The goal-less inner journey
We know there is no goal, in sitting Zazen – the cornerstone of living a life with Zen: Only to be . . . and learn the nature of your own mind. True nature is the “holy grail” of Zen.
And in essence the principles of zazen are simple. We learn the posture, and the breathing and we practice in silence with a regular routine. We sit on a round cushion, the zafu. Or a small wooden stool. Or of course upright on a chair if we have joint problems. Whichever way we sit, we sit up straight.
But what do I do with my mind?
It was actually a psychiatrist who asked me this question once, before practice. I answered using Master Katagiri’s words (my own personal favourite explanation):
“Be aware of the mind: usually your mind is very busy. Like a monkey, monkey-mind jumping about all over the place. So we take care of this mind. Harmonising the mind. Like this: let your mind sit in zazen . . .
Don’t let it go. If you let it go, it’ll go wild. Let whatever kind of mind you have – monkey mind, good mind, calm mind – let it sit with you.
To do this, your mind is with your breath.”
To become aware of the breath again, should this mind go wild: when you inhale, concentrate on your lower abdomen moving out. When you exhale, notice your abdomen moving in. Stay with this ebb and flow, breath moving, abdomen moving. It has been likened to the soft sigh of a baby breathing . . . a sigh as soft as the vibration of the Universe. Breathing so quietly you have to focus your mind on your breath to hear it.
Sometimes you can reverse this, and we would use this practice when we lose focus: This practice is particularly good if you feel sleepy or lazy, or lacking in spirit: practice breathing so that when you inhale your lower abdomen goes in a little bit, and when you exhale your lower abdomen goes out. This might help you wake up. And you can take a stronger breath at the back of the throat, almost as if you were going to snore!
Your mind should be with your breath. But we know it does often leave. When this happens, bring your mind back to your zazen. Very often your mind darts about all over the place. Just gently bring it back to the breath – you might have to do this for the whole period of zazen: soft baby’s breath and listening, or stronger slightly snoring breath, whatever you need.
When you see your mind going out and coming back, going out and coming back, as Katagiri said: “ . . . you will eventually ask, “What is zazen?” Don’t worry. All you have to do is learn to see where your mind is and, if it goes out, bring it back. This is all we have to do.“ This is what you do with your mind.
This is the art of zazen . . .
Source for Master Katagiri quote: Dainin Katagiri: You Have to Say Something (Shambala Press)