The Zazen Instructions of Meiho Sotetsu: Like a Flying Bird with No Mind to Twitter

Greetings Subscriber,

We're on vacation this week, but I wanted to share this with you. It's a follow -up to the Meihō bio and notes that I posted last week. This is from a really early translation (1963) of some Zen texts. I've made a few modifications, for example, changing "commandments" to "precepts," that I thought were pretty safe without consulting the original text. I thought you would enjoy Meihō's expression of zazen - so here it is (and I'll now go back into vacation mode :-):


Zazen is the way of perfect tranquility: inwardly not a shadow of perception, outwardly not a shade of difference between phenomena. Identified with yourself, you no longer think, nor do you seek enlightenment of the mind or disburdenment of illusions. You are a flying bird with no mind to twitter, a mountain unconscious of the others rising around it.

Zazen has nothing to do with the doctrine of "teaching, practice, and elucidation" or with the exercise of "precepts, absorption, and wisdom." You are like a fish with no particular design of remaining in the sea. Nor do you bother with sutras or ideas.

To control and pacify the mind is the concern of lesser practitioners: hearers, solitary sages, and small vehicle practitioners. Still less can you hold an idea of Buddha and Dharma. If you attempt to do so, if you train improperly, you are like one who, intending to voyage west, moves east. You must not stray.

Also you must guard yourself against the easy conceptions of good and evil: your sole concern should be to examine yourself continually, asking who is going beyond. You must remember too that the unsullied essence of life has nothing to do with whether one is homeleaver or householder, man or woman. Your Buddha-nature, consummate as the full moon, is represented by your position as you sit zazen. The exquisite Way of Buddhas is not one or two, being or non-being.

What diversífies it is the limitations of its students, who can be divided into three cIasses -- superior, average, inferior. The superior student is unaware of the coming into the world of Buddhas or of the transmission of the nontransmittable by them: they eat when hungry, sleep when sleepy. Nor do they regard the world as themself. Neither are they attached to enlightenment or illusion. Taking things as they come, they sit in the proper manner, making no idle distinctions.

The average student discards all business and ignores the external, giving themself over to self-examination with every breath. They may probe into a koan, which they put mentally on the tip of their nose, finding in this way that their original face is beyond life and death, and that the Buddha-nature of all is not dependent on the discriminating intellect but is the unconscious consciousness, the incomprehensible understanding: in short, that it is clear and distinct for alI ages and is alone apparent in its entirety throughout the universe.

The inferior student must disconnect themself from all that is external, thus liberating themself from the duality of good and evil. The mind, just as it is, is the origin of all Buddhas. In zazen their legs are crossed so that their Buddha-nature will not be led off by evil thoughts, their hands are linked so that they will not take up sutras or implements, their mouth is shut so that they refrain from preaching a word of dharma or uttering blasphemies, their eyes are half shut so that they do not distinguish between objects, their ears are closed to the world so that they will not hear talk of vice and virtue, their nose is as if dead so that they will not smell good or bad. Since their body has nothing on which to lean, they are indifferent to likes and dislikes. They negate neither being nor non-being. They sit like Buddha on the pedestal, and though distorted ideas may arise from them, they do so idly and are ephemeral, constituting no unwholesome action, like reflections in a mirror, leaving no trace.

The five, the eight, the two hundred and fifty precepts, the three thousand monastic regulations, the eight hundred duties of the Bodhisattva, the Buddha-nature and the Bodhisattvahood, and the Wheel of Dharma -- all are comprised in zazen and emerge from it. Of all good works, zazen comes first, for the merit of only one step into it surpasses that of erecting a thousand temples. Even a moment of sitting will enable you to free yourself from life and death, and your Buddha-nature will appear of itself. Then all you do, perceive, think becomes part of the miraculous Tathata-suchness. Let it be thus remembered that beginner and advanced students, learned and ignorant, all without exception should practice zazen.

*ZEN: Poems, Prayers, Sermons, Anecdotes, Interviews, translated by Lucien Stryk & Takashi Ikemoto, Anchor Books, Doubleday & Co., Inc., Garden City, New York, 1963, pp. 56-58. Modified.