Taking the Bodhi Seat

Featured in Mountain Record 31.3, Spring 2013


The other night on my way to the zendo, a few lines from Charlotte Joko Beck’s Everyday Zen came to mind: “Do [you] really know what practice is? I’ve met people who have been doing something for twenty years that they call practice. They could better have been working on their golf stroke.” Her candor stings a bit, but her words resonate as true—I had better be as clear as I can about what meditation practice is; otherwise there’s a real danger of just sitting on my cushion wasting time. It’s for this reason that teachings on meditation are so essential; they guide us in learning how to effectively transform the subtle and elusive realm of our mind.

Drawing on the words of ancient mas- ters and contemporary teachers, this issue of the Mountain Record takes up the theme of “Zazen,” the seated meditation practice at the heart of Zen. Rather than looking at meditation broadly, we narrowed the focus, hoping that by tightening our scope, we might offer more depth. The Buddha taught, “Just as in the great ocean there is but one taste, the taste of salt, so in these teachings there is but one taste, the taste of liberation.” What can we learn from the form of zazen, in all its mystery, plainness, vigor and ease? What does the practice of zazen teach us about how to live wise and generous lives?

Whether we take up zazen or engage other forms of practice, we’ll find a wealth of guidance in these pages. Some pieces are refreshingly straightforward, like Toni Packer’s encouragement to open our senses and be present; others, like Bodhidharma’s “Wake-Up Sermon,” challenge us like a series of impassable koans. Master Chinul encourages us to be patient and thorough as we unravel the conditioned habits of a lifetime; Ryushin Sensei urges us to be open to our experience as it arises. Among these voices past and present, wisdom emerges: to deeply relax into the truth of our own perfection and to not repress or cut off any aspect of our self.

Weaving its way through this issue is the teaching that we don’t have to be someone different or special to practice zazen. We can come to the cushion as we are and trust that if we practice sincerely and apply our understanding, our zazen will naturally deepen and clarify. Shugen Sensei quotes Master Dogen: “‘The zazen of even one person at one moment imperceptibly accords with all things and fully resonates through all time.’” Sensei continues, “Really take that in. He’s talking about you.

How do we know what practice is? What are Master Dogen and Shugen Sensei and all the teachers of Zen pointing to? I think of Daido Roshi’s persistent teaching, “Trust yourself,” and how much I’ve relied on that. It feels like a vital part of the practice of zazen is learning how to trust—to trust ourselves, this path, and the fact that we can wake up. May the contents of this issue help us deepen in that trust.

Danica Shoan Ankele, MRO
Mountain Record, Editor