know which is which. So either may be the left or the right
The most important thing in taking the zazen posture is
to keep your spine straight. Your ears and your shoulders
should be on one line. Relax your shoulders, and push up
towards the ceiling with the back of your head. And you
should pull your chin in. When your chin is tilted up, you
have no strength in your posture; you are probably dream-
ing. Also to gain strength in your posture, press your dia-
phragm down towards your hara, or lower abdomen. This
will help you maintain your physical and mental balance.
When you try to keep this posture, at first you may find some
difficulty breathing naturally, but when you get accustomed
to it you will be able to breathe naturally and deeply.
Your hands should form the "cosmic mudra." If you put
your left hand on top of your right, middle joints of your
middle fingers together, and touch your thumbs lightly to-
gether (as if you held a piece of paper between them), your
hands will make a beautiful oval. You should keep this uni-
versal mudra with great care, as if you were holding some-
thing very precious in your hand. Your hands should be held
against your body, with your thumbs at about the height of
your navel. Hold your arms freely and easily, and slightly
away from your body, as if you held an egg under each arm
without breaking it.
You should not be tilted sideways, backwards, or for-
wards. You should be sitting straight up as if you were
supporting the sky with your head. This is not just form or
breathing. It expresses the key point of Buddhism. It is a
perfect expression of your Buddha nature. If you want true
understanding of Buddhism, you should practice this way.
These forms are not a means of obtaining the right state of
mind. To take this posture itself is the purpose of our prac-
tice. When you have this posture, you have the right state of
mind, so there is no need to try to attain some special state.
When you try to attain something, your mind starts to wan-
der about somewhere else. When you do not try to attain
26 RIGHT PRACTICE
anything, you have your own body and mind right here. A
Zen master would say, "Kill the Buddha!" Kill the Buddha
if the Buddha exists somewhere else. Kill the Buddha, be-
cause you should resume your own Buddha nature.
Doing something is expressing our own nature. We do not
exist for the sake of something else. We exist for the sake
of ourselves. This is the fundamental teaching expressed in
the forms we observe. Just as for sitting, when we stand in
the zendo we have some rules. But the purpose of these rules
is not to make everyone the same, but to allow each to ex-
press his own self most freely. For instance, each one of us
has his own way of standing, so our standing posture is based
on the proportions of our own bodies. When you stand, your
heels should be as far apart as the width of your own fist,
your big toes in line with the centers of your breasts. As in
zazen, put some strength in your abdomen. Here also your
hands should express your self. Hold your left hand against
your chest with fingers encircling your thumb, and put your
right hand over it. Holding your thumb pointing downward,
and your forearms parallel to the floor, you feel as if you have
some round pillar in your grasp—a big round temple pillar—
so you cannot be slumped or tilted to the side.
The most important point is to own your own physical
body. If you slump, you will lose your self. Your mind will
be wandering about somewhere else; you will not be in your
body. This is not the way. We must exist right here, right
now! This is the key point. You must have your own body
and mind. Everything should exist in the right place, in the
right way. Then there is no problem. If the microphone I use
when I speak exists somewhere else, it will not serve its
purpose. When we have our body and mind in order, every-
thing else will exist in the right place, in the right way.
But usually, without being aware of it, we try to change
something other than ourselves, we try to order things out-
side us. But it is impossible to organize things if you yourself
are not in order. When you do things in the right way, at
the right time, everything else will be organized. You are
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the "boss." When the boss is sleeping, everyone is sleeping.
When the boss does something right, everyone will do
everything right, and at the right time. That is the secret of
So try always to keep the right posture, not only when
you practice zazen, but in all your activities. Take the right
posture when you are driving your car, and when you are
reading. If you read in a slumped position, you cannot stay
awake long. Try. You will discover how important it is to
keep the right posture. This is the true teaching. The teach-
ing which is written on paper is not the true teaching.
Written teaching is a kind of food for your brain. Of course
it is necessary to take some food for your brain, but it is
more important to be yourself by practicing the right way
That is why Buddha could not accept the religions existing
at his time. He studied many religions, but he was not satis-
fied with their practices. He could not find the answer in
asceticism or in philosophies. He was not interested in some
metaphysical existence, but in his own body and mind, here
and now. And when he found himself, he found that every-
thing that exists has Buddha nature. That was his enlighten-
ment. Enlightenment is not some good feeling or some
particular state of mind. The state of mind that exists when
you sit in the right posture is, itself, enlightenment. If you
cannot be satisfied with the state of mind you have in zazen,
it means your mind is still wandering about. Our body and
mind should not be wobbling or wandering about. In this
posture there is no need to talk about the right state of
mind. You already have it. This is the conclusion of
BREA THI NG
"What we call T is just a
swinging door which moves when we inhale and
when we exhale."
When we practice zazen our mind always follows our breath-
ing. When we inhale, the air comes into the inner world.
When we exhale, the air goes out to the outer world. The
inner world is limitless, and the outer world is also limit-
less. We say "inner world" or "outer world," but actually
there is just one whole world. In this limitless world, our
throat is like a swinging door. The air comes in and goes
out like someone passing through a swinging door. If you
think, "I breathe," the "I" is extra. There is no you to say
"I." What we call "I" is just a swinging door which moves
when we inhale and when we exhale. It just moves; that is
all. When your mind is pure and calm enough to follow this
movement, there is nothing: no "I," no world, no mind nor
body; just a swinging door.
So when we practice zazen, all that exists is the move-
ment of the breathing, but we are aware of this movement.
You should not be absent-minded. But to be aware of the
movement does not mean to be aware of your small self,
but rather of your universal nature, or Buddha nature. This
kind of awareness is very important, because we are usually
so one-sided. Our usual understanding of life is dualistic:
you and I, this and that, good and bad. But actually these
discriminations are themselves the awareness of the univer-
sal existence. "You" means to be aware of the universe in
the form of you, and "I" means to be aware of it in the form
of I. You and I are just swinging doors. This kind of under-
standing is necessary. This should not even be called under-
standing ; it is actually the true experience of life through
So when you practice zazen, there is no idea of time or
space. You may say, "We started sitting at a quarter to six
in this room." Thus you have some idea of time (a quarter
to six), and some idea of space (in this room). Actually
what you are doing, however, is just sitting and being aware
of the universal activity. That is all. This moment the swing-
ing door is opening in one direction, and the next moment
the swinging door will be opening in the opposite direction.
Moment after moment each one of us repeats this activity.
Here there is no idea of time or space. Time and space are
one. You may say, "I must do something this afternoon,"
but actually there is no "this afternoon." We do things one
after the other. That is all. There is no such time as "this
afternoon" or "one o'clock" or "two o'clock." At one
o'clock you will eat your lunch. To eat lunch is itself one
o'clock. You will be somewhere, but that place cannot be
separated from one o'clock. For someone who actually ap-
preciates our life, they are the same. But when we become
tired of our life we may say, "I shouldn't have come to this
place. It may have been much better to have gone to some
other place for lunch. This place is not so good." In your
mind you create an idea of place separate from an actual
Or you may say, "This is bad, so I should not do this."
Actually, when you say, "I should not do this," you are doing
not-doing in that moment. So there is no choice for you.
When you separate the idea of time and space, you feel as if
you have some choice, but actually, you have to do some-
thing, or you have to do not-doing. Not-to-do something is
doing something. Good and bad are only in your mind. So
we should not say, "This is good," or "This is bad." Instead
of saying bad, you should say, "not-to-do" ! If you think,
"This is bad," it will create some confusion for you. So in
the realm of pure religion there is no confusion of time and
space, or good or bad. All that we should do is just do
something as it comes. Do something! Whatever it is, we
should do it, even if it is not-doing something. We should
live in this moment. So when we sit we concentrate on our
breathing, and we become a swinging door, and we do
something we should do, something we must do. This is
G H T
Zen practice. In this practice there is no confusion. If you
establish this kind of life you have no confusion whatsoever.
Tozan, a famous Zen master, said, "The blue mountain
is the father of the white cloud. The white cloud is the son
of the blue mountain. All day long they depend on each
other, without being dependent on each other. The white
cloud is always the white cloud. The blue mountain is al-
ways the blue mountain." This is a pure, clear interpreta-
tion of life. There may be many things like the white cloud
and blue mountain: man and woman, teacher and disciple.
They depend on each other. But the white cloud should not
be bothered by the blue mountain. The blue mountain
should not be bothered by the white cloud. They are quite
independent, but yet dependent. This is how we live, and
how we practice zazen.
When we become truly ourselves, we just become a
swinging door, and we are purely independent of, and at
the same time, dependent upon everything. Without air,
we cannot breathe. Each one of us is in the midst of myriads
of worlds. We are in the center of the world always, moment
after moment. So we are completely dependent and inde-
pendent. If you have this kind of experience, this kind of
existence, you have absolute independence; you will not be
bothered by anything. So when you practice zazen, your
mind should be concentrated on your breathing. This kind
of activity is the fundamental activity of the universal being.
Without this experience, this practice, it is impossible to
attain absolute freedom.
ON T R O L
"To give jour sheep or cow a
large, spacious meadow is the way to control
To live in the realm of Buddha nature means to die as a small
being, moment after moment. When we lose our balance
we die, but at the same time we also develop ourselves, we
grow. Whatever we see is changing, losing its balance. The
reason everything looks beautiful is because it is out of bal-
ance, but its background is always in perfect harmony. This
is how everything exists in the realm of Buddha nature,
losing its balance against a background of perfect balance.
So if you see things without realizing the background of
Buddha nature, everything appears to be in the form of suf-
fering. But if you understand the background of existence,
you realize that suffering itself is how we live, and how we
extend our life. So in Zen sometimes we emphasize the
imbalance or disorder of life.
Nowadays traditional Japanese painting has become pretty
formal and lifeless. That is why modern art has developed.
Ancient painters used to practice putting dots on paper in
artistic disorder. This is rather difficult. Even though you
try to do it, usually what you do is arranged in some order.
You think you can control it, but you cannot; it is almost
impossible to arrange your dots out of order. It is the same
with taking care of your everyday life. Even though you try
to put people under some control, it is impossible. You
cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage
them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its
wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious
meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people:
first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is
the best policy. To ignore them is not good; that is the worst
policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The
best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without
trying to control them.
The same way works for you yourself as well. If you want
to obtain perfect calmness in your zazen, you should not be
bothered by the various images you find in your mind. Let
them come, and let them go. Then they will be under con-
trol. But this policy is not so easy. It sounds easy, but it
requires some special effort. How to make this kind of ef-
fort is the secret of practice. Suppose you are sitting under
some extraordinary circumstances. If you try to calm your
mind you will be unable to sit, and if you try not to be
disturbed, your effort will not be the right effort. The only
effort that will help you is to count your breathing, or to
concentrate on your inhaling and exhaling. We say concen-
tration, but to concentrate your mind on something is not
the true purpose of Zen. The true purpose is to see things
as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let every-
thing go as it goes. This is to put everything under control
in its widest sense. Zen practice is to open up our small
mind. So concentrating is just an aid to help you realize
"big mind," or the mind that is everything. If you want to
discover the true meaning of Zen in your everyday life, you
have to understand the meaning of keeping your mind on
your breathing and your body in the right posture in zazen.
You should follow the rules of practice and your study
should become more subtle and careful. Only in this way
can you experience the vital freedom of Zen.
Dogen-zenji said, "Time goes from present to past." This
is absurd, but in our practice sometimes it is true. Instead
of time progressing from past to present, it goes backwards
from present to past. Yoshitsune was a famous warrior who
lived in medieval Japan. Because of the situation of the coun-
try at that time, he was sent to the northern provinces, where
he was killed. Before he left he bade farewell to his wife,
and soon after she wrote in a poem, "Just as you unreel the
thread from a spool, I want the past to become present."
When she said this, actually she made past time present. In
her mind the past became alive and was the present. So as
Dogen said, "Time goes from present to past." This is not
true in our logical mind, but it is in the actual experience
of making past time present. There we have poetry, and
there we have human life.
When we experience this kind of truth it means we have
found the true meaning of time. Time constantly goes from
past to present and from present to future. This is true, but
it is also true that time goes from future to present and from
present to past. A Zen master once said, "To go eastward
one mile is to go westward one mile." This is vital freedom.
We should acquire this kind of perfect freedom.
But perfect freedom is not found without some rules.
People, especially young people, think that freedom is to
do just what they want, that in Zen there is no need for
rules. But it is absolutely necessary for us to have some rules.
But this does not mean always to be under control. As long
as you have rules, you have a chance for freedom. To try to
obtain freedom without being aware of the rules means
nothing. It is to acquire this perfect freedom that we practice
IN D WA V ES "Because we enjoy all as-
pects of life as an unfolding of big mind, we do
not care for any excessive joy. So we have imperturbable
When you are practicing zazen, do not try to stop your think-
ing. Let it stop by itself. If something comes into your mind,
let it come in, and let it go out. It will not stay long. When
you try to stop your thinking, it means you are bothered by
it. Do not be bothered by anything. It appears as if something
comes from outside your mind, but actually it is only the
waves of your mind, and if you are not bothered by the
waves, gradually they will become calmer and calmer. In
five or at most ten minutes, your mind will be completely
serene and calm. At that time your breathing will become
quite slow, while your pulse will become a little faster.
It will take quite a long time before you find your calm,
serene mind in your practice. Many sensations come, many
thoughts or images arise, but they are just waves of your
own mind. Nothing comes from outside your mind. Usually
we think of our mind as receiving impressions and expe-
riences from outside, but that is not a true understanding of
our mind. The true understanding is that the mind includes
34- RIGHT PRACTICE
everything; when you think something comes from outside
it means only that something appears in your mind. Nothing
outside yourself can cause any trouble. You yourself make
the waves in your mind. If you leave your mind as it is, it
will become calm. This mind is called big mind.
If your mind is related to something outside itself, that
mind is a small mind, a limited mind. If your mind is not
related to anything else, then there is no dualistic understand-
ing in the activity of your mind. You understand activity as
just waves of your mind. Big mind experiences everything
within itself. Do you understand the difference between the
two minds: the mind which includes everything, and the
mind which is related to something? Actually they are the
same thing, but the understanding is different, and your
attitude towards your life will be different according to
which understanding you have.
That everything is included within your mind is the es-
sence of mind. To experience this is to have religious feeling.
Even though waves arise, the essence of your mind is pure;
it is just like clear water with a few waves. Actually water
always has waves. Waves are the practice of the water.. To
speak of waves apart from water or water apart from waves
is a delusion. Water and waves are one. Big mind and small
mind are one. When you understand your mind in this way,
you have some security in your feeling. As your mind does
not expect anything from outside, it is always filled. A mind
with waves in it is not a disturbed mind, but actually an
amplified one. Whatever you experience is an expression
of big mind.
The activity of big mind is to amplify itself through various
experiences. In one sense our experiences coming one by
one are always fresh and new, but in another sense they are
nothing but a continuous or repeated unfolding of the one
big mind. For instance, if you have something good for
breakfast, you will say, "This is good." "Good" is supplied
as something experienced some time long ago, even though
you may not remember when. With big mind we accept
MIND WAVES 35
each of our experiences as if recognizing the face we see in
a mirror as our own. For us there is no fear of losing this
mind. There is nowhere to come or to go; there is no fear
of death, no suffering from old age or sickness. Because we
enjoy all aspects of life as an unfolding of big mind, we do
not care for any excessive joy. So we have imperturbable
composure, and it is with this imperturbable composure of
big mind that we practice zazen.
IN D W EE D S "You should rather be
grateful for the weeds you have in jour mind,
because eventually they will enrich your practice."
When the alarm rings early in the morning, and you get up,
I think you do not feel so good. It is not easy to go and sit,
and even after you arrive at the zendo and begin zazen you
have to encourage yourself to sit well. These are just waves
of your mind. In pure zazen there should not be any waves
in your mind. While you are sitting these waves will become
smaller and smaller, and your effort will change into some
We say, "Pulling out the weeds we give nourishment to
the plant." We pull the weeds and bury them near the plant
to give it nourishment. So even though you have some dif-
ficulty in your practice, even though you have some waves
while you are sitting, those waves themselves will help you.
So you should not be bothered by your mind. You should
rather be grateful for the weeds, because eventually they
will enrich your practice. If you have some experience of
how the weeds in your mind change into mental nourish-
ment, your practice will make remarkable progress. You
will feel the progress. You will feel how they change into
self-nourishment. Of course it is not so difficult to give some
philosophical or psychological interpretation of our prac-
tice, but that is not enough. We must have the actual expe-
rience of how our weeds change into nourishment.
Strictly speaking, any effort we make is not good for our
practice because it creates waves in our mind. It is impos-
sible, however, to attain absolute calmness of our mind
without any effort. We must make some effort, but we must
forget ourselves in the effort we make. In this realm there is
no subjectivity or objectivity. Our mind is just calm, with-
out even any awareness. In this unawareness, every effort
and every idea and thought will vanish. So it is necessary for
us to encourage ourselves and to make an effort up to the
last moment, when all effort disappears. You should keep
your mind on your breathing until you are not aware of your
We should try to continue our effort forever, but we
should not expect to reach some stage when we will forget
all about it. We should just try to keep our mind on our
breathing. That is our actual practice. That effort will be
refined more and more while you are sitting. At first the
effort you make is quite rough and impure, but by the power
of practice the effort will become purer and purer. When
your effort becomes pure, your body and mind become pure.
This is the way we practice Zen. Once you understand our
innate power to purify ourselves and our surroundings, you
can act properly, and you will learn from those around you,
and you will become friendly with others. This is the merit
of Zen practice. But the way of practice is just to be con-
centrated on your breathing with the right posture and with
great, pure effort. This is how we practice Zen.
MIND WEEDS 37
HE M A R R O W OF ZEN
"In the zazen
posture, your mind and body have,^reat power to
accept things as they are, whether agreeable or dis-
In our scriptures (Samyuktagama Sutra, volume 33), it is
said that there are four kinds of horses: excellent ones, good
ones, poor ones, and bad ones. The best horse will run slow
and fast, right and left, at the driver's will, before it sees
the shadow of the whip; the second best will run as well as
the first one does, just before the whip reaches its skin; the
third one will run when it feels pain on its body; the fourth
will run after the pain penetrates to the marrow of its bones.
You can imagine how difficult it is for the fourth one to
learn how to run!
When we hear this story, almost all of us want to be
the best horse. If it is impossible to be the best one, we want
to be the second best. This is, I think, the usual understand-
ing of this story, and of Zen. You may think that when you
sit in zazen you will find out whether you are one of the best
horses or one of the worst ones. Here, however, there is a
misunderstanding of Zen. If you think the aim of Zen prac-
tice is to train you to become one of the best horses, you
will have a big problem. This is not the right understanding.
If you practice Zen in the right way it does not matter
whether you are the best horse or the worst one. When
you consider the mercy of Buddha, how do you think Bud-
dha will feel about the four kinds of horses ? He will have
more sympathy for the worst one than for the best one.
When you are determined to practice zazen with the great
mind of Buddha, you will find the worst horse is the most
valuable one. In your very imperfections you will find the
basis for your firm, way-seeking mind. Those who can sit
perfectly physically usually take more time to obtain the true
way of Zen, the actual feeling of Zen, the marrow of Zen.
But those who find great difficulties in practicing Zen will
find more meaning in it. So I think that sometimes the best
horse may be the worst horse, and the worst horse can be
the best one.
If you study calligraphy you will find that those who are
not so clever usually become the best calligraphers. Those
who are very clever with their hands often encounter great
difficulty after they have reached a certain stage. This is also
true in art and in Zen. It is true in life. So when we talk
about Zen we cannot say, "He is good," or "He is bad," in
the ordinary sense of the words. The posture taken in zazen
is not the same for each of us. For some it may be impossible
to take the cross-legged posture. But even though you cannot
take the right posture, when you arouse your real, way-
seeking mind, you can practice Zen in its true sense. Ac-
tually it is easier for those who have difficulties in sitting to
arouse the true way-seeking mind than for those who can
When we reflect on what are doing in our everyday life,
we are always ashamed of ourselves. One of my students
wrote to me saying, "You sent me a calendar, and I am
trying to follow the good mottoes which appear on each
page. But the year has hardly begun, and already I have
failed!'' Dogen-zenji said,' 'Shoshaku jushaku.'' Shaku generally
means "mistake" or "wrong." Shoshaku jushaku means "to
succeed wrong with wrong," or one continuous mistake.
According to Dogen, one continuous mistake can also be
Zen. A Zen master's life could be said to be so many years
of shoshaku jushaku. This means so many years of one
We say, "A good father is not a good father." Do you
understand? One who thinks he is a good father is not a
good father; one who thinks he is a good husband is not a
good husband. One who thinks he is one of the worst hus-
bands may be a good one if he is always trying to be a good
husband with a single-hearted effort. If you find it impossible
to sit because of some pain or some physical difficulty, then
you should sit anyway, using a thick cushion or a chair.
THE MARROW OF ZEN 39
Even though you are the worst horse you will get to the
marrow of Zen.
Suppose your children are suffering from a hopeless dis-
ease. You do not know what to do; you cannot lie in bed.
Normally the most comfortable place for you would be a
warm comfortable bed, but now because of your mental
agony you cannot rest. You may walk up and down, in and
out, but this does not help. Actually the best way to relieve
your mental suffering is to sit in zazen, even in such a con-
fused state of mind and bad posture. If you have no experience
of sitting in this kind of difficult situation you are not a Zen
student. No other activity will appease your suffering. In
other restless positions you have no power to accept your
difficulties, but in the zazen posture which you have acquired
by long, hard practice, your mind and body have great power
to accept things as they are, whether they are agreeable or
When you feel disagreeable it is better for you to sit.
There is no other way to accept your problem and work on
it. Whether you are the best horse or the worst, or whether
your posture is good or bad is out of the question. Everyone
can practice zazen, and in this way work on his problems
and accept them.
When you are sitting in the middle of your own problem,
which is more real to you: your problem or you yourself?
The awareness that you are here, right now, is the ultimate
fact. This is the point you will realize by zazen practice. In
continuous practice, under a succession of agreeable and dis-
agreeable situations, you will realize the marrow of Zen and
acquire its true strength.
O D UA LIS M
"To stop jour mind does not
mean to stop the activities of mind. It means jour
mind pervades jour whole bodj. With jour full mind
joujorm the mudra in jour hands."
We say our practice should be without gaining ideas, without
any expectations, even of enlightenment. This does not mean,
however, just to sit without any purpose. This practice free
from gaining ideas is based on the Prajna Paramita Sutra.
However, if you are not careful the sutra itself will give you
a gaining idea. It says, "Form is emptiness and emptiness is
form." But if you attach to that statement, you are liable to
be involved in dualistic ideas: here is you, form, and here is
emptiness, which you are trying to realize through your form.
So "form is emptiness, and emptiness is form" is still dual-
istic. But fortunately, our teaching goes on to say, "Form is
form and emptiness is emptiness." Here there is no dualism.
When you find it difficult to stop your mind while you are
sitting and when you are still trying to stop your mind, this
is the stage of "form is emptiness and emptiness is form."
But while you are practicing in this dualistic way, more and
more you will have oneness with your goal. And when your
practice becomes effortless, you can stop your mind. This is
the stage of "form is form and emptiness is emptiness."
To stop your mind does not mean to stop the activities of
mind. It means your mind pervades your whole body. Your
mind follows your breathing. With your full mind you form
the mudra in your hands. With your whole mind you sit with
painful legs without being disturbed by them. This is to sit
without any gaining idea. At first you feel some restriction in
your posture, but when you are not disturbed by the restric-
tion, you have found the meaning of "emptiness is emptiness
and form is form." So to find your own way under some re-
striction is the way of practice.
Practice does not mean that whatever you do, even lying
down, is zazen. When the restrictions you have do not limit
NO DUALISM 41
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