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ZEN 7: Shikan-taza


These are Yasutani-Roshi’s introductory lectures on Zen training from THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau.

There is little to comment here. Any comment is to empasize a point. The comments are in color.


Lecture 7—Shikan-taza

Up to now you have been concentrating on following your breaths with your mind’s eye, trying to experience vividly the inhaled breath as only inhaled breath and the exhaled breath as only exhaled breath. From now on I want you to practice shikan-taza, which I will shortly describe in detail. It is neither usual nor desirable to change so quickly from these different exercises, but I have followed this course in order to give you a taste of the different modes of concentration. After these introductory lectures are completed and you come before me singly, I will assign you a practice corresponding to the nature of your aspiration as well as to the degree of your determination, that is to say, the practice of counting or following your breaths, shikan-taza, or a koan.

This lecture will deal with shikan-taza. Shikan means “nothing but ” or “just” while ta means “to hit” and za “to sit”. Hence Shikan-taza is a practice in which the mind is intensely involved in just sitting. In this type of zazen it is all too easy for the mind, which is not supported by such aids as counting the breath or by a koan, to become distracted. The correct temper of mind therefore becomes doubly important. Now, in shikan-taza the mind must be unhurried yet at the same time firmly planted or massively composed, like Mount Fuji let us say. But it must also be alert, stretched, like a taut bowstring. So shikan-taza is a heightened state of concentrated awareness wherein one is neither tense nor hurried, and certainly never slack. It is the mind of somebody facing death. Let us imagine that you are engaged in a duel of swordsmanship of the kind that used to take place in ancient Japan. As you face your opponent you are unceasingly watchful, set, ready. Were you to relax your vigilance even momentarily, you would be cut down instantly. A crowd gathers to see the fight. Since you are not blind you see them from the comer of your eye, and since you are not deaf you hear them. But not for an instant is your mind captured by these sense impressions.

This state cannot be maintained for long-in fact, you ought not to do shikan-taza for more than half an hour at a sitting. After thirty minutes get up and walk around in kinhin and then resume your sitting. If you are truly doing shikan-taza, in half an hour you will be sweating, even in winter in an unheated room, because of the heat generated by this intense concentration. When you sit for too long your mind loses its vigor, your body tires, and your efforts are less rewarding than if you had restricted your sitting to thirty-minute periods.

Compared with an unskilled swordsman a master uses his sword effortlessly. But this was not always the case, for there was a time when he had to strain himself to the utmost, owing to his imperfect technique, to preserve his life. It is no different with shikan-taza. In the beginning tension is unavoidable, but with experience this tense zazen ripens into relaxed yet fully attentive sitting. And just as a master swordsman in an emergency unsheathes his sword effortlessly and attacks single-mindedly, just so the shikan-taza adept sits without strain, alert and mindful. But do not for one minute imagine that such sitting can be achieved without long and dedicated practice.

This concludes the talk on shikan-taza.


ZEN 6: Individual Instruction


These are Yasutani-Roshi’s introductory lectures on Zen training from THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau.

There is little to comment here. Any comment is to empasize a point. The comments are in color.


Lecture 6—Individual Instruction

Continue to practice the exercise I gave you last time, namely, concentrate on your incoming and outgoing breaths and endeavor to see each breath clearly.

This lecture will deal with dokusan (individual instruction), which is the time allotted for bringing all problems pertaining to practice before the roshi in private. This tradition of individual teaching started with the honored Shakyamuni himself and has continued unbroken until today. We know this because one of the great masters of Tendai, Chisha-daishi, in his systematization of all the sutras under Eight Teachings and Five Periods, lists the Secret Teaching, which corresponds to dokusan.

Without this individual guidance we cannot say that our practice of zazen is authentic. Unfortunately, since the Meiji period, nearly a hundred years ago, dokusan has virtually died out in the Soto sect, continuing only in the Rinzai tradition. If we compare zazen to a journey on which some start rapidly and then slow down, others begin slowly and later accelerate their pace, some find one phase of the journey more hazardous than another, and all carry different burdens of luggage (i.e., preconceived ideas), we can begin to understand why individual guidance in dokusan cannot be dispensed with.

It may be asked why it is necessary to keep dokusan secret. Since nothing immoral is involved, why can it not be open and in public? First of all, since we are ordinary people, with ego, in the presence of others we are inclined to make ourselves out to be better than we are. We cannot bare our souls and stand naked, as it were. Likewise we hesitate to speak the whole truth for fear of being laughed at. Or if the roshi scolds us, using harsh language, we become more concerned with the effect of this on others than in listening to him open-mindedly.

There is yet another reason for privacy in dokusan. After your first experience of kensho you move from koan to koan as your understanding deepens, and were others to be present when you demonstrated these koans, listening to the roshi’s replies, they might think, “Oh, so that’s the answer!” without fully understanding the import of the koan. Obviously this would hurt their practice, for instead of coming to their own realization and presenting it to the roshi, they would remember that this was an acceptable answer but that was not, and thus, to their own detriment, their koan practice would degenerate to mere intellection. For these reasons you should remain silent when asked about a koan which the questioner has not yet passed. Irresponsible talk may lead to other harmful consequences. Rumors may spread that one is savagely beaten in dokusan, for example, giving Zen an undeservedly bad name. Therefore do not discuss your koans with anybody, not even your best friends or members of your family.

It is precisely this violation of the secrecy which formerly surrounded the koan system that has brought about a steady deterioration in Rinzai teaching. What I am about to say does not apply to laymen, who are generally serious in their practice. But in the monasteries, where there are monks who resent the entire training, being there in the first place only to serve the period required to inherit the resident priesthood of a temple, this problem becomes serious. In monasteries where the discipline is faulty an older monk will often say to a younger one: “What koan are you working on?” When told, the older one will say: “Do you understand it?” “No.” “All right, I will tell you the answer,” the older monk says, “and you buy me some cakes in return.” The roshi can tell whether the answer is authentic or not, but if for some reason he himself becomes lukewarm, he may accept an answer which is not the monk’s own. This practice may not be particularly harmful if such a monk spends only two or three years at a monastery before becoming the resident priest of a temple, as his duties there will not require his evaluating another’s satori. But it can happen that there is no opening when he completes this minimal training so that he may remain at the monastery for perhaps eight or ten years, going through the entire koan system with answers which are not his own. Finally, as is the custom in the Rinzai sect when one completes all the koans, he receives the title of teacher. In this way one with no real understanding becomes “qualified” to guide others. This insidious practice is undermining Zen teaching. Soto scholars studying Zen academically justifiably attack the koan system on just these grounds.

The next point concerns what questions are appropriate during dokusan. All questions should relate to problems growing directly out of your practice. This naturally excludes personal problems. You may feel that the privacy of dokusan offers an excellent opportunity for the discussion of personal matters, but you must bear in mind that there are others waiting and that if you take up problems other than those of your practice, you are hindering them. Properly, you may ask about your stomach, for instance, if it is growling, or about your teeth hurting so that you cannot eat, or about visions you may be experiencing. You should not, however, ask about Buddhist doctrine or comparative philosophy or the difference between one sutra and another. You may ask anything so long as it arises directly out of your practice.

The procedure for a new student is to present money for incense to the roshi before taking dokusan. Why, it may be asked, all this formality? Dokusan, it cannot be emphasized too strongly, is not a frivolous matter. While everyone is free to practice zazen and to listen to the roshi’s commentary at sesshin, the essential character of dokusan is the forming of a karmic bond between teacher and disciple, the significance of which is deep in Buddhism. Dokusan therefore is not to be taken lightly. Moreover, since what passes between the roshi and the student in dokusan concerns problems of a deep and ultimate nature, only the truth must be spoken between them. Very often in public meetings one hesitates to say things which might offend others, but this is not so in dokusan, where the absolute truth must always prevail. For these reasons the proprieties which establish this relationship are not to be slighted.

It is proper to wear ceremonial dress to dokusan, but as this is not insisted upon nowadays you may wear anything which is presentable. When dokusan is announced take a position in line behind the bell outside the zazen hall. When your turn comes and you hear my handbell, strike the bell in front of you twice and come to this room. You should not come dashing in, as that would cause confusion and you would not be in a frame of mind to benefit from dokusan. Neither should you saunter in, for there are others waiting. It was the custom originally to make three prostrations at the threshold, three in front of the roshi, and then three more at the doorway when you left, but this has now been abbreviated to three prostrations altogether, one at each of the places mentioned.

In making your prostrations you should touch the tatami mat with your forehead, with your hands extended in front of your head, palms upward. Then, bending your arms at the elbows, raise your hands, palms upward, several inches above your head. This gesture of receiving the feet, the lowliest members of the Buddha’s body, symbolizes humility and the grateful acceptance into your life of the Way of the Buddha. Unless you have submerged your ego, you cannot do this. Bear in mind that the roshi is not simply a deputy of the Buddha but actually stands in his place. In making these prostrations you are in fact paying respect to the Buddha just as though he himself were sitting there, and to the Dharma.

Next take a position about a foot in front of me and announce the nature of your practice. Simply say, “I am counting my breath,” “I am doing Mu,” or “I am practicing shikan-taza.” Make any questions you have brief and to the point. Should I have anything to say to you, I will say it after you have finished. But do not come in and waste time wondering what to talk about; remember, others are waiting to see me. My ringing of this bell is your signal to bow down and leave. After that if you should remember something, you will have to bring it up at the following dokusan, because the next person will already be coming in.

This concludes the sixth lecture.


ZEN 5: The Three Aims of Zazen


These are Yasutani-Roshi’s introductory lectures on Zen training from THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau.

There is little to comment here. Any comment is to empasize a point. The comments are in color.


Lecture 5— The Three Aims of Zazen

The aims of zazen are three: 1) development of the power of concentration (joriki), 2) satori-awakening (kensho-godo), and 3) actualization of the Supreme Way in our daily lives (mujodo no taigen). These three form an inseparable unity, but for purposes of discussion I am obliged to deal with them individually.

Joriki, the first of these, is the power or strength which arises when the mind has been unified and brought to one-pointedness through concentration. This is more than the ability to concentrate in the usual sense of the word. It is a dynamic power which, once mobilized, enables us even in the most sudden and unexpected situations to act instantly, without pausing to collect our wits, and in a manner wholly appropriate to the circumstances. One who has developed joriki is no longer a slave to his passions, neither is he at the mercy of his environment. Always in command of both himself and the circumstances of his life, he is able to move with perfect freedom and equanimity. The cultivation of certain supranormal powers is also made possible by joriki, as is the state in which the mind becomes like perfectly still water.

The first two of the five kinds of Zen I have spoken about depend entirely on joriki, as does the state of mushinjo in shojo Zen—the state of blankness in which the conscious functioning of the mind has been stopped. Now, although the power of joriki can be endlessly enlarged through regular practice, it will recede and eventually vanish if we neglect zazen. And while it is true that many extraordinary powers flow from joriki, nevertheless through it alone we cannot cut the roots of our illusory view of the world. Mere strength of concentration is not enough for the highest types of Zen; concomitantly there must be satori-awakening. In a little-known document handed down by the Patriarch Sekito Kisen, the founder of one of the early Zen sects, the following appears: “In our sect, realization of the Buddha-nature, and not mere devotion or strength of concentration, is paramount.”

The second of these aims is kensho-godo, seeing into your True-nature and at the same time seeing into the ultimate nature of the universe and “all the ten thousand things” in it. It is the sudden realization that “I have been complete and perfect from the very beginning. How wonderful, how miraculous!” If it is true kensho, its substance will always be the same for whoever experiences it, whether he be the Buddha Shakyamuni, the Buddha Amida, or any one of you gathered in this temple. But this does not mean that we can all experience kensho to the same degree, for in the clarity, the depth, and the completeness of the experience there are great differences. As an illustration, imagine a person blind from birth who very gradually begins to recover his sight. At first he can only see very vaguely and darkly and only objects close to him. Then as his sight improves he is able to distinguish things a yard or so away, then objects at ten yards, then at a hundred yards, until finally he can recognize anything up to a thousand yards. At each of these stages the phenomenal world he is seeing is the same, but the differences in the clarity and accuracy of his views of that world are as great as those between snow and charcoal. So it is with the differences in clarity and depth of our experiences of kensho.

The last of the three objectives is mujodo no taigen, the actualization of the Supreme Way throughout our entire being and our daily activities. At this point we do not distinguish the end from the means. Saijojo, which I have spoken of as the fifth and highest of the five types of Zen, corresponds to this stage. When you sit earnestly and egolessly in accordance with the instructions of a competent teacher—i. e., with your mind, though fully conscious, as free of thought as a pure white sheet of paper is unmarred by a blemish—there is an unfoldment of your intrinsically pure Buddha-nature whether you have had satori or not. But what must be emphasized here is that only with true enlightenment do you directly apprehend the truth of your Buddha-nature and perceive that saijojo, the purest type of Zen, is no different from that practiced by all Buddhas.

The practice of Buddhist Zen should embrace all three of these objectives, for they are interrelated. There is, for instance, an essential connection between joriki and kensho. Kensho is “the wisdom naturally associated with joriki,” which is the power arising from concentration. Joriki is connected with kensho in yet another way. Many people may never be able to reach kensho unless they have first cultivated a certain amount of joriki, for otherwise they may find themselves too restless, too nervous and uneasy to persevere with their zazen. Moreover, unless fortified by joriki, a single experience of kensho will have no appreciable effect on your life, and will fade away into a mere memory. For although through the experience of kensho you have apprehended the underlying unity of the cosmos with your Mind’s eye, without joriki you are unable to act with the total force of your being on what your inner vision has revealed to you.

Likewise there is an interconnection between kensho and the third of these aims, mujodo no taigen. Kensho when manifested in all your actions is mujodo no taigen. With perfect enlightenment (anuttara samyak-sambodhi) we apprehend that our conception of the world as dual and antithetical is false, and upon this realization the world of Oneness, of true harmony and peace, is revealed.

The Rinzai sect tends to make satori-awakening the final aim of sitting and skims over joriki and mujodo no taigen. Thus the need for continued practice after enlightenment is minimized, and koan study, since it is unsupported by zazen and scarcely related to daily life, becomes essentially an intellectual game instead of a means by which to amplify and strengthen enlightenment.

On the other hand, while the practice advocated in the official quarters of the Soto sect today stresses mujodo no taigen, in effect it amounts to little more than the accumulation of joriki, which, as I pointed out earlier, “leaks” or recedes and ultimately disappears unless zazen is carried on regularly. The contention of the Soto sect nowadays that kensho is unnecessary and that one need do no more than carry on his daily activities with the Mind of the Buddha is specious, for without kensho you can never really know what this Buddha-mind is.

These imbalances in both sects1 in recent times have, unfortunately, impaired the quality of Zen teaching.

This concludes the discussion of the three aims of zazen.

1 For a poetic description of the differences between Rinzai and Soto, the following from an unpublished manuscript of the late Nyogen Senzaki may be of interest: “Among Zen students it is said that ‘Rinzai’s teaching is like the frost of the late autumn, making one shiver, while the teaching of Soto is like the spring breeze which caresses the flower, helping it to bloom.’ There is another saying: ‘Rinzai’s teaching is like a brave general who moves a regiment without delay, while the Soto teaching is like a farmer taking care of a rice field, one stalk after another, patiently.'”


ZEN 4: The Five Varieties of Zen


These are Yasutani-Roshi’s introductory lectures on Zen training from THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau.

There is little to comment here. Any comment is to empasize a point. The comments are in color.


Lecture 4—The Five Varieties of Zen

I shall now enumerate the different kinds of Zen. Unless you learn to distinguish between them, you are likely to err on decisive points, such as whether or not satori is necessary to Zen, whether Zen involves the complete absence of discursive thought, and the like. The truth is that among the many types of Zen there are some which are profound and some shallow, some that lead to enlightenment and some that do not. It is said that during the time of the Buddha there were ninety or ninety-five schools of philosophy or religion in existence. Each school had its particular mode of Zen, and each was slightly different from the others.

All great religions embrace some measure of Zen, since religion needs prayer and prayer needs concentration of mind. The teachings of Confucius and Mencius, of Lao-tzu and Chuang-tzu, all these have their own elements of Zen. Indeed, Zen is spread over many different activities of life, such as the tea ceremony, Noh, kendo, judo. In Japan, starting with the Meiji Restoration, less than a hundred years ago, and continuing up to the present, there have sprung up a number of teachings and disciplines with elements of Zen in them. Among others I recall Okada’s System of Tranquil Sitting and Emma’s Method of Mind and Body Cultivation. Recently one Tempu Nakamura has been zealously advocating a form of Indian Yoga Zen. All these different methods of concentration, almost limitless in number, come under the broad heading of Zen. Rather than try to specify them all, I am going to discuss the five main divisions of Zen as classified by Keiho-zenji, one of the early Zen masters in China, whose categories, I feel, are still valid and useful. Outwardly these five kinds of Zen scarcely differ. There may be slight variations in the way the legs are crossed, the hands folded, or the breathing regulated, but common to all are three basic elements: an erect sitting posture, correct control of breathing, and concentration (unification) of mind. Beginners need to bear in mind, however, that in the substance and purpose of these various types there are distinct differences. These differences are crucial to you when you come before me individually to state your aspiration, for they will enable you to define your goal clearly the better that I may assign you the practice appropriate to it.

There are different methods of concentration, almost limitless in number. They come under the broad heading of Zen. All these methods, according to their substance and purpose, may be divided among five categories of Zen.

The first of these types we call bompu or “ordinary” Zen as opposed to the other four, each of which can be thought of as a special kind of Zen suitable for the particular aims of different individuals. Bompu Zen, being free from any philosophic or religious content, is for anybody and everybody. It is a Zen practiced purely in the belief that it can improve both physical and mental health. Since it can almost certainly have no ill effects, anyone can undertake it, whatever religious beliefs he happens to hold or if he holds none at all. Bompu Zen is bound to eliminate sickness of a psychosomatic nature and to improve the health generally.

Through the practice of bompu Zen you learn to concentrate and control your mind. It never occurs to most people to try to control their minds, and unfortunately this basic training is left out of contemporary education, not being part of what is called the acquisition of knowledge. Yet without it what we learn is difficult to retain because we learn it improperly, wasting much energy in the process. Indeed, we are virtually crippled unless we know how to restrain our thoughts and concentrate our minds. Furthermore, by practicing this very excellent mode of mind training you will find yourself increasingly able to resist temptations to which you had previously succumbed, and to sever attachments which had long held you in bondage. An enrichment of personality and a strengthening of character inevitably follow since the three basic elements of mind—i.e., intellect, feeling, and will—develop harmoniously. The quietist sitting practiced in Confucianism seems to have stressed mainly these effects of mind concentration. However, the fact remains that bompu Zen, although far more beneficial for the cultivation of the mind than the reading of countless books on ethics and philosophy, is unable to resolve the fundamental problem of man and his relation to the universe. Why? Because it cannot pierce the ordinary man’s basic delusion of himself as distinctly other than the universe.

The first of these categories is bompu (ordinary) Zen. It is free from any philosophic or religious content. It is practiced to improve both physical and mental health. Bompu Zen is an excellent mode of mind training, but it does not resolve the fundamental problem of man and his relation to the universe.

The second of the five kinds of Zen is called gedo. Gedo means literally “an outside way” and so implies, from the Buddhist point of view, teachings other than Buddhist. Here we have a Zen related to religion and philosophy but yet not a Buddhist Zen. Hindu yoga, the quietist sitting of Confucianism, contemplation practices in Christianity, all these belong to the category of gedo Zen.

Another feature of gedo Zen is that it is often practiced in order to cultivate various supranormal powers or skills, or to master certain arts beyond the reach of the ordinary man. A good example of this is Tempu Nakamura, the man whom I mentioned earlier. It is reported that he can make people act without himself moving a muscle or saying a word. The aim of the Emma Method is to accomplish such feats as walking barefooted on sharp sword blades or staring at sparrows so that they become paralyzed. All these miraculous exploits are brought about through the cultivation of joriki, the particular strength or power which comes with the strenuous practice of mind concentration, and of which I shall speak later in greater detail. Here I will simply remind you that a Zen which aims solely at the cultivation of joriki for such ends is not a Buddhist Zen.

Another object for which gedo Zen is practiced is rebirth in various heavens. Certain Hindu sects, we know, practice Zen in order to be reborn in heaven. This is not the object of Zen Buddhism. While the Zen Buddhist does not quarrel with the idea of various strata of heaven and the belief that one may be reborn into them through the performance of ten kinds of meritorious deeds, he himself does not crave rebirth in heaven. Conditions there are altogether too pleasant and comfortable and hence he can all too easily be seduced away from zazen. Besides, when his merit in heaven expires he can very well land in hell. Zen Buddhists therefore believe it preferable to be born into the human world and to practice zazen with the aim of ultimately becoming a Buddha.

The second of these categories is gedo (outside) Zen. Here we have a Zen related to religion and philosophy but yet not a Buddhist Zen. Gedo Zen aims at the cultivation of various supranormal powers of skills, or to master certain arts beyond the reach of the ordinary man. Another object for which gedo Zen is practiced is rebirth in various heavens. These are not the aim of Zen Buddhists.

I will stop here and at the next lecture conclude the five types of Zen.


I have now discussed with you the first two kinds of Zen, namely, bompu and gedo. Before going on to the next three types I am going to give you another method of concentration: following the breath with the mind’s eye. For the time being stop counting your breaths and instead concentrate intently on following your inhalations and exhalations, trying to visualize them clearly. You are to carry on this exercise until you come before me again.

Note that the concentration regimen is modified once again for the students being lectured.

The third type of Zen is shojo, literally meaning “Small Vehicle” [Hinayana]. This is the vehicle or teaching which is to take you from one state of mind [delusion] to another [enlightenment]. This small vehicle is so named because it is designed to accommodate only one’s self. You can perhaps compare it to a bicycle. The large vehicle [Mahayana], on the other hand, is more like a car or bus: it takes on others as well. Hence shojo is a Zen which looks only to one’s own peace of mind.

Here we have a Zen which is Buddhist but a Zen not in accord with the Buddha’s highest teaching. It is rather an expedient Zen for those unable to grasp the innermost meaning of the Buddha’s enlightenment, i.e., that existence is an inseparable whole, each one of us embracing the cosmos in its totality. This being true, it follows that we cannot attain genuine peace of mind merely by seeking our own salvation while remaining indifferent to the welfare of others.

There are those, however (and some of you listening to me now may be among them), who simply cannot bring themselves to believe in the reality of such a world. No matter how often they are taught that the relative world of distinctions and opposites to which they cling is illusory, the product of their mistaken views, they cannot but believe otherwise. To such people the world can only seem inherently evil, full of sin and strife and suffering, of killing and being killed, and in their despair they long to escape from it. Indeed, death seems even preferable to life. The most unbearable sin of all is the taking of life in any form and under any circumstances, since this condemns them to interminable suffering incarnated as beasts or demons in countless future existences owing to the inexorable law of karma. So mere death is not the end. Hence what they are seeking is a way of avoiding rebirth, a method of dying without being reborn.

Shojo Zen provides the answer to this need. It has as its aim the stopping of all thoughts so that the mind becomes a complete blank and enters into a state called mushinjo, a condition in which all the sense functions have been eliminated and the faculty of consciousness suspended. With practice this power can be cultivated by anyone. In case there is no wish to die one can enter this trance-like state for a limited period—say an hour or two or one or two days—or one can remain in it indefinitely, in which event death follows naturally and painlessly, without—and this is most important—rebirth. This entire process of death without rebirth is set forth in great detail in a Buddhist philosophical work called the Kusharon.

The third type of Zen is shojo (small vehicle) Zen, which looks only to one’s own peace of mind. It is Buddhist Zen, but not in accord with the Buddha’s highest teaching. This Zen is for people seeking a way of avoiding rebirth. It aims at stopping all thoughts so that the mind enters a state in which all the sense functions have been eliminated and the faculty of consciousness suspended.

The fourth classification is called daijo, Great Vehicle [Mahayana] Zen, and this is a truly Buddhist Zen, for it has as its central purpose kensho-godo, i.e., seeing into your essential nature and realizing the Way in your daily life. For those able to comprehend the import of the Buddha’s own enlightenment experience and with a desire to break through their own illusory view of the universe and experience absolute, undifferentiated Reality, the Buddha taught this mode of Zen. Buddhism is essentially a religion of enlightenment. The Buddha after his own experience of satori spent some fifty years teaching people how they might themselves realize their Self-nature. His methods have been transmitted from master to disciple right down to the present day. So it can be said that a Zen which ignores or denies or belittles satori is not true daijo Buddhist Zen.

In the practice of daijo Zen your aim in the beginning is to awaken to your True-nature, but upon enlightenment you realize that zazen is more than a means to enlightenment—it is the actualization of your True-nature. In this type of Zen, which has as its object satori-awakening, it is easy to mistakenly regard zazen as but a means. A wise teacher, however, will point out from the outset that zazen is in fact the actualization of the innate Buddha-nature and not merely a technique for achieving enlightenment. If zazen were no more than such a technique, it would follow that after satori zazen would be unnecessary. But as Dogen-zenji himself pointed out, precisely the reverse is true; the more deeply you experience satori, the more you perceive the need for practice.1

1 See p. 281.

The fourth type of Zen is daijo (great vehicle) Zen, which was taught by Buddha. Its aim is zazen, which is the awakening and actualization of the innate Buddha-nature.

Saijojo Zen, the last of the five types, is the highest vehicle, the culmination and crown of Buddhist Zen. This Zen was practiced by all the Buddhas of the past—viz., Shakyamuni and Amida2—and is the expression of Absolute Life, life in its purest form. It is the zazen which Dogen-zenji chiefly advocated and it involves no struggle for satori or any other object. We call it shikan-taza, and of this I shall speak in greater detail in a subsequent lecture.

2 See “Amida” in section X.

In this highest practice, means and end coalesce. Daijo Zen and saijojo Zen are, in point of fact, complementary. The Rinzai sect places daijo uppermost and saijojo beneath, whereas the Soto sect does the reverse. In saijojo, when rightly practiced, you sit in the firm conviction that zazen is the actualization of your undefiled True-nature, and at the same time you sit in complete faith that the day will come when, exclaiming, “Oh, this is it!” you will unmistakably realize this True-nature. Therefore you need not self-consciously strive for enlightenment.

Today many in the Soto sect hold that since we are all innately Buddhas, satori is not necessary. Such an egregious error reduces shikan-taza, which properly is the highest form of sitting, to nothing more than bompu Zen, the first of the five types.

The last of the five types, Saijojo Zen, is the highest vehicle, the culmination and crown of Buddhist Zen. It involves no struggle for satori or any other object. In this highest practice, means and end coalesce. It is the expression of Absolute Life, life in its purest form.

This completes my account of the five varieties of Zen, but unless I now tell you about the three objectives of zazen my presentation of these five types, especially the last two, will be incomplete.


ZEN 3: Illusory Visions and Sensations


These are Yasutani-Roshi’s introductory lectures on Zen training from THE THREE PILLARS OF ZEN by Philip Kapleau.

There is little to comment here. Any comment is to empasize a point. The comments are in color.


Lecture 3—Illusory Visions and Sensations

This is the third lecture. Before I begin I will assign you a new way of concentration. Instead of counting your exhalations, as heretofore, count “one” on the first inhalation, “two” on the next inhalation, and so on, up to ten. This is more difficult than counting on the exhalation, because all mental and physical activity is performed on the exhaled breath. For instance, just before pouncing animals take a breath. This principle is well known in kendo fencing and judo fighting, where one is taught that by carefully observing his opponent’s breathing his attack can be anticipated. While this exercise is difficult, you must try to practice it as another means of concentrating your mind. Until you come before me again you are to concentrate on counting the inhalations of your breath, not audibly but in the mind only.

Note that the counting regimen is modified slightly once again.

Makyo are the phenomena-visions, hallucinations, fantasies, revelations, illusory sensations—which one practicing zazen is apt to experience at a particular stage in his sitting. Ma means “devil” and kyo “the objective world.” Hence makyo are the disturbing or “diabolical” phenomena which appear to one during his zazen. These phenomena are not inherently bad. They become a serious obstacle to practice only if one is ignorant of their true nature and is ensnared by them.

The word makyo is used in both a general and a specific sense. Broadly speaking, the entire life of the ordinary man is nothing but a makyo. Even such Bodhisattvas as Monju and Karman, highly developed though they are, still have about them traces of makyo; otherwise they would be supreme Buddhas, completely free of makyo. One who becomes attached to what he realizes through satori is also still lingering in the world of makyo. So, you see, there are makyo even after enlightenment, but we shall not enter into that aspect of the subject in these lectures.

Make sure you understand the true nature of a makyo.

In the specific sense the number of makyo which can appear are in fact unlimited, varying according to the personality and temperament of the sitter. In the Ryogon [Surangama] sutra the Buddha warns of fifty different kinds, but of course he is referring only to the commonest. If you attend a sesshin of from five to seven days’ duration and apply yourself assiduously, on the third day you are likely to experience makyo of varying degrees of intensity. Besides those which involve the vision there are numerous makyo which relate to the sense of touch, smell, or hearing, or which sometimes cause the body suddenly to move from side to side or forward and backward or to lean to one side or to appear to sink or rise. Not infrequently words burst forth uncontrollably or, more rarely, one imagines he is smelling a particularly fragrant perfume. There are even cases where without conscious awareness one writes down things which tum out to be prophetically true.

Makyos involve all five physical senses—sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch.

Very common are visual hallucinations. You are doing zazen with your eyes open when suddenly the ridges of the straw matting in front of you seem to be heaving up and down like waves. Or without warning everything may go white before your eyes, or black. A knot in the wood of a door may suddenly appear as a beast or demon or angel. One disciple of mine often used to see visions of masks—demons’ masks or jesters’ masks. I asked him whether he had ever had any particular experience of masks, and it turned out that he had seen them at a festival in Kyushu1 when he was a child. Another man I knew was extremely troubled in his practice by visions of Buddha and his disciples walking around him reciting sutras, and was only able to dispel the hallucination by jumping into a tank of ice-cold water for two or three minutes.

1 The southernmost of Japan’s main islands.

Visual maykos are very common.

Many makyo involve the hearing. One may hear the sound of a piano or loud noises, such as an explosion (which is heard by no one else), and actually jump. One disciple of mine always used to hear the sound of a bamboo flute while doing zazen. He had learned to play the bamboo flute many years before, but had long since given it up; yet always the sound came to him when he was sitting.

Maykos are often related to past experiences.

In the Zazen Yojinki we find the following about makyo: “The body may feel hot or cold or glasslike or hard or heavy or light. This happens because the breath is not well harmonized [with the mind] and needs to be carefully regulated.” It then goes on to say: “One may experience the sensation of sinking or floating, or may alternately feel hazy and sharply alert. The disciple may develop the faculty of seeing through solid objects as though they were transparent, or he may experience his own body as a translucent substance. He may see Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Penetrating insights may suddenly come to him, or passages of sutras which were particularly difficult to understand may suddenly become luminously clear to him. All these abnormal visions and sensations are merely the symptoms of an impairment arising from a maladjustment of the mind with the breath.”

Maykos arise from maladjustment of the mind with the breath.

Other religions and sects place great store by experiences which involve visions of God or hearing heavenly voices, performing miracles, receiving divine messages, or becoming purified through various rites. In the Nichiren sect, for example, the devotee loudly and repeatedly invokes the name of the Lotus sutra, to the accompaniment of vigorous body movements, and feels he has thereby purged himself of his defilements. In varying degree these practices induce a feeling of well-being, yet from the Zen point of view all are morbid states devoid of true religious significance and hence only makyo.

Maykos are hindrances even when they induce a feeling of well-being.

What is the essential nature of these disturbing phenomena we call makyo? They are temporary mental states which arise during zazen when our ability to concentrate has developed to a certain point and our practice is beginning to ripen. When the thought-waves which wax and wane on the surface of the sixth class of consciousness are partially calmed, residual elements of past experiences ‘lodged” in the seventh and eighth classes of consciousness bob up sporadically to the surface of the mind, conveying the feeling of a greater or expanded reality. Makyo, accordingly, are a mixture of the real and the unreal, not unlike ordinary dreams. Just as dreams do not appear to a person in deep sleep but only when he is half-asleep and half-awake, so makyo do not come to those in deep concentration or samadhi. Never be tempted into thinking that these phenomena are real or that the visions themselves have any meaning. To see a beautiful vision of a Bodhisattva does not mean that you are any nearer becoming one yourself, any more than a dream of being a millionaire means that you are any richer when you awake. Hence there is no reason to feel elated about such makyo. And similarly, whatever horrible monsters may appear to you, there is no cause whatever for alarm. Above all, do not allow yourself to be enticed by visions of the Buddha or of gods blessing you or communicating a divine message, or by makyo involving prophecies which turn out to be true. This is to squander your energies in the foolish pursuit of the inconsequential.

Makyos are temporary mental states that arise when zazen practice is beginning to ripen. They are a mixture of the real and the unreal, not unlike ordinary dreams. They are inconsequential and should not be pursued.

But such visions are certainly a sign that you are at a crucial point in your sitting, and that if you exert yourself to the utmost, you can surely experience kensho. Tradition states that even Shakyamuni Buddha just before his own awakening experienced innumerable makyo, which he termed “obstructing devils.” Whenever makyo appear, simply ignore them and continue sitting with all your might.

Whenever makyo appear, simply ignore them and continue sitting with all your might.