STORIES, BOOKS & MEDIA
ZAZEN MEDITATION GUIDE - Chapter 13. Treatment of What Happens in Sitting
a. Pain at legs
Pain and suffering in sitting zazen would be the first truth of Buddhism as the Buddha has taught for more than 2,500 years, especially to you as a beginner. So, if you like to walk the Way of the Buddha, you need to overcome pain at legs first.
Actually, it won't last as long as you think the first times you experience it. You can overcome it by your strong will, by doing some kind of physical exercises like yoga or massage for your legs before and after sitting on daily basis. You may want to sink the lower part of your body into warm water everyday about 20 minutes.
All of the things I have just mentioned will help you to overcome the "first truth". Do not think that maybe the Oriental people would not have this kind of problems. The fact is not what you thought. The older the harder in overcoming this problem. But anyone, including you, can do it, with a strong will and continuous patience. You might ask: How long will it take? The quick answer is: It depends on the individual's efforts to overcome it.
It is very easy to fall into sleep or feel very sleepy in sitting zazen when your eyes are closed or your body is getting tired, either because you could not sleep well last night or have worked hard during the day. Sometimes you feel bored and you will fall asleep during zazen. If one of these things happen, what should you do to wake up and keep on doing zazen?
Here is a couple of things you can do to help yourself:
- You might want to think about the death that may happen to you at any time, and time never waits for you.
- You might need to get up and find some fresh air or cold water to splash into your face, etc…
This is another romanized Japanese word Ma, literally, meaning: bad or devil; kyo means images, picture or figures of beings and/or things that appear to the practitioner in sitting zazen. For example, you might see the Buddha and Bodhisattvas (candidates for Buddhahood) or Arahats (Buddhist saints who no longer have leaks of passions) and their retinues, walking around or giving discourses in front of you. You might feel like you yourself are flying in the air. You might hear some sound which other people do not hear. All of those things are a mixture of falsehoods and facts. The reason why you see them might be you made big efforts in sitting zazen which, in turn, impact upon your mind and your mind then created them, as the Buddha taught in the "Shurangama-sutra".
The other reason might be your breathing was not in accordance with your mind, according to "Zazen Yojinki" (Precautions for Zazen Practitioners) by Zen master Keizan, the third Patriarch of Japanese Soto Zen, who lived in the 14th century. Therefore, it can be said that makyo are illusionary visions or sensations.
Makyo appearing means your efforts in sitting are effective and they are like some signs foretelling you about some world which you have not known yet. In the "Shurangama-sutra", the Buddha mentioned fifty common kinds of makyo that may appear to sitters.
He gave us the treatment for all of them like this: "Because you exerted some pressure on your mind in practice and you have them. Do not think you attained the Sainthood. If you think so, you get caught in the net of devils". Some of them appear more often than the others. It depends on the personality of the sitter.
My teacher teaches: "Whether they look good or bad to you, as a sitter, do not pay attention to them and just keep going on with your practice." Dreams would not appear to the person who has a sound sleep, makyo won't appear to the sitter in true zazen.
d. Zen sickness
In general, when we do zazen correctly, it could help us to prevent many popular illnesses, for example, tiredness, cold, headaches, etc.… Here, with "zen sickness" I mean some kind of sickness which may happen to you during the time you practice zazen.
It might be dangerous and harmful to you, some might even make you a man with some physical or mental defect afterward if you or your Zen teacher did not realize it, or did not prevent them before it would happen. Especially when it has just happened and you or your teacher do not get it cured. Then it will be with you in the rest of your life. For example, the serious sickness which Japanese Zen master Hakuin had for a long period of time when he was young and practiced zazen too much. In his autobiography, he himself told us his own story: "Before the month was out, my heart fire began to rise upward against the natural course, parching my lungs of their essential fluids. My feet and legs were always ice-cold: they felt as though they were immersed in tubs of snow. There was a constant buzzing in my ears, as if I were walking beside a raging mountain torrent. I became abnormally weak and timid, shrinking and fearful in whatever I did. I felt totally drained, physically and mentally exhausted. Strange visions appeared to me during waking and sleeping hours alike. My armpits were always wet with perspiration. My eyes watered constantly. I traveled far and wide, visiting wise Zen masters, seeking out noted physicians. But none of the remedies they offered brought me any relief." 1
Fortunately, he found the hermit Hakuyu who lived in a remote mountain cave in the Shirakawa District of Tokyo, who taught him the method of "introspective meditation" of Taoism, putting the mind at tanden (field of elixir: the abdomen area under the navel), the method of meditation of non-mediation to cure it. And thanks to these methods of meditation, Hakuin got himself cured.
Another case is the sickness which Chinese Zen master Fa Kuang had and could not be cured because it was too late when he realized it and his own teacher did not know about it.
In his autobiography, Han Shan, who was also a Chinese Zen master, had an opportunity to practice with master Fa Kuang and knew the situation well, told us about the zen-sickness of master Fa Kuang as follows:
One day the Master said to me, "It is not necessary for you to go away to a far place to seek a Zen teacher. I hope you will stay with this old man so that we can work together on subduing the Ox." I said to him, "Your wit, eloquence, and understanding of Buddhism are in no way inferior to that of Tai Hui. However, there are some peculiarities in your manner that puzzle me. I am conscious that your hands are always waving and your mouth constantly murmuring as if reading or chanting something. In short, your manner seems rather like that of a lunatic. What is that reason for it?"
Master Fa Kuang replied, "This is my zen-sickness. When the 'Wu' [Satori] experience came for the first time, automatically and instantaneously poems and stanzas poured from my mouth, like a gushing river flowing day and night without ceasing. I could not stop, and since then I have had this zen-sickness." I asked, "What can one do when it first appears?" He replied, When this zen-sickness first appears, one should notice it immediately. If he is not aware of it, a Zen master should correct it for him at once by striking severely and beating it out of him. Then the Master should put him to sleep. When he awakes he will be over the sickness. I regret to say that my Master was not alert and severe enough to beat it out of me at that time." 2
Zen master Han Shan himself also told us about his own zen-sickness. His zen-sickness was similar to that of Master Fa Kuang. However, at that time no one was around to help him, therefore, he chose to sleep and he slept very well all night long but this couldn't help him at all. Fortunately, next day, the layman Mr.Hu who was the householder, came home on time. Mr. Hu knew what to do in this case. He took a bell and made many sounds of the bell to Master Han Shan's ears. This action of Mr. Hu saved the master from his zen-sickness before it had been too long.
These kinds of sickness are really rare but actually happened, therefore, I mention here just as a caution. Do not think, "It's very dangerous to do zazen, so I'd rather not do that!" To me, this sounds like you are afraid of getting your legs broken if you jump into a car running. However, if you are so afraid to jump, then it is like your legs are already broken.
e. About Meat Eating and Vegetarianism
1 from "Wild Ivy" translated by Norman Waddell, 1999.
This depends on the development of your wisdom and compassion generated from your practice. In practicing Zen meditation, your mind and body should be one. The purer the mind, the purer the body, and the purer the body, the purer the mind.
As you might realize, the food you eat everyday has some effect on your body, which in turn affects your mind, and vice-versa. When you eat meat or fish, your stomach will be working harder than when you eat vegetables.
Moreover, if your compassion develops to some deeper degree, you will not want to eat meat anymore, for example, because you know that an animal such as a cow or a pig also has its own life as you do.
Note: If you do not want to see doctors so often, just eat for 80% of the capacity of your stomach.
2 from "Practice of Zen" translated by Garma C. C. Chang,1970.
End of ZAZEN MEDITATION GUIDE - Chapter 13. Treatment of What Happens in Sitting
Previous Chapter «
» Next Chapter
Purchase posters, art prints, media (music CD & DVD)
by Hugh Sitton
→Puchase this Item
→More Art Prints & Media
→Zen & Buddhism books