When asked, “Why do you sit?” students new to the practice as well as longtime sitters offer a variety of responses. Some say, “I sit to cultivate present moment awareness,” or “to deepen my sense of peace and well-being.” Others say, “I sit for the well-being of the whole world,” or “I sit to foster wisdom and compassion, to come home to the reality of what it is to be truly human.” There’s also the classic “Zen” answer: “I sit just to sit”—no goal, nothing to attain, no one doing anything.
Some years ago, when asked, “Why do you sit?” Yamada Ryoun Roshi responded simply, “I sit because I want to.”
Whatever the motivation, when we take up this practice, zazen itself becomes a living koan—a footprint of awakening, an expression of who we truly are. And it becomes a way of life.
‘Why do you sit?’ naturally opens out into the question, “What is zazen?” What is this practice of returning again and again to this breath, this body, this moment? The question doesn’t call for a discursive answer but rather invites us into a state of exploration, of not knowing, of beginner’s mind—the mind of compassion, the heart of zazen.
Photo by Mark Petrick