Zazen is not a matter of intellection; it must be rooted in the physical sense of inner liberation that is most easily experienced through sitting. This sense of liberation is not in itself enough, however. It is also necessary to attain an inner state open to the essential nature of things. If liberation was all that mattered, it would be enough to drug ourselves to sleep, but this would hardly resolve the problem of how to act in our everyday lives from a stable inner essence, regardless of how turbulent or dangerous the outer circumstances are. It is here that the importance of sitting emerges, for it is through sitting that we are most easily able to stabilize ourselves in this inner essence.
There are three central aspects of zazen: the aspect of body, the aspect of breathing, and the aspect of mind.
The bodily aspect concerns the physical posture of zazen. In meditation, the aspect of mind is in many ways central, but the body-mind relation is such that unless attention is paid to the details of proper posture, it is extremely difficult to achieve anything on the mental level of true zazen. Sitting for even a thousand of years with a slack posture will leave you just as confused and deluded as ever.
The body may be considered in terms of the section above the waist and the section below the waist, and both have their respective roles to play in the overall balance of zazen. The upper portion must be light and relaxed, while the lower portion must be firm, taut, and settled. We might compare the physical form of zazen to that of a pyramid, broad and stable at the base and gradually tapering toward the top, until it reaches a single point.
One’s inner, mental environment is also important. You must make a conscious decision to practice, vowing from deep within to bring your body into balance, to harmonize your breathing, and to clarify your mind. Merely crossing your legs and sitting vacantly on a cushion is not enough. Unless you express your commitment in the form of conscious, directed effort, you will never be capable of genuine zazen.
It is very important also to keep your eyes open during meditation. Sitting with closed eyes may seem a good way to cut off distractions and achieve a state of inner silence, but doing so usually encourages drowsiness and extraneous thoughts. Even if you succeed in reaching a tranquil state of mind, this is nothing but hothouse Zen, of little use to you amid the challenges of everyday life. Furthermore, the senses, particularly sight and hearing, provide the most basic link between the outside world and the activities of the mind. Unless we learn to integrate such sensory input with our zazen, our training will be of little practical use.
Let us now move on to the matter of aligning the breath. Settled, well-regulated breathing is basic to Zen practice and is vital to the realization of the inner essence of zazen. When the breath is disturbed, it is impossible to observe things accurately and make appropriate judgements. Moreover, shortness of breath often leads to shortness of temper – one loses one’s sense of perspective and reacts solely on the basis of the immediate circumstances. You become overly affect by what people say and are easily swayed by the events around you, leading to further disturbance and delusion. All of this signals that your breathing is not in order. Regulating the respiration means maintaining your breath in a relaxed and unobstructed flow regardless of the situation you find yourself in.
Once this tanden breathing is mastered, you can maintain the zazen state of mind whether you stand or sit, work or talk – in the words of Yoka Gengaku’s Song of Enlightenment, «Walking is Zen, sitting too is Zen; speaking or silent, moving or still, the essence is undisturbed». This is not easy at first, of course, and we soon become scattered as we go about the activities and interaction of daily life, but as tanden breathing matures, you will notice how your inner state remains the same in all conditions, even during sleep. This is because in tanden breathing, the body and the respiration have come into a state of oneness; it is not something performed through willpower, but something that the body does quit naturally. For the same reason, the body is always relaxed during this type of respiration – it is only when the conscious mind tries to influence the breath that tension and stiffness set in.
Focus on each individual breath, one after another, centering your consciousness in your tanden and filling it with energy. Breathe each breath totally, then forget it and move on to the next. Superficial concentration is useless – you must fell that the respiration is piercing through the ground to the very ends of the universe. Let no gaps appear between your concentration on one breath and the next. Continue like this, one focused breath cutting off all thought of the one before, cutting and cutting and cutting until there is no room for random ideas, no room for concepts of self, no room for inner noise. Your body, your zendo, the entire universe are all contained in this total focus on the breath, in this utter singleness of mind. There remains nothing to hold on to, nothing to depend upon.
This condition is known as samadhi of susokkan, where only the breathing and the counting remain; one has become the breathing; the mind is occupied with nothing else. In this state of true emptiness you feel completely refreshed, full of energy, and taut, yet fresh and lucid. This is the state of the first «wonderful gate» of susokkan, that of su.
In this way, follow the coming in and going out of your breath from morning until night. Count and count and keep on counting the breaths whether you are doing zazen or not; count whether you are standing or sitting, whether you are asleep or awake. As you continue, the inhalations and exhalations become completely natural, and finally you enter a clear, open state of perfect unity between mind and respiration, where it is no longer necessary to count to help focus your attention. This stage, in which the awareness and the breathing are one, with no need for numbers, is that of zui, «following».
Then, at a certain point, all awareness disappears. This is the stage of shi, «stopping». When this will happen cannot be predicted – it must occur naturally; it cannot be produced or forced. Some time after this «stopping» takes place you come back once again to awareness. This is kan, «to see». Again, you cannot deliberately generate this state, it must happen of itself. Following this is gen, where you forget yourself completely, and finally jo, a state of mind that is bright, clear, and transparent. In all of these stages – the natural path to samadhi – it is vitally important that one not attempt to force things but simply allow the process to unfold on its own.
Although six stages may be identified in the practice of susokkan, it is the first two – counting and following – that are most important. Once these are experienced the rest will follow of themselves. Do not get caught up in analysing your progress or attempting to determine which of the six stages have been attained – just stay with the breathing. You must become the breathing. This is the most important point. The nature of the respiration varies, of course, sometimes becoming deeper and sometimes becoming shallower depending on whether you are working, reciting sutras, or sitting zazen, but press on until you can no longer tell whether it is you who is breathing or the breathing that is breathing itself.
This state must be deepened to the point that all connection with the outside world is cut off and nothing whatsoever touches or enters your awareness. This does not mean, however, that the senses are shut down. Externally, the correct way to cut off connections is to collect the mind into a single point and maintain this state of absolute attention and clear awareness. Internally, it is to avoid holding on to anything at all. Do not get caught by thoughts or fantasies – just let the breath flow in and out while staying with susokkan or your koan. Allow the images that arise to come and go as they will – like pictures passing on a screen – but keep your awareness focused on the breath, allowing nothing to linger in your mind, until you and your breath become one.
Breathing never stops – it is with you all the time. You need only remain attentive to its flow. Even if thoughts arise, even if stimuli press in from the outside, just push on without pause, allowing no breaks in your awareness. Put everything into the process and move relentlessly ahead. No matter what comes along, do not let it become an obstacle. If you lack the courage to advance in one continuous line, you should not begin in the first place. To do zazen and susokkan just because you think you ought to will never lead to a true understanding of the mind. If you want to touch the True Mind that connects each and every one of us, you must be willing to push beyond any problems that arise.
Bodhidharma likened such perseverance to the stability of a wall: «Cutting away all connections to external things, letting go of all concerns within, when our mind is like a firm, tall wall we are at one with the Way». But the idea is not to be hard and stiff. Whether sitting, standing, or engaged in the activities of everyday life, just maintain your awareness of the breath. If you proceed in this way, the noisy, bothersome thoughts that fill the mind will eventually quiet down, and all the ideas you once thought necessary will fade away. With all the stimulation in today’s world, this does not happen easily, but if you continue with a straightforward effort you will eventually realize a state of mind that is full and replete, a state of mind so still and clear that, like the depths of the ocean, neither wind nor wave can touch it.
Koan work and susokkan are not about attaining a quietistic state; they must become your total life energy, engaged in with the entire body and the inner eye fully open. (…) Zazen must involve every bit of your mind and every bit of your being, all «three hundred and sixty bones and joints and eighty-four thousand hair follicles». In the face of such total awareness, random thoughts and fantasies soon vanish. In true zazen, not so much as a speck must remain of dualistic notions of self. Our existence fills the universe, and it is that existence that speaks words, that moves the body, that carries on the activities of everyday life. It is only when we realize this inner essence that koan work has any meaning. Zazen is not a trance – the eyes are fully open, the mind is fully open, the inner and outer worlds are one. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting in the zendo, walking or cleaning the grounds; the essence is the same.
In this way align your mind so that absolutely nothing superfluous remains. This is the state called «no-mind», the nature of which is impossible to explain; thus we describe it as «a fully aligned mind».The spirit should always be clear, vast and luminous. (…) When filled with thoughts, the mind tends toward anxiety and dejection; when free of them, it becomes naturally fresh and relaxed; our facial expression clears, and our lives are filled with light. From this is born the true way of being and living.
Retirado do livro: The Path to Bodhidharma de Shodo Harada Roshi