Body and Mind

From the very beginning please see the practice of zazen not just as a mental activity (nor as a physical discipline) but as an operation of the unified body and mind.

Do you experience your body and mind as separate? Before reading this lesson, reflect on how you do experience mind/body unity. Reflect on how you might.

The experience of this body and mind as is is the plain, universal fact that all the ancient masters realized. It is the realization that the Way is complete. Taizan Maezumi Roshi

All things originate from the mind. When the whole mind is silent, all appearances end. …the essence lies in emptying and opening body and mind so they are vast as space, then you will naturally be complete everywhere.  Hung-chih Cheng-chueh

In this course we will examine zazen from three perspectives:

  • Physical posture
  • The process of breathing
  • The practice of mindfulness

Please keep in mind that while I’m separating the elements of practice for teaching purposes, in reality body, breath and mind coexist and mutually influence each other. The more stable your posture, the more well-aligned you can make your spine, the easier and more natural your breathing can become and the quieter your mind will be. The clearer your mind and the stronger your concentration, the more readily you will be able to maintain upright posture and not distract yourself by fidgeting or changing position.

The body/mind pond

Let me introduce an image that we can use as we look at working with our body and mind.

Learning to sit still and calm with a comfortable, balanced posture, you cease to stir up waves. Learning to breathe naturally, you calm the surface of the pond still more and bring yourself closer to the mirror-state of still water.

Siddhartha set off upon a journey of self-exploration and study

Rather than read about what Zen meditation is, let's start doing it. In the next module I take you through the step-by-step process of doing zazen. After you have some experience with zazen, you can return in the last module to some of the discussions we’ve started here.

It is not an easy path. It is not easy to brush away the delusions that cloud emancipating truth. Without religious devotion, Zen becomes a kind of hobby. Without the Great Death and Great Rebirth, it becomes a kind of self-improvement exercise. It is not a subject to be mastered with a certain form or a certain curriculum, but a lifetime training. Yet with the devotion and rebirth so clearly manifest here, how easy it all is! Robert Aitken Roshi