By Hokan Don Evans
When Eihei Dogen returned to Japan in 1227 after studying in China, the first thing he wrote was the Fukanzazengi, or The Universal Recommendation for Zazen. Zazen is sitting meditation. The Fukanzazengi became the foundational text of the Soto Zen tradition, the character of which “is simply devotion to sitting, total engagement in immobile sitting.”
After describing the recommended posture for zazen, Dogen goes on to say, “Think of not-thinking. How do you think of not-thinking? Non-thinking. This in itself is the essential art of zazen.”
It sounds easy. But it’s not. And why would you want to “just sit” and “not think”
in the first place? Why is it recommended so highly? What do you expect to gain? The traditional answer is “enlightenment”. In Bendowa Dogen said, “practice and enlightenment are one and the same. Because it is the practice of enlightenment, a beginner’s wholehearted practice of the Way is exactly the totality of original enlightenment.” In other words, mastering the art of “non-thinking” in zazen practice is enlightenment.
It’s been said that “you can’t think and hit a baseball.” Since thinking makes hitting difficult, baseball players need to practice “non-thinking” in order to perfect the art of hitting. Thinking can also make life difficult. You can’t think and see the true nature of things. Our thinking minds create distinctions between body and mind, self and other, good and bad, past and future, that we assume reflect the true nature of reality. In fact, these distinctions are merely fabrications of our thinking minds. And when we become attached to them we suffer. When we practice zazen “reality beyond conceptual distinctions [is] manifested.” (Bendowa). Zazen is like batting practice for life. We need to practice “non-thinking” in order to perfect the art of living.
Drop off conceptual distinctions and simply be present. Appreciate life as it is, not as you think it is. “Going forward in practice is a matter of everydayness.”