“Clear water has no back or front, space has no inside or outside. Completely clear, its own luminosity shines before form and emptiness were fabricated.”
– Keizan Jokin
The monk and teacher Keizan Jokin is credited as a significant figure in the development of Soto Zen in Japan after the legacy of Eihei Dogen. Keizan was primarily concerned with widening the reach of Zen practice to communities outside of the monastery and was very active his whole life in trying to make the tradition more accessible to everyone. He also championed the cause of women practitioners, having always been vocal about the gratitude he felt to his mother and grandmother for his own spiritual development. This text, the Zazen Yokinji, is a teaching of his that covers the fundamental aspects of zazen, the form of Zen meditation. In many ways similar to Dogen’s Fukanzazengi, Keizan here lays out advice that is both immediate and practical – such as where to sit and in what position – and more general and global such as descriptions of habits of discipline and attitude that set a person up for practice of the way.
Zazen means to clarify the mind-ground and dwell comfortably in your actual nature. This is called revealing yourself and manifesting the original-ground.
In zazen both body and mind drop off. Zazen is far beyond the form of sitting or lying down. Free from considerations of good and evil, zazen transcends distinctions between ordinary people and sages, it goes far beyond judgements of deluded or enlightened. Zazen includes no boundary between sentient beings and buddha. Therefore put aside all affairs, and let go of all associations. Do nothing at all. The six senses produce nothing.
What is this? Its name is unknown. It cannot be called “body”, it cannot be called “mind”. Trying to think of it, the thought vanishes. Trying to speak of it, words die. It is like a fool, an idiot. It is as high as a mountain, deep as the ocean. Without peak or depths, its brilliance is unthinkable, it shows itself silently. Between sky and earth, only this whole body is seen.
“Zazen means to clarify the mind-ground and dwell comfortably in your actual nature.”
This one is without comparison – he has completely died. Eyes clear, he stands nowhere. Where is there any dust? What can obstruct such a one?
Clear water has no back or front, space has no inside or outside. Completely clear, its own luminosity shines before form and emptiness were fabricated. Objects of mind and mind itself have no place to exist.
The mind is like the ocean waters, the body like the waves. There are no waves without water and no water without waves; water and waves are not separate, motion and stillness are not different.
If you wish to clarify the mind-ground, you should relinquish your various types of limited knowledge and understanding. Throw away both worldly affairs and buddha-dharma. Eliminate all delusive emotions. When the true mind of the sole reality is manifest, the clouds of delusion will clear away and the moon of the mind will shine brightly.
“Zazen is like returning home and sitting in peace.”
The Buddha said, “Listening and thinking are like being outside of the gate; zazen is returning home and sitting in peace.” How true this is! When we are listening and thinking, the various views have not been put to rest and the mind is still running over. Therefore other activities are like being outside of the gate. Zazen alone brings everything to rest and, flowing freely, reaches everywhere. So zazen is like returning home and sitting in peace.
To practice sitting, find a quiet place and lay down a thick mat. Don’t let wind, smoke, rain or dew come in. Keep a clear space with enough room for your knees. Although in ancient times there were those who sat on diamond seats or on large stones for their cushions. The place where you sit should not be too bright in the daytime or too dark at night; it should be warm in winter and cool in summer. That’s the key.
Drop mind, intellect and consciousness, leave memory, thinking, and observing alone. Don’t try to fabricate Buddha. Don’t be concerned with how well or how poorly you think you are doing; just understand that time is as precious as if you were putting out a fire on your head.
The Buddha sat straight, Bodhidharma faced the wall; both were whole-hearted and committed. Sekiso was like a gnarled dead tree. Nyojo warned against sleepy sitting and said, “Just-sitting is all you need. You don’t need to make burning incense offerings, meditate upon the names of buddhas, repent, study the scriptures or do recitation rituals.”
“Now think of what is without thought. How can you think of it? Be beyond thinking.”
When you sit, wear the kesa (except in the first and last parts of the night when the daily schedule is not in effect). Don’t be careless. The cushion should be about twelve inches thick and thirty-six in circumference. Don’t put it under the thighs but only from mid-thigh to the base of the spine. This is how the buddhas and patriarchs have sat. You can sit in the full or half lotus postures. To sit in the full lotus, put the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh. Loosen your robes but keep them in order. Put your right hand on your left heel and your left hand on top of your right, thumbs together and close to the body at the level of the navel. Sit straight without leaning to left or right, front or back. Ears and shoulders, nose and navel should be aligned. Place the tongue on the palate and breathe through the nose. The mouth should be closed. The eyes should be open but not too wide nor too slight. Harmonizing the body in this way, breathe deeply with the mouth once or twice. Sitting steadily, sway the torso seven or eight times in decreasing movements. Sit straight and alert.
Now think of what is without thought. How can you think of it? Be beyond thinking. This is the essence of zazen. Shatter obstacles and become intimate with awakening awareness.
When you want to get up from stillness, put your hands on your knees, sway seven or eight times in increasing movements. Breathe out through the mouth, put your hands to the floor and get up lightly from the seat. Slowly walk, circling to right or left.
“If scattering continues, sit and look to that point where the breath ends and the eyes close forever and where the child is not yet conceived, where not a single concept can be produced.”
If dullness or sleepiness overcome your sitting, move to the body and open the eyes wider, or place attention above the hairline or between your eyebrows. If you are still not fresh, rub the eyes or the body. If that still doesn’t wake you, stand up and walk, always clockwise. Once you’ve gone about a hundred steps you probably won’t be sleepy any longer. The way to walk is to take a half step with each breath. Walk without walking, silent and unmoving.
If the mind wanders, place attention at the tip of the nose and count the inhalations and exhalations. If that doesn’t stop the scattering, bring up a phrase and keep it in awareness – for example: “What is it that comes thus?” or “When no thought arises, where is affliction? – Mount Sumeru!” or “What is the meaning of Bodhidharma’s coming from the West? – The cypress in the garden.” Sayings like this that you can’t draw any flavour out of are suitable.
If scattering continues, sit and look to that point where the breath ends and the eyes close forever and where the child is not yet conceived, where not a single concept can be produced. When a sense of the two-fold emptiness of self and things appears, scattering will surely rest.
“Arising from stillness, carry out activities without hesitation. This moment is the koan.”
Arising from stillness, carry out activities without hesitation. This moment is the koan. When practice and realization are without complexity then the koan is this present moment. That which is before any trace arises, the scenery on the other side of time’s destruction, the activity of all buddhas and patriarchs, is just this one thing.
You should just rest and cease. Be cooled, pass numberless years as this moment. Be cold ashes, a withered tree, an incense burner in an abandoned temple, a piece of unstained silk.
This is my earnest wish.
Keizan Jokin (1268-1325)
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