The Still Point of Zazen

by John Daido Loori, Roshi

Featured in Mountain Record 31.3, Spring 2013

Zazen is the heart of Zen practice. Historically, Zen monastics were known as the meditation monastics, and Buddhism itself originated in the zazen of Shakyamuni Buddha sitting and realizing the nature of reality under the bodhi tree. But the strong emphasis placed on meditation in Zen really dates back to Bodhidharma, who was reputed to have sat nine years facing the wall in single-minded effort. All of the Zen lineages that are traced to Bodhidharma always maintained zazen as their primary focus and the basis of training.

Of course, there are other forms of Buddhism. There are schools that place emphasis on the study and comprehension of the sutras; others dedicate themselves to repeating the name of a buddha. There are forms of Buddhism that focus on liturgy or elaborate esoteric visualizations. In Zen, the emphasis is on zazen. Whether we are talking about Soto school or Rinzai school, whether we are dealing with koan introspection or silent illumination, the cornerstone of Zen is zazen.

It is amazing, however, how sparse is the information published about zazen, and generally how little is known about zazen even among those who supposedly practice it. When you survey the wealth of Zen Buddhist literature, there are volumes published on koans and koan study. There are extensive collections of sayings of great masters, but few historical documents talk specifically about zazen, and usually they are no more than a paragraph or two in length. Master Dogen is an exception to this. All of his teaching was based on zazen; in fact, he wrote one fascicle in his masterwork Shobogenzo devoted exclusively to the sub- ject. Yet, we can say that everything that has been published—all ninety-four chapters of the Shobogenzo, all the sutras and discourses of the Buddha, all the ancient teachings and the koans that have been handed down from generation to generation—is nothing but zazen.