A warm feeling in Zazen

From Suzuki Roshi’s book, “Not Always So” page 77:

“If we do not have some warm, big satisfaction in our practice, that is not true practice. Even though you sit, trying to count your breath with right posture, it still might be lifeless zazen, because you are just following instructions. You are not kind enough to yourself. The purpose of instructions is to encourage you to be kind with yourself. Do not count your breaths just to avoid thinking mind but to take best care of your breathing. If you are very kind with your breathing, one breath after another, you will have a refreshed, warm feeling in your zazen. When you have a warm feeling in your body and your breath, then you can take care of your practice, and you will be fully satisfied.”

Sometimes, I feel that we get lost in our reason for doing zazen. It becomes a goal-oriented achievement going towards some mystical ideal called “enlightenment.” When I think of my zazen like that, I become more and more uptight! It is a breeding ground for anxiety, striving, and an “I’m not good enough” attitude. Instead, Suzuki Roshi suggests that we learn, through each breath, how to take care of our life with a warm and caring manner. The way to our true satisfaction is through feeling practice in this way. As I wrote in the last blog, life can be satisfying or “requited” if we find the wholeness and the underlying mystery in each moment or activity. We can enter the “temple of requited blessing” through gratitude and kindness.

We often lose the point of our practice. Zazen is not about getting away from, or transcending our life, but to the contrary, we learn to take real care and have true respect for this one karmic life of ours. Katagiri-Roshi emphasized, at the end of his life, “Just live, just live”. He had whittled down practice to the essence – this moment is the oneness itself. Katagiri Roshi said: “To ‘go beyond’ means to stay in the human world, but to not be contaminated by the human world.”

In the midst of greed, anger and ignorance, in the midst of impermanence and loss, we are encouraged to maintain a kind and caring feeling in our zazen and in our life. In the midst of pain and sorrow, can we still have a warm, loving and satisfied feeling in our life?

Our practice helps us to be kinder and more compassionate people, if we are working with a large sense of the world, beyond our own self-centered narrowness, and if we are working with kindness. Can we be kinder to ourselves? Instead of using uber-disciplined and an ascetic tightness to try and find “detachment” or be “good” Zen students, let us allow our practice to promote a warm and flexible mind.  Reb Anderson has called this – “detachment in the field of Great Love.”