Posted on Apr.25.2007 @ 08:46PM EDT by Pendragon
Zazen ... The First Taste of Zen
An interview with Ekai Korematsu by Gary Youston, August 2001
Gary: 'Ill begin with the most obvious question: What is zazen?
Ekai: Zazen literally means you sit down and quiet your mind. Literally, seated meditation. But when we talk about zazen in Dogen Zenjis way or the Soto Schools way the emphasis is upon posture. Its not just sitting and spending time wondering or whatever, but sitting in a very healthy posture. This means the back should be straight and the breathing should be healthy. If we miss these points, sitting like this (hand bent), tilted, then it goes away from the zazen school. But generally speaking zazen is seated meditation.
Gary: So why is there an emphasis upon a straight spine?
Ekai: Again, if we dont focus the spine or centre of ourselves then things do not come together. They can be all over and you cant position yourself. If you want to position yourself you have to make sure that the alignment is there, in the centre. Then you have an anchor point. But without that, if you are tilted off centre, it doesnt work, as sustaining an effort is difficult and doesnt come naturally. At the beginning when we learn to sit in zazen there is a lot of adjustment, effort or work correction to the right posture taking place. Your feeling about how you are sitting doesnt necessarily correspond with the way you are sitting. You may feel awkward to sit straight. But it is a matter of course. If you do this once, twice, three times, four times then slowly you begin to feel this feels right.
Gary: I remember when I first started, you talked about just sitting and then you would talk about making an effort. These seemed like opposites to me
Ekai: [laughter] The truth is in how you reconcile what seem to be contradictions. When the gap becomes reconciled, resolved, then you see the practice clearly. Before that there is always contradiction and conflict. So, simply speaking, when we say practice there is an effort, or a slight effort involved. Without effort there is no practice.
Gary: So what is the effort aimed towards?
Ekai: Effort is to point out the very basic, important thing. The important thing is to settle in the right posture and get ready for the body and mind to be able to make an effort. Its all connected. If you want to do zazen practice you have to learn to let go, to set aside a little bit. If you dont make a deliberate effort, bringing all the stuff from your world into the sitting then theres no practice. You are just carrying on the same thing, mundane effort, everyday effort
Gary: You just happen to be sitting differently!
Ekai: Yes! Yes!! [laughter]. You dont need to be sitting like that. You could be listening to music or something. A slight effort is important. Right effort. So to make this effort we have to rely on some thinking level. It doesnt come naturally without paying attention. In zazen we need some instruction. That is the purpose of orientation. It is a kind of general map of the practice, so that you know which direction is the proper direction. If you dont have that and you miss some point, then the further you go the more you deviate. If you have a general kind of idea and this is reinforced by your experience, then it becomes clearer.