This is a repost from last fall. I've had a lot on my plate recently, including doing work to promote the new book I have an essay in. There are a few blog post topics brewing, so I'll be back with new content soon. However, having spent the last year studying Dogen with several sangha friends, I'm still wrestling with some of the ideas in this post. So, here it is for you.
I really enjoyed this post by Andre over at Zen and Back Again. Mostly because it's familiar to me, and is something I've written about on here before.
If Zen is the practice of complete non-abiding, requiring the relinquishment of all attachments, then doesn't it serve to reason that we should let go of Zen too? For as I have found, Zen, namely zazen, can become a form of attachment.
We hear more about this regarding koans, where teachers caution their students against attaching to koans, since they are merely a raft to carry us to the other shore. Like the Buddha's teachings, they are upaya, skillful means.
But we seldom hear that said about zazen; instead, meditation, especially in Soto Zen, is regarded as the holiest of holies.
It almost feels anathema to imply that zazen can turn into a form of attachment, but try skipping 0ne day of meditation and you will soon realize how attached you are to the practice. Shame, guilt, anxiety commonly accompany a missed zazen session of mine.
Yesterday, we started a new group down at the zen center for those who have completed jukai. As one of the facilitators of the group, I introduced myself as "an eclectic practitioner" who is always experimenting. Which isn't to say I can stick with a form - such as zazen - only that I've grown more interested in how form flows in everyday life.
Having spent the last three weeks or so reading a lot about Dogen, as well as practicing with a few of his teachings, I find myself returning to some of the same things Andre is speaking about.
Dogen says that sitting is what a Buddha does. But isn't that making zazen something special by elevating it above all of our other daily activities?
The thing about Dogen's writing is that sometimes it really does seem like seated meditation is his sole focus, while other times he uses the word "Zazen" as an action in each moment. Some Soto teachers seem to lean in one direction, emphasizing seated meditation nearly all the time. While others seem to lean in the other direction, saying that Dogen applies zazen to all activities. I'm more inclined towards the latter, but sometimes it feels like a gloss over, an apology for a founding teacher that simply might have gotten too focused on seated meditation.
It's important to note the the openness to, and deep interest in, lay practitioners Dogen had during the middle of his teaching life greatly waned as he got older. At the same time, he maintained connections with at least a couple of lay disciples until the end, spending his last days in the home of one of them in Kyoto. Given the frequent social/political upheaval that marked 13th century Japan, I can imagine there was always a tension for him between upholding the practice of householders, and feeling the need to emphasize breaking away from it all and practicing in seclusion with a small group of dedicated others.
When I go back to Andre's consideration of attachment to practice, I find myself returning to the value of just paying attention. Noticing what kind of stories are arising. For example, sometimes that desire I have "to experiment" has a bit of extra added to it. Like wanting to do something novel, instead of "the same old thing." And sometimes I'm just plain giving in to laziness.
So, I have to stay vigilant around these kinds of questions, lest they become intellectual ways to trick myself, or justify opting out.
And yet, I have always felt a crunchy rub around Dogen's teachings about "zazen," and how they have come to be practiced today. Because just doing seated meditation and some ritual bows and chants doesn't constitute living the spiritual life.
What are your thoughts?