our body.


It is good to check for oneself, if the pain in your legs stops as soon as you get up, you will not damage your legs and knees, yet if that pain remains, your posture needs to be improved.
This base is important so that our whole being can become refreshed.


Dogen Zenji went to China and did sanzen under Tendo Nyojo Zenji. At that time, he said to Dogen Zenji, if you truly want to experience awakening, place your concentration in the palm of your left hand. Gather the energy in the palm and for certain your whole being will become clear. We do not get fooled by extraneous thoughts any more. This is how Tendo Nyojo Zenji taught Dogen Zenji from his own experience.


So now our feet and legs are in position, our hands are settled as well, now we need to look at our lower back. Our lower back consist of 5 vertebrae, that let us move freely, yet that is where it becomes tricky. The lower back tends to bend backwards that is why we use a cushion during zazen. It helps for our lower back to stay straight, yet that is not good enough. It is those lower 5 vertebrae that support the rest of the spine and let it rise up straight. Thus we need to add some tension as if we are pulling the lower and at the same time we start to feel some pressure in our lower abdomen, just below the belly button. This shows us that while we are sitting, we are more and more entering our own center. The place where we feel energy is called the ocean of energy our tanden. This is the gathered universal energy, all stars, all galaxies move according with this very same energy. This same energy is what protects our health. In Japanese it is called Genki, the energy from the source. Then we breathe and eat yet the universal energy is the base of our health. Whenever our legs fall asleep or we experience pain in our body, this only happens when the flow of the energy is being obstructed. When our zazen ripens, we are able to release blockages of energy. That is where the difference to a beginner is. Zazen is about whether we are in control of our own energy or whether the energy controls us. This energy in our tanden is able to influence the skeletal muscles. If we are not centered in our tanden, we easily feel dizzy, become emotional and easily overwhelmed, depressed and tired. This state cannot be treated with medication but only by us making efforts and again centering ourselves.


When we sit, we put sight pressure in our lower back and feel the tanden as our center. This center is important also when we practice martial art and Kyudo archery.
From there our spine rises up straight and when tucking in our chin, we can feel that we are the connection between heaven and earth.

In a Zen monastery we practice the change between sitting and moving, taking that immovable place from our zazen into our samu, giving this unattached free stated of mind life in our actions, and again returning in our sitting to that place, where we all originate.
It is important for a person of training to see drink and food as medicine which supports us on our path. Thus the time of the meal should be set and each day the same, and the amounts also should not differ too much each time.


If we follow these guidances of the ancients, our mind can settle more easily and become quiet. Samadhi can be experienced more easily. It is best to not eat too late then our blood does not become sluggish and thick. Then we can enter samadhi more easily during evening zazen. The same is true for the amount of time that we sleep, it cannot be too much neither too little. Either way it is difficult to keep up with deepening the essence.
A quiet surrounding is supportive, thus places like monasteries and zendos were build. During our daily life, we need to find a similar place where we can settle within. Even sitting a little bit each day is important.
A good posture and balance during zazen are essential, thus a tick cushion will support our body during many hours of sitting. It would be best to use a cushion made of natural materials, which is filled with cotton or wool. The same true for our zazen clothes, being of natural fiber, they should be comfortable yet not too loose and sluggish.

Body and mind are at one. When we move, our body, our mind become one, completely alive. When we sit quietly, we cannot let any noise arise in our mind. During zazen mind and body become one. Whether we move or sit, there is no difference to be experienced. That is the important point of zazen.


When eating, we simply eat, when we sit we simply sit. The state of mind of being in oneness.
The Japanese Noh theatre is often said to be moving zen. Zazen is moving forth as Noh. The body is in action, yet the mind is not the slightest bit in motion.
The same is true for Kyudo Japanese archery. Not trying to aim at the goal, but if our posture is correct, then the target will come towards us. Thus we learn a correct posture in the practice of zazen. While in motion we try to find that which stays immovable.
When we do zazen, we are quiet within our body, we do not move, yet we cannot get stuck on the idea of not moving during zazen or else it is dead zazen. Dead zazm is of no purpose for our daily life. If we sit zazen with closed eyes and only face within, we are as if stuck to our ego, and for actual work in society, this does not help the slightest bit. We need to open our eyes and be with that which appears right in front of them. Or else it may seem that we have become quiet in mind because we sit quietly, yet we cannot keep this state of mind when we open our eyes.


That is why these words are so important: Mind and Body becoming one. When we sit, when we work, in our daily life. When the body moves, the mind moves along with the body. When we sit, our mind moves along with the body, which is immovable, thus the mind becomes immovable. There is no difference between motion and being quiet. That is what we need to be able to experience for it being true zazen.


Takuan Zenji practiced Kendo (path of the sword) from young age himself, and when he becamse a zen monk who experienced splendid satori, and brought the path to completion. He was the teacher of the sword master and shogun Yagyu Tajima no Kami. The connection between the two was deep, the conversations between them are written down in the book: The unfettered mind. In this book people easily misunderstand the words on “immovable mind” as being a state of mind which does not move. That is a big mistake. Yagyu Tajima no Kami was a fighter, facing life and death in each single moment, if he were to be immovable like a stone or tree, then the opponent simply would strike him down. That is not even a true fight. To be immovable in mind does not mean to not move, but for our mind to not get caught by anything, not stopping anywhere. Taking the other completely into our awareness, the tip of the sword is within us, our own existence, win and loss as well, living and dying – all is within our mind yet we do not get caught by any of these. Thus if we see the slightest gap in the other, we can cut straight into it. We can carefully take in each person´s motion and act accordingly. This is how zazen works.

Because we do not hold onto any particular aspect, slowly our mind becomes purified. More and more, whether we are in motion or whether we are still – there is no difference being experienced there.




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