Zazen is a path of clarification. It’s a process. It’s a training.
When someone has kensho – a clear, direct and sudden meeting with the great reality of which everything is an expression – it’s like a hole drilled through that sheet of opaque glass. Suddenly we can see that there is something on the other side of it. The reality in which we’ve lived up till now is, in a sense, not the only one. There is a whole other dimension to it, and now we have seen it for ourselves.
The koans are a brilliant system of spiritual growth. First, they help us to settle down, to become quieter and calmer, more focused and aware. Then they can bring us to this kind of realization – open up a world we simply haven’t seen, and which no amount of intellectual contortionism can help us see. We have to see it directly. Then the koans may become much clearer and more resonant.
Over time, as we sit with more koans, the original “hole” is widened. New holes are drilled. We see more broadly, deeply and clearly. Eventually, by the end of our koan study, that wall of frosted glass may have become so weakened that it loses its structural integrity. The difference between the world of the koans and our everyday world may collapse. Then we can say with confidence that we have truly found the Dharma – and, of course, it was here all along.
Until then, it may seem that we are trying to get through to something, to connect with, penetrate, or discover something.
Over time, it becomes clearer that it’s more a matter of letting go. Not so much a reaching-to, as a dropping-away of an apparent obstacle. I remember once having a dream where I was looking out through a window at a beautiful garden. A man touched me on the shoulder and pointed out that beside me the wall had totally collapsed. There was no need to look through the window. I could simply step out over the broken wall.
I’m saying all this to dispell a misunderstanding that I fear (perhaps wrongly) has become widespread in the West – that meditation is just an activity to add to a “lifestyle.” “It feels good…. It gives me space and peace… I tend to get up from the cushion calmer and clearer…”
All this may be true, and is very valuable for sure. As we come more into alignment with the Dharma we may well feel good. But that is perhaps only a little foretaste or glimmer of an overwhelming fact. Zazen is a path of clarification. It’s a process. It’s a training. We have every right to do it for ourselves and our own benefit. But really its purpose is something much vaster and deeper, that both has nothing to do with us, and everything to do with us. It is both the path of the Buddhas and Ancestors, and the path that leads to the Ancestors’ path.
But the whole path is a marvel. Its tenderness is infinite, its joy is infinite, its merciful capacity to support us in the process of opening up and releasing whatever we need to let go of is infinite.
So we needn’t be afraid of what may feel “bad” in our zazen. We also needn’t be trapped by what feels “good.” It’s best that we just boldly face whatever arises in our sitting, and see what it would take to allow it fully – to be OK with it lasting an eternity. In other words, to surrender ourselves to our sitting, to give ourselves wholly to it.