ZEN 5: The Three Aims of Zazen


Reference: Lectures on 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 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.'”


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