The essential way flows everywhere; how could it require practise or enlightenment? The essential teaching is fully available; how could effort be necessary? Furthermore, the entire mirror is free of dust; why take steps to polish it? Nothing is separate from this very place; why journey away?
And yet, if you miss the mark even by a strand of hair, you are as far apart from it as heaven from earth. If the slightest discrimination occurs, you will be lost in confusion. You may be proud of your understanding and have abundant realization, or you may have acquired outstanding wisdom and attained the way by clarifying the mind. However, even with high aspirations, if you wander about and get an initial glimpse of understanding, you may still lack the vital path that allows you to leap free of the body.
Observe the example of Shakyamuni Buddha at the Jeta Grove, who practised upright sitting for six years even though he was gifted with intrinsic wisdom. Still celebrated is the Master Bodhidharma of Shaolin Temple, who sat facing the wall for nine years, although he had already received the mind seal. Ancient sages were like this; who nowadays does not need to practise as they did?
Stop searching for phrases and chasing after words. Take the backward step and turn the light inward. Your body-mind of itself will drop away and your original face will appear. If you want to attain just this, immediately practise just this.
For zazen a quiet room is appropriate. Drink and eat in moderation. Let go of all involvement and let myriad things rest. Do not think good or bad. Do not judge right or wrong. Stop conscious endeavour and analytic introspection. Do not try to become a buddha. How could being a buddha be limited to sitting or not sitting?
In an appropriate place for sitting, set out a thick mat and put a round cushion on top of it. Sit either in the full- or half-lotus posture. For the full-lotus posture, first place the right foot on the left thigh, then the left foot on the right thigh. For the half-lotus posture, place the left foot on the right thigh. Loosen the robes and belts and arrange them in an orderly way. Then place the right hand palm up on the left foot, and the left hand on the right hand, with the ends of the thumbs lightly touching each other.
Sit straight up without leaning to the right or left and without bending forward or backward. The ears should be in line with the shoulders and the nose in line with the navel. Rest the tongue against the roof of the mouth, with lips and teeth closed. Keep the eyes open and breathe gently through the nose.
Having adjusted your body in this manner, take a breath and exhale fully, then sway your body to left and right. Now sit steadfastly and think not thinking. How do you think not thinking? Beyond thinking. This is the essential art of zazen.
The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the dharma gate of enjoyment and ease. It is the practise-realization of complete enlightenment. Realize the fundamental point free from the binding of nets and baskets. Once you experience it, you are like a dragon swimming in the water or a tiger reposing in the mountains. Know that the true dharma emerges of itself, clearing away hindrances and distractions.
When you stand up from sitting, move your body slowly and rise calmly, without haste. We understand from the past that going beyond the ordinary and sacred, where sitting and standing are effortless and boundless, depends solely on the power of zazen.
Furthermore, to bring forth the fundamental turning point by raising a finger, a pole, a needle, or a mallet, or to precipitate realization with a whisk, a fist, a stick, or a shout cannot be understood by discriminatory thinking. How can it be understood by the use of supernatural powers? Zazen is an awesome presence beyond form and description. How is it not the path prior to conception?
Thus do not be concerned with who is wise and who is foolish. Do not discriminate the sharp from the dull. To practise wholeheartedly is the true endeavour of the way. Practise-realization is not defiled, not special. It is a matter for every day.
Now in this human world and in other realms, in India and China, buddha ancestors invariably have maintained the buddha seal and upheld the teaching of zazen practise immersed in steadfastness. Although circumstances may vary in a thousand ways, just practise zazen, giving yourself fully to the realization of the way. Why give up the sitting platform of your own house and wander uselessly in the dust of a remote land? Once a wrong step is taken, you depart from the way.
Having received a human life, do not waste the passing moments,. Already upholding the buddha way, why indulge in the sparks from a flint? After all, form is like a dewdrop on the grass, life is like a flash of lightning – transient and illusory, gone in a moment.
Honoured practitioners of the way, do not grope for the elephant or doubt the true dragon. Endeavour on the immediate and straightforward way. Revere the mind that goes beyond study with effortless effort and surpasses all doing. Experience the enlightenment of the buddhas and correctly inherit the samadhi of the ancestors. Practise thusness continuously, and you will be thus. The treasury will open of itself for you to use as you wish.
trans. Kaz Tanahashi & Ed Brown