Master Dogen describes Zazen as dropping off body and mind. That is, dropping off this sense of a me and things that belong to me. It is his way of describing anatta.

He doesn’t say that dropping off body and mind is a preliminary to the real activity of Zazen, but that Zazen is the continuous dropping off of body and mind. The activity of Zazen is this continuous activity of dropping off. It is an activity, not a state. It is an orientation, not an attribute.

He also says, although he attributes this to his teacher, Nyojo, that when body and mind are dropped off, we are free of the five desires and the five hindrances. The five desires correspond to the desires of the sense organs. The five hindrances are desire, ill-will, laziness, restlessness and doubt. If we think that practice is the vehicle for our own aggrandisement, we are full of these hindrances. But if there is no me and nothing belonging to me then where can these hindrances attach? Hence, Zazen is the dharma gate of ease and joy.



Zen is transmitted I Shin Den Shin. 'Shin' is mind, or heart. So, from one real person to another. But how many is the real person? One, or many, or both?

'Mind' doesn't mean the personal, karmic mind, obviously. And, likewise, heart.

In the Shiho, the document of transmission, the whole lineage is written out, one name after the other. And all the names are connected by a single red thread. A heart thread. So all the names are an expression of that heart.

This heart.




Master Dogen said that Zazen is the dharma gate of ease and joy.

To understand what he meant we need to consider the fundamental Buddhist insight that we suffer because we believe there is a self and that there are things which belong to the self. And because we think that in our ordinary life we constellate our experience around this. Like wrapping a bandage round and round a non-existent head. 

Dogen also said that Zazen is casting off body and mind, and one of the things he specifically means is that when we sit, we cast off this sense of me and mine. So experience is unwound, fills everywhere. And we can understand that suffering is not inevitable.


The whole zen literature is a commentary on practice. Actual practice. Your practice.

Before spiritual language degenerates into religion, it is always the effort of a real person, using what is available, to describe their actual experience.

Always the effort of a real person to describe their actual experience. And because we too are that real person, it describes our experience. Not the experience of some far distant moment after decades or lifetimes of practice, but this moment, when we drop the familiar dualities of self and world, mind and body and so on. The language is often shocking and startling because it needs to be, to knock us out of our habitual configuration of experience around a 'Me'. So, for example, the writer Douglas Harding describes Zazen as being like having no head. He doesn't mean that cognition, sensation and so on disappears. But rather that we lose the sense of this experience as mine. So rather than locating this aliveness within a space called me, there is just this aliveness, which fills everywhere.


More On the Heart Sutra:

(3) "The bodhisattva of compassion...."

Buddhists have a persistent difficulty with the particular and the universal. When we consider Avolakitesvara/ dynamic full functioning/ dependent origination, we tend to make a picture of something vast, and lurch between that and our particularity now.

It was for this reason, I suspect, that Okumura said that practice was the five skandas seeing the emptiness of the five skandas.

We start with this experience, this particularity, this now, and it floods out everywhere, because it is unconstrained by the bell jar of the self.

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