Being Thoroughly Familiar with the True Self

Sekkei Harada

Excerpts from The Essence of Zen: The Teachings of Sekkei Harada
Translated and edited by Daigaku Rumme – Wisdom Publications

The Essence of Zen is an expert's guided tour of the ins and outs of the tradition's approach to meditation, enlightenment, and the oneness of all things. To read it is to enter into one of modern Japanese Zen's most subtle and sophisticated minds.

Sekkei Harada skillfully pushes us to drop those parts of ourselves that grasp and make demands regarding our understanding or progress in meditation practice. He enables us to see clearly-and steer clear of-the philosophical stumbling blocks that can make the path precarious.

The Essence of Zen represents the most succinct of his teachings, making it of immediate value to anyone with an interest in Zen. The book also contains Harada's explanations of the differences between the tradition's primary schools, making it particularly helpful to newcomers.


In what way can you become familiar or intimate with your true self? Zen, the Dharma, and the Way point the direction. Consequently, Zen, zazen, and the Way are all means to take us to the world of the Dharma. Many people, though, are greatly mistaken on this point. They think it is sufficient simply to do zazen, or simply to seek the Way, and this is the end of it for them. I would like to explain why this type of thinking is mistaken.
The present population of the earth is said to be almost six billion, or even more. This means that each of us is one of these six billion people. Each of us is irreplaceable; we each have our individual existence. This is something that must be clearly discerned. First, we must see our own essential Self, and then it is necessary to make sure that we live our lives with our feet firmly on the ground. We are each one part of six billion people, and we must ascertain that we are truly the only person in the whole universe, someone who doesn't need to rely on Buddha, the Dharma, or the Sangha. This is the first step in being familiar or intimate with the true Self.


I would like to tell you a story from China. You may be familiar with the name of Joshu, who was a priest long ago. One day a monk asked him, "I am just a beginner in the practice of Zen. Please teach me how to do zazen." Joshu said, "Have you eaten breakfast? .... Yes," replied the monk, "I've had plenty for breakfast." Joshu said, "That's fine. Then wash your bowl and put it away." At that point the monk, who had resolved to seek the Dharma was just beginning the practice of zazen, said "I understand. Now I realize the direction of practice." So he went off happily.

There is an important point in the story for those of us who practice. We tend to think of our eating bowls as things that are outside of us. Yet Joshu said, "Wash your bowl and put it away." What does the bowl signify? You yourself. Each one of you must clean yourself thoroughly and then bring the matter of the ego-self to a conclusion. If Joshu's words are not understood in this way, a great mistake will arise. We perceive Zen, the Dharma, and the Way to be outside of ourselves. But it is a serious error to create a distance between yourself and these things in this manner. If you make a separation between yourself and what you are looking for, no matter how much effort you make to lessen that distance, that effort will be in vain.

It is a mistake to look for something that is far off in the distance. The Dharma is something that is everywhere at any time.


I come from Japan, but Zen, the Dharma, and the Way do not exist solely in Japan. Zen, the Dharma, and the Way--these are things that cannot be exported. Since they cannot be exported, they cannot be imported. Consequently, that which has been imported from India, China, or Korea in not Zen, the Dharma, or the Way; these are each of you--your reality as-it-is. The reason I say this is so that you will understand that reality as-it-is is Zen, the Dharma, and the Way.

But if you do not "walk the Way," it will never be possible to reach your destination. The first human being to awaken and realize he himself was the Way was Shakyamuni Buddha. It was not the case, however, that he grasped something new. For those who believe in the Way of the Buddha and aspire to practice Zen, it is only natural that they will practice in the manner taught by Shakyamuni Buddha and the enlightened ones of India, China, and Japan who transmitted the Dharma.

If you clearly and certainly walk the Way, you will awaken to yourself. However, if you create a distance between yourself and Zen, the Dharma, and the Way, even if you walk the Way, I think you'll always feel great anxiety as to whether you will be able to truly realize the Way or not.

Since the Way and Zen is your condition as-it-is, there will definitely come a time when you realize, "Ah! So that's how it is!" There is no doubt about this. It will take longer for some of you to reach this point than others, but nevertheless you will definitely realize it. For some people it has taken thirty years to realize themselves, it took Shakyamuni six years. Others have realized in a single day. It varies from person to person. However, it will undoubtedly happen.

Shakyamuni Buddha gave the following example to indicate how certain this is: If you hold a stick in your hand and aim for the ground below you, no matter which way you strike the ground, it is impossible to miss it. In the same way, it is impossible not to come to an understanding of the true Self if you seek the Dharma and Zen.


There is a story about a priest named Zuigan. Each morning, on awakening, he would always address himself, saying, "Master, master!" which could also be translated as "True Self, true Self!" He would ask himself, "Master, are you awake?" He would answer, "Yes, yes." And then he would say, "Don't be fooled by others." Whereupon he would answer, "No, no." This was his practice.

We are apt to forget our true Self. "To forget" means that we are always out traveling and away from home and so our home--or body--is vacant. We will be in a condition where we always think that sometime in the future, eventually, we must return home.
You may be familiar with the great thirteenth-century Zen master, Master Dogen. At first he traveled to Ghina in search of the Way. This was a condition in which his true Self was absent. But then he met Tendo Nyojo, another Zen master, and was able to "cast off body and mind." How did he express what he had attained?

The eyes are horizontal
The nose is vertical.
I won't be fooled by others.
The Buddhadharma does not exist in the least.

In another story, old Master Joshu said, "Before I knew that the Way is myself, I was used by time. But after I realized that the Way is myself, I was no longer used by time. Now I am able to live using time." For Joshu, hot was still hot, cold was still cold, and pain was still pain. He was still the same person--and yet depending on whether Joshu realized his true nature or not, he lived being used by things or he lived being able to use things.
The fact is that each of you possesses the same power as Joshu. By becoming intimate with Zen, you will understand how it is possible to find and master this power. When you do, each of you will be Joshu, Dogen, and Shakyamuni Buddha.


In Buddhism there are three principal teachings: all things are impermanent; all things are without self-nature; and all things dwell in the peace and quiet of Nirvana. The first of these--all things are impermanent means that there is no condition that is fixed or determined for any length of time. It is not a matter of there being one thing that is undergoing change. It means that things---including yourself--are always changing and are without a center or an essence. As human beings we are always perceiving through the senses; which means that we are cognizant or aware of things. We can only perceive past and future. All anxieties--the opposite of peace of mind--as well as agitation, restlessness, and haste, arise from either the past or the future.

As I said earlier, the present moment is a condition where there is absolutely no separation between yourself and things. This is not to say, though, that there exists such a thing as the present moment. The condition we refer to as "now" is one where there is truly between yourself and other things. When you don't have peace of mind, this means that you are in a condition in which you are constantly aware of a distance between yourself and other things. In our present life, regardless of whether we know it or not, we are one with things. This is what is meant by the challenging expression "all things are impermanent."

No one remembers the time when they were born, the time they emerged from their mother's womb. In the same way, there is no one who knows their own death, thinking "I've just died." We know neither our birth nor our death. We first become aware of ourselves at the age of three or four. If we live to the age 0f eighty, during the intervening years we experience many things that are good and bad. There is gain and loss, there is this thing and that, but whose life is it.~ This world of perception and cognition--what we usually think of as the way human life must be or should be--this is all the life of the ego. Zen is the means that can help you discover the true nature of the ego.
When people are asked to give proof that they are living, they often cite the fact that they can see and hear and feel things. But this is not proof that you are living. It is merely a description of living. You perceive your self, the ego, "me," and then simply describe your present condition by saying that because you can see and hear and feel you are living. Someone who is dead cannot, obviously, describe what the condition of death is like. The reason is that it is already their reality. There is a problem of how to demonstrate the reality of living without description.

Even if you are aware of minute changes within the flux of events, you must understand that it is the ego that knows it and n6t the true Self. This means that with regard to our whole life, as long as the thing we call "me" does not stop intervening, it is not possible to lead a life that is truly free and peaceful. You already are free, but since you want freedom, you lose it. Consequently, it is necessary to free yourself from thinking that things must be this way or that way. This too is the meaning of the first teaching, "all things are impermanent."

The second teaching states "All things are without self-nature." As all things are selfless, this means there is no possibility of grasping on to something as your unchanging essence. For example, imagine it is now 8:00 in the evening. Let us say we go to bed at 10:00 and drift off to sleep without knowing it. While sleeping, who knows that they are asleep? Most likely, there is no one who is aware that they are fast asleep. In the same wa~, when we awake, it is not possible to be aware of awakening. All you can do is, by perceiving "this thing" (the body), say you are "awakened." But who is it, through perceiving "this thing," that calls it "you"?

No one can think two thoughts at the same time. If you were asked to think a good thought and a bad thought at the same time, it would not be possible. Have you ever considered why it is not possible to think two things simultaneously? Whether you think about this or not, you are yourself and you are living your own life. In fact, it is not possible to think of yourself. This means that it is not good to insert your own egoistic opinions. If the ego-self intervenes, it means that inevitably you will see things by comparing them. Zen practice is the practice of letting go of that intervention of the ego-self.

The third teaching is that "all things dwell in the peace and quiet of Nirvana." As I said at the beginning, Nirvana, or true peace of mind, is something that we must not seek elsewhere As long as you seek it elsewhere, you will never be free of feelings of satisfaction or anxiety. If we open our eyes, even when seeing something for the first time, we can clearly see all of it. If you hear something for the first time, you can hear it perfectly. You are endowed with the free functioning of the senses. This means that no matter what you see or hear, you assimilate all of it. You have the power to digest things in this way.

In a life where there is no separation, there is neither peace of mind nor anxiety. When there is peace of mind, there is also anxiety. In a world of the true Dharma, there is neither peace of mind nor anxiety. Having said that, there may be some people who wonder, "Then why is it necessary to practice.~" But really try living "now." There is no room for thoughts like peace of mind and anxiety to enter in. In this way, no matter how insignificant or important something may be, whether for yourself or for someone else, forgetting yourself and immersing yourself wholeheartedly in your work and making an effort, that is the life of Zen. It is the life of the Way.

People often speak of doing something for this or that purpose but in Zen we do not live our lives for this or that purpose. Even if we are doing something for ourselves or for someone else, the life of Zen is to forget all that comes before and after and really do each deed for the purpose of the deed itself. Wholeheartedly applying yourself to the task at hand, exhausting yourself in each activity, that is the life of Zen. Consequently, I would like you not to understand Zen, the Buddhadharma, or the Way by means of your intellect or your education.

Although I have just said that all of our life is Zen, the Dharma, and the Way, actually these things do not exist.


In everyday life, we often hear people say, "Now I can really believe it." But as long as you are satisfied with "really believing," it means that there is still belief. You must forget belief. It is the same with fact and reality. If you think something is true or real, it means you perceive "real" or "true," and there remains a gap between you and "real" or "true." The life of someone who has realized the true Dharma is one where there is r~o reality. In other words, it is to dwell peacefully in the world now.

There is a Chinese proverb that says: "Better than something good is nothing." Zazen is a wonderful thing. But even though it's wonderful, nothing is better. The reason is that something good is a condition on the way to the ultimate. We do not know if it will become better or worse. The key to zazen is to "grind up" zazen by means of the practice of zazen. If you follow through with this, then no matter what you are doing or where, each activity can be called Zen. When zazen is finally completely ground up and disappears, then for the first time everything is truly the Way, Zen, the Dharma. This is what is called "everyday mind."

Finally, I would like you not to simply understand Zen or the Buddhadharma conceptually. It is fine to investigate what others have said or written in books. But to say, "I've understood something that I didn't understand before," that is not Zen practice.


Consider this koan from the Book of Serenity (Shoyoroku), "Nansen Cuts the Cat":

There were about 5oo monks training under Nansen. The monks slept in one hall that was divided into east and west. One day the monks were fighting over a cat. Seeing this, Nansen picked up the cat and said, "If you can say anything, I won't cut it in two." No one spoke, so Nansen cut it.

Later, Nansen told Joshu what had happened. Joshu immediately took off his sandals, put them on his head, and walked out. Nansen said, "If you had been there, you would have saved the cat."

This particular koan originated in China 1,200 years ago but it is not just a story. I would now like to explain why.

Nansen is the abbreviated name of Nansen Fugan, a famous priest of Tang China. Nansen cut a cat in two, and this cat is the central problem of this koan. Three people or groups of people appear: the monks who are asked the question, Nansen, and Joshu--plus the cat. Each of you are now Nansen, you are now the monks being asked the question, you are now Joshu, and you are now the cat.

An argument began among some of the monks concerning the cat. "Does the cat have buddha:nature or not?" "In the future, will it become a buddha?" "Can it do zazen?" They argued about the Dharma and Zen just as we do every day. While the monks were arguing, Nansen appeared and picked up the cat by the scruff of the neck. He said to the monks, "If you can say something about this cat, you will save it. If you can't say anything, I'll cut the cat in two."

In your heart you wonder, "What is Zen? What is the Way?" You have been practicing zazen for a long time, but will you really be able to attain the wonderful results related by the buddhas and enlightened ones? These were the questions the cat represented. If you become the cat, then you will clearly understand. Or if you become the monks, I think you will also understand. Nansen, by picking up the cat by the neck, symbolically demonstrates to each of us the need to get a grip on the questioning mind. "How will you resolve this?" You must understand Nansen's question this way. It is as if Nansen appears in front of you and asks, "How will you deal with this matter?" For those of you who have this questioning, inquiring mind, this questioning mind is the cat. For those of you who practice shikan-taza, this shikantaza is the cat.

In this koan, you must be able to give the answer immediately, "Say it now." Understand this is your problem. "Out with it!" Can you clearly awaken to your essential self? That is the meaning of this case. None of the monks could answer Nansen--how would you answer? Have you been able to get a firm grip on the cat or not? Perhaps, while you are sitting zazen, the inquiring mind is clear, and perhaps you understand clearly how to practice shikantaza. But when you are eating or doing work, doesn't the cat get away?
The Way as well as Zen must be everywhere at any time. If Zen or Zen practice exists only when you think of it, then you will never be able to resolve the problem of the cat. Whatever we see or hear or feel, everything we experience is buddha-nature. In the case I have related, it is written that Nansen cut the cat in two. But is it possible to cut buddha-nature in two? Please consider this. If you are "just" sitting, you will get stuck in "just." The reason I am presenting this case is so that you can check and see to what extent you are "just" sitting. How do you see the cat? I am waiting to hear your answer.

None of the monks could answer Nansen, so he finally cut the cat in two. Joshu was out working when Nansen cut the cat, but when he returned, Nansen said to him, "Today a problem arose concerning a cat, but none of the monks could give an answer, so I cut the cat in two. How would you have answered?" On hearing this, Joshu put the sandals he was wearing on his head and went outside without saying anything. Whereupon Nansen said, "If you had been there, it would have not been necessary to cut the cat." The problem this koan represents for us, then, is how we will answer so that the cat is not cut. I would like you to be Nansen, the monks who were asked the question, Joshu, and the cat. While you are in this condition, thoroughly think through this case.

All of the buddhas and enlightened ones who appear in collections of Zen sayings and records are you. They are speaking about each one of us. This story comes to us across twelve centuries, but if each of you save the cat, then Nansen as well as ]oshu will be resurrected.


Within our minds, there is a cat called "greed." There is also a cat named "anger" and another cat called "folly" or "ignorance." In Buddhism, we call these the three deluding passions. These passions or desires are the source of all our suffering. However, if there was no greed, we would not be able to do zazen. Without anger, the determination and enthusiasm not to lose out or be beaten would not arise. Without ignorance, there would be no reflection or introspection. For these reasons, I would like you to understand that greed, anger, and ignorance are also other names for buddha-nature. It is only because we are used by greed, anger, and ignorance that we have come to think of them as being bad.

Shakyamuni Buddha also said that the deluding passions are themselves enlightenment.
If you sit in shikantaza and let whatever thoughts appear and take no notice of them and do not deal with them, then they will definitely turn into enlightenment. You may recall the expression "everyday mind is the Way." Anger, ignorance, greed, as well as all kinds of anxiety, impatience, and irritation, exist within the "everyday mind." This is called "everyday mind as-it-is is the Way." I would like you to realize that it is a mistake, then, to throw away something bad that is inside us. In Buddhism, however, everything is buddha-nature, so there is nothing to throw away. The problem lies within your thoughts, or how you think. Inevitably you cannot accept your thoughts, so you create a distance between you and them. But, as I often say, zazen is the way to verify that you and your thoughts are one. We practice so we can confirm this.


I will digress for a moment to speak of a man named Toyohiro Akiyama. He is a reporter working for TBS, a Japanese television company. Some time ago, he was sent into space on a Soviet rocket. Later, when he returned to Earth, he was asked, "While you were in space, did you have any kind of religious experience? Have you returned with any philosophical impressions?" Akiyama replied, "I was already so preoccupied with my affairs here on Earth that I experienced absolutely nothing different on venturing into space."
As I always say, as long as you do not truly bring a resolution to the ego-self, no matter how wonderful a universe you travel to or whichever world of God or Buddha you may reach, there will be no change. Throw yourselves into zazen and really forget your own thoughts. With this kind of practice, you will certainly be able to meet your true Self. Please believe until belief is no longer necessary.


Consider this koan:

Whenever Master Hyakujo gave a teisho, or Dharma talk, an old man always came to join the monks and listen to the teaching. When the monks left, the old man would also leave. One day the old man stayed behind. Hyakuio asked him, "Who are you who stands before me now.?' The old man said, "I am not a human being. In those days of the Ashy Buddha, I used to live on this mountain. One day a monk asked me, 'Is an enlightened person also subject to causality or not?" I said 'No, he is not.' Since then I have lived the life of a wild fox for five hundred lifetimes. I now beg you to say a few words on my behalf to release me from my life as a fox. For that reason I ask you, 'Is an enlightened person also subject to causality or not?'" Hyakuio said, "Such a person is not blind to causality." No sooner had the old man heard these words than he became greatly enlightened.

If you could not quite become completely one with Nansen's cat, perhaps you can become one with Hyakuio's fox. This case concerns cause and effect and appears in every collection of Zen koans. It is regarded as very difficult. The particular problem dealt with is whether a person who is enlightened and "finished" with practice is subject to the principle of cause and effect or not.

First of all, let me speak about the principle of cause and effect. It is said that if you wish to know a past cause, then look at the present effect, the present result. There is always a continuum of past, present, past, present. We cannot say that the past is only something that happened long, long ago--it also is five minutes ago, or even a single moment. Your condition now is inevitably attributable to past causes. The present circumstance also becomes the cause of some future outcome.

With regard to breathing, each breath is new. So too with thoughts. When one idea or thought arises, that is birth. When one idea or thought vanishes, that is death. Always there is a constant repetition of birth and death. This repetition continues through past, present, and future.

We are in the habit of perceiving "this thing" (this body) as "me." The reason for this is that from birth we have come to believe that things exist. In fact, though, they do not~but we usually cannot accept this. This is the meaning of "all things have no self-nature." If there is a center, essence, or permanent self-nature that is perceived, this is a delusion. Similarly we make errors about time; we can only perceive time either through the past, which has already gone, or by the future, which has not yet come.

Consider the method of zazen in which we practice counting breaths. If you reach "two," for example, then "two" is everything. There i~s no "one" or "three." "Two" is all. At that point, you should have truly forgotten yourself and cast off body and mind.

Nonetheless, we perceive that something that does not exist does exist. This is the ego, which inevitably becomes the center of what we perceive. For this reason we are in the habit of seeing things and comparing them in terms of good and bad. Consequently, it is easy for people to think that if all bad things could be eliminated, only good things would remain. Nevertheless, good and bad exist only in contrast to each other. If all bad things were to disappear, then it stands to reason that there would no longer be any good things. If one half of a duality were not to exist, its opposite would also not exist. Please understand this clearly as we explore the principle that cause and effect are one.

In the teaching of Buddhism, everything is taught from the standpoint of the result. This means that for those people who have not yet reached the final result, it is not possible for them to say that they either understand or do not understand simply by looking at the teachings of Shakyamuni Buddha or of the enlightened ones who have transmitted the Dharma.
The "dharma" of Buddhadharma means a natural principle or law. Every aspect of our life is the Dharma. There is the Dharma of bad and the Dharma of good. There is als9 the Dharma of understanding and the Dharma of misunderstanding. Moreover, these two are not in opposition. Our condition now is one that is already separate from good and bad, enlightenment and delusion. We are always peacefully dwelling in a condition where there is only the result itself. Yet, in order to awaken to the condition, it is necessary, by means of Zen, to let go of our dualistic viewpoint of comparing good and bad.

Results unavoidably correspond with causes. There should be no feelings of surprise or disappointment. If our efforts result in failure, it is only reasonable to be content with that result. The same applies to successful results. If there is a successful outcome, the requirements for this success were present, so there is nothing to be happy about. Similarly, do not feel disappointed in failure. Nevertheless, people can be seen to be selfish because when we have some success, we are naturally pleased with that success, and when we encounter some failure, by comparison we are not happy.

Returning to the case about Priest Hyakujo: Why then, on answering "does not fall under the principle of cause and effect" did the priest become a fox? And why on hearing "not blind to cause and effect" did the old man again become a human being and realize great enlightenment? What is the degree of difference between "not falling under cause and effect" and "not being blind to cause and effect"? Investigate this problem; generate this inquiring mind.

The point of this case is whether the wild fox is at peace with being a wild fox. If the fox could truly be one with being a fox, then it would not want to become human. To be a fox would be enough. The state of being truly satisfied as a fox is what we call being "a buddha." On the other hand, a human being who is not satisfied with being human and who constantly looking for something else is seeking to be a buddha; this state we call being "a wild fox." This is a very difficult problem.

In Buddhism, we speak of transmigration though the six realms. These realms are the six worlds of delusion: heaven, human beings, hell, hungry ghosts, animals, and fighting devils (asuras). As 10rig as we are deluded, we can never live peacefully as human beings. If you cannot be at ease with your present situation, you will forever be seeking something else. This is a condition where you will go around and around, migrating through the six realms, never feeling settled. Essentially, though, regardless of whether we are a being in hell, a human being, or a being in heaven, we must be able to exist peacefully in these respective worlds.

In Zen, we have the expression "unblemished" or "undefiled." The Japanese word for this, fuzenna, literally means "not-dyed-dirty" in other words, "untainted." Many people understand this to mean that if you practice and achieve a certain strength or power through that practice, no matter which world you go to, you will not be dyed the color of, or be sullied by, that world. But this is a great mistake. "Unblemished" or "undefiled" means to be completely dyed that color. If you go into the color red, then you are completely dyed red. If you enter something white, then you completely become the color white.

In the Rinzai Zen sect, the expression "be master of yourself wherever you are;' is often used. If this expression is misunderstood, it will be misunderstood in the same way as "unblemished." If you cannot be truly at one with the world you have in, you will always see other worlds as being beautiful and wonderful. The words "not falling under the principle of cause and effect" and "not being blind to cause and effect" are concerned with this condition of not being settled, of not accepting your situation.

The main purpose of practice is to bring an end to the seeking mind and to live accepting your present circumstances. It is important that you sit in zazen and are content with the result. As you sit, inevitably the thought arises that somehow or other you should be able to sit better. This is a fact. But sit without thinking that because you cannot sit well, you want somehow to sit better, If you cannot sit well, then accept it and leave it that way. If you are not settled, then accept it and leave it that way. I would like you to make the effort to live peacefully in whatever condition you are in.

To be truly what you are without being jealous of someone else is what we call Buddha. However, if a person cannot peacefully accept being a person, he or she will always want to be a buddha, to experience enlightenment. We liken this condition of trying to seek peace of mind to that of a fox. Think this through carefully as you continue with your practice.

In Japan, a fox is regarded as an animal that tricks people. Please practice steadfastly and confidently without being tricked or misled. If a fox is tricked by a fox and continues being tricked, that is all right, but it isn't good to set up the ego-self with the attitude that you cannot be tricked.


Zazen can broadly be divided in two: Zen within activity and Zen within stillness. Zen within activity embraces the other activities in our life, such as our work and so forth. Zen within stillness is what we do in the zendo, the meditation hall.

I would like to speak practically about how you can continue with Zen outside of the meditation hall, outside of retreat. Everyday life itself is Zen. As I have already said many times, drinking coffee, eating toast, washing your face, taking a bath, these are all Zen even though we do not label them Zen. I would like you to be clear about this. Consequently, there is absolutely no need to choose between activities that are Zen and those that are not. Believe this firmly and have unshakable confidence in it. Then let go of this faith. This is the way I would like you to act, but in practice this is not easy. It is a mistake for you to incorporate into your life things you have learned about Zen through books or by listening to others. This also includes the Zen practice you have done up until now.

There is an expression in Zen "to put another head on top of the one you already have." This is a mistake. It really is not possible, and I want you to take great care not to make this mistake. Even though I say this, I am sure you will live and experience many things, learning by trial and error. You make an effort to build up your practice, but then you become lax and it falls apart. Again you make an effort to build up your practice, but again you become lax and it falls apart. It is important not to give up. While living your everyday life, I ask you once again not to adopt or bring Zen into that life. Apart from those times when you are sitting quietly, I would like you to forget completely about Zen.
I also have some comments about formal sitting, Zen within stillness. Make sure to sit each day. Thirty minutes is fine, fifteen minutes is fine. The length of time will depend on your circumstances, and these vary from person to person. Be sure to set aside some time to sit every day. At that time, no matter how much you are concerned about your work or what is happening in your household, forget those things and sit in a samadhl of zazen.

From the beginning, I would like you to divide your life into Zen within stillness and Ten within activity. In this way, I believe you will be able to be one with your work and be one with a samadhi of zazen. If you do this, I believe you will not even have time to think "this is Zen." Then, during Zen in stillness, you will be able to forget yourself and be one with a samadhi of zazen.

Continue to persevere: building up your practice, it falls apart~ again building up your practice, it falls apart. In this way, I am sure there will come a time when it is no longer necessary to divide Zen in two.


It is not easy to sit zazen. Zen practice is a difficult thing. Please do not lose heart and give up along the way. It is not something that must be concluded within a set number of years. Nor is it something that, if not taken care of quickly, will prevent you doing something else. I would like you to persevere steadfastly. That is what we call "continual mindfulness."

There are three things that any person who aspires to the Way of Zen must do: asking a master about the Dharma, the practice of zazen, and observing the precepts. Many people ask me how they can know if the zazen they are practicing is correct or mistaken. I will give you some guidance about this.

Mistaken zazen and mistaken guidance result when, figuratively speaking, the teacher first makes a suit of clothes and a pair of shoes into which you must make yourself fit. This is a grave error. A similar mistake occurs when the teaching prescribes that you mimic the teacher's form until the teacher releases you from the form.

In Zen it is said that all the teachings of Buddhism and Zen are "skillful means." They are like a finger pointing at the moon. If you look in the direction indicated by the fingertip you will see the moon.

The object of the teaching is to see the moon. However, the moon and the finger are one. If you are taught that the moon and the finger are separate, this is mistaken. In simple terms, as long as you do not understand, skillful means exist as skillful means. However, when you come to understand Zen, you understand that the means are also the result itself.

If you truly attain the Way, you will no longer have to think about yourself. Since it is not necessary to think of your own matters, it is possible to concentrate one hundred percent on your work, on the needs of others, and on your own families. In this way, you wiI1 feel great ease and comfort. This is the practice of a bodhisattva, the activity you are doing now becomes the practice of the bodhisattva. Please continue your endeavors diligently.


sPrevious installments of Wisdom of the Week

The Attention Revolution – B. Alan Wallace s
Food for the Heart – Ajahn Chah s
Never Turn Away – Rigdzin Shikpo s
sThe State of Mind Called Beautiful – Sayadaw U Pandita s
Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness: Walking the Buddha's Path – Bhante Henepola Gunaratana s
Ordinary Wisdom, Sakya Pandita’s Treasury of Good Advice – Sakya Pandita (John Davenport, translator) s
Mud & Water: The Collected Teachings of Zen Master Bassui – translated by Arthur Braverman s