Master Dogen said, “Cease from the practice of intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backwards step that turns your light inward to illuminate yourself. Body and mind of themselves will drop away and your original face will be manifested. If you want to attain suchness, you should practice suchness without delay. Cease all movements of the conscious mind, the gauging of all thoughts and views. Have no design on becoming a buddha. Zazen has nothing whatsoever to do with sitting or lying down. The zazen that I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the Dharma gate of repose and bliss—the practice-realization of total accumulated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate reality.”

Know that the world of zazen is far different from any other realm. At the precise moment of sitting zazen, examine whether time permeates the vertical and horizontal axes, and all of space. And consider the nature of zazen. Is it different from normal activity? Is it thinking or non-thinking? Action or non-action? Is zazen only the full lotus posture or does it exist in the body and the mind? Does it transcend body and mind? We must examine such various standpoints. The zazen of the mind is not the same as the zazen of the body, and vice versa. There is a zazen of shikantaza that differs from the zazen in which body and mind have fallen off. Once the body and mind drop off, we attain the comprehension and experience of the buddhas and ancestors. We must preserve this mind by thoroughly examining all aspects of zazen.

If we do not transmit zazen, we do not transmit the buddhadharma. Here on this mountain, from the very beginning, zazen has been an essential aspect of our practice. On the evening of the day we first arrived to begin our practice here at the Monastery, we began zazen, and it has continued to be our practice. During that first winter there were only six or seven of us sitting in a very cold building, but zazen never stopped for one moment. It is zazen that has created and maintained this sangha. It is zazen that moves out of this monastery to our affili- ate groups across the country and across the ocean. It is zazen that unites all of the sang- has of the Buddhist practitioners throughout the world. Zazen is not only the basis of our practice and the process through which we realize ourselves, but realization itself. Zazen is enlightenment.


John Daido Loori, Roshi (1931-2009) was the founding teacher of the Mountains and Rivers Order and Zen Mountain Monastery, where he served as abbot until his death in 2009. He is the author of numerous books, including The Eight Gates of Zen and The Zen of Creativity.

From Cave of Tigers: The Living Practice of Dharma Combat. Copyright © 2008 by John Daido Loori. Reprinted by permission of Shambhala Publications.