Sunday, October 16, 2011

Letting go of sitting

You may have noticed a theme running through my last several posts concerning practice. Lately, I have started reexamining how attached I am to practice, especially zazen. If Zen is the practice of complete non-abiding, requiring the relinquishment of all attachments, then doesn't it serve to reason that we should let go of Zen too? For as I have found, Zen, namely zazen, can become a form of attachment.

We hear more about this regarding koans, where teachers caution their students against attaching to koans, since they are merely a raft to carry us to the other shore. Like the Buddha's teachings, they are upaya, skillful means.

But we seldom hear that said about zazen; instead, meditation, especially in Soto Zen, is regarded as the holiest of holies.

It almost feels anathema to imply that zazen can turn into a form of attachment, but try skipping 0ne day of meditation and you will soon realize how attached you are to the practice. Shame, guilt, anxiety commonly accompany a missed zazen session of mine.

Zen has been described as a thorn to remove the thorn of suffering. But the problem is that most people forget to remove the second thorn! The purpose of Zen, or Buddhism in general, is not to exchange one set of bad habits for another set of good ones.

Zen is not self-improvement. It's a path to Wake up.

So, lately I have been studying my attachment to and motives for practicing. What is it that I expect from zazen? Sure I know that we're not supposed to expect to gain anything from zazen, but why do we do it?

Dogen says that sitting is what a Buddha does. But isn't that making zazen something special by elevating it above all of our other daily activities? In the true spirit of non-duality, how is zazen any more sacred than brushing your teeth? Shouldn't we be present during both?

Recently I have noticed how zazen holds a privileged station in my practice, and I wonder why.

Koans, or at least the way that I study them at Five Mountain Seminary with Rev. Lynch, transfer into my life. I feel like I carry them with me. But how about zazen? Have I been limiting myself by treating it as something special?

It feels like someone has kicked the stool out from under me. I'm falling. It's scary to feel the once solid ground of my practice quiver beneath me.

But I suppose this is yet another phase in my practice--removing the second thorn, which at this point, has become indistinguishable from the first.

Photo borrowed from Creative Commons flickr user: ElDave.


  1. I liked how you didn't have an answer for yourself or for us at the end of this post. This is the first post of yours that I have read, but I enjoyed that it ended in Mystery. Thank You. I actually learned alot from reading your unanswered questions.

  2. Thanks for your comment and support. Most of my posts are fairly open-ended, mainly because I seldom have an answer. ;-)

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Hi,

    Lovely post, and I hope you don't mind a little comment.

    Some folks say that our Buddhist practice is one of the few things that it is okay to be attached to or greedy about. But, I am more with what you describe ... finding a way to be attached and non-attached at once and as one, diligent in practice yet totally free, moving forward with no thought of gain (thus gaining so much!). It is not necessarily an "either/or" choice.

    I am also reminded of the Buddha's Parable of the Lute String ... Practice, like a guitar or lute string, not too tight ... not too lose ... makes the music.

    Good luck.

  5. I enjoyed this post - have felt a lot of similar questions. I wrote a response on my blog.

  6. Thanks, Nathan and Jundo. I will definitely read your reply, Nathan. _/\_