18. Thursday, June 14, 1973
Zazen, Concentration, Meditation

STUDENT: What do you do inside zazen? When you sit down, what do you start doing?

STUDENT: Oh, I feel things right about my stomach, and I feel I watch the contractions there, breathing. I find that to try to concentrate on that point helps me to stay in zazen so I don't start to worry too much. (Other student) keeps telling me, “All you have to do is be there,” and that's what I like about it.

STUDENT: To me, that's a real challenge, to be there.

KOBUN: Ya, it has quite a big meaning.

STUDENT: Where is “there”?

KOBUN: I think, same place which you have done, very often, whenever you sit. Whenever, wherever you feel it, you do it. That place is called “there”.... “There” has some meaning of place and time, which is the area of meditation. You cannot say whether you do zazen or zazen has you. You cannot say which is which. Somehow “there” has such meaning. Many times we come to zendo and sit but quite often you are not “there”. You are not in meditation. You try and try and try and body is in zendo but whole thing cannot be called meditation....

STUDENT: Kobun, I'm interested in what you said, that sometimes we come to the zendo and we're not really there. Our body may be there but we can't get up afterwards and say that we were really there for meditation during the period. I'm aware of having good posture, a straight back, and feeling my breathing in my abdomen, and yet some movie will come by or some train of thoughts that take me away for a while. Maybe all of a sudden I'll say, “Oh, I'm here again,” or I'll just be aware of a breath coming out and then, “Oh yes, here I am.”

KOBUN: You spoke about movie. It appears in many, many ways, not only picturization, also thinking, sounds. (Other student) is talking same thing, good and bad judgment by your habitual likes and dislikes. That activity is concentration. It's not meditation. Concentration is also called samadhi , so counting breathing is concentration. It is not meditation. Concentration is to bring your consciousness on some activity continually, constantly. Not only mind. When you put your energy on something, that is concentration. In many ways we slip or drop into concentration during this condition of meditation. I cannot say, “You didn't do zazen while in zendo,” but what I can say is, “You were just too concentrated on this thing and this thing, this 40 minutes.”

When you run a very long time, like a marathon, and you have to continue running even when you come to the goal, to slow down your heartbeat. This kind of force, this kind of influence comes into zazen. Daily experience goes into zazen. Then it becomes concentration in meditation. That cannot be said good or bad.


You have a very good custom.... Let yourself free, let yourself retire from communication with other people. Communicate with yourself and finally you free yourself from yourself....

Meditation. When this word, “meditation,” was introduced in Japan the standard translation was different from “zazen.” Meiso was the word. Mei is a very mystic word. Like when you see the person's meditation, you don't know what is in his mind. What he is thinking, what he is doing, you cannot tell. That state is called me . And also, the meditator cannot say what state of mind, where he was. It's like swimming in the dream. That state is called me . And one more character, so . So is also called conscious mind. So you can see “meditation” was translated to very funny character, very different from daily use of mind, daily consciousness. It's like floating thought, or watching of your floating thought. This was translation into Japanese. This character's history was very short, about 200 years. So I, myself, feel not so familiar with this word, meditation, because a kind of uncertainty exist in this word.

My feeling of meditation is more like the opposite, not from the deep earth you float, but it's more that your mind gets land, or comes to home, where you have started. My feeling is like that, bringing back your whole consciousness to your center....


STUDENT: The word “concentrate” has gone through some evolution but originally the root “con” means “with” and “centrate” means center. And “meditate” is related to the word, “middle.” They have similar histories.

KOBUN: Posture very much influences it, posture and breath... and one more element which is mind. We don't know whether mind exists or not. “Since I have many things happening, I believe mind exist.” To work on our mind, to want to control our mind, is a kind of grasping empty air. The more hard you grasp, the more hard you grasp your hand, and there is no air left. Open state is best. Body posture and breath is actually best effort to accept this opened state of mind. Best condition of breath and very best form of each of us makes opportunity to have best condition of mind.

We cannot say zazen is center, zazen is beginning, or zazen is goal. You cannot decide what is zazen. For some people probably zazen is goal, to sit is goal, nothing else exist as a goal. For some people it is very beginning, from which everything can be done. So when you say zazen is the very center, which has actually no time, no place, no space, which doesn't allow any judgment of human mind or mind activity, then wherever you go, you can do it. Whenever you want, whenever it want, you find yourself meditating.... Do you “meditate” on something?


STUDENT: You could say you meditate on something.

KOBUN: “On something” or meditate “in something” too? I don't know the idiom.

STUDENT: Not usually. You could meditate in a room but...

STUDENT: Meditate on.

KOBUN: Meditate on. this “on,” I always feel very strong characteristic of English; German, too. This is a, what grammatical....?

STUDENT: Preposition.

KOBUN: Preposition. In Sanskrit there is no preposition. Each word changes and includes the preposition.

(Students discuss their meditation experiences.)

KOBUN: When you are in the zendo and listen to the sound of a car, you relate it with an image in your mind. A small car appear from this way and become bigger and bigger, and go away with big sound. And this happen many times. It's very crazy, you know. You are doing that kind of zazen! That sound, car, image, nothing can bother your meditation. It's like when you worry about something very big, that worry produces the future, guessing the future, you see visions.... But when this kind of worry appear you have to stop it. This is very important point. When this kind of unreal image appear in zazen, the very clear thing is you are sitting, and the vision just falls off.

STUDENT: I am always confused about the question of concentrating on hara, or not. It seems an unspoken thing, pretty much.

KOBUN: My feeling is, when you say “hara,” it means where you are and the whole thing which hold you. It's not just this (indicating lower belly). Probably this is the center of your body when you sit. Probably when you stand up the center moves a little lower. This is how I was told to do kinhin, attention moves to this part (indicates ankle to arch of foot). With each step your consciousness go to the bottom of your foot and you feel your body and the ground touches. In that sense, when you say “hara”, at kinhin time hara comes to your feet.

STUDENT:
I don't know. I have a choice, it seems, whether to follow my center wherever it is at the moment, or control it to some extent.

KOBUN: This word is very flexible, very uncertain. Word, “hara,” is very uncertain. You cannot draw where is your hara. When someone say, “This is my hara.” People say, “Are you crazy? Hara is here.” But you cannot draw the line, border, of hara. When you say, “That man has big hara,” it doesn't mean fat man, or beer belly, or pregnant woman. “That man has big hara,” means he has great acceptance. It is more like, “When I am with him I feel very comfortable... when I am with her I feel more like at home.” “At home,” is more spiritual meaning of hara.... I think that your concentration of zazen is not necessary to direct some point of, physical point.

Daily life is extending it's quality into meditation. What you have experienced is coming from ten directions. What you experienced is extending its energy, its impression, in the samadhi of zazen. Concentration is like outgoing energy. Meditation can be seen as a different direction.... Mind, body-mind dropped off, dropped off...

Nagarjuna is one very interesting example of what zazen means. Nagarjuna's profile is one circle. And when Nagarjuna stood or sat on the chair on which he preached the dharma, he stopped speaking and he kept silence and he meditated. At that time nobody could see his figure; just one light appear, and everyone said, “Nagarjuna started to spell us!” He is very interesting. When he wanted to hide himself, disappear without moving, he could do it. His biography said that he went to some master and studied magic and got supernatural power to fly in the air.... But when you see what he wrote, what emptiness is, what form is, you see it's a made-up story, through his teaching. When someone read his teaching, this mystery was made up.


Like when I speak of a moment, a moment before this moment, it's empty. Nobody can see it again. You don't need to say, “From now I am going to disappear... you didn't see me... now I appear.” Because of the continuous, too fine maintenance, nobody can see it disappear. When you think of it you see always disappearing, or emptiness, always. Also, you can feel it too. To meditate on eternity or the absolute being is like concentrating on the very present time, which has very rich content. Perfect, so that every moment is appearing.... When you see just perfectness and completeness, and meditate on it, we become eternalist. Do you say “eternalist”?

STUDENT: Immortal.

KOBUN: Immortal. Believer in immortality. To see the change of the shape of the moon every night, every moment you see the change. And to see just the eternal and perfectness is to see the full moon only. If you can see both the slender moon and full moon together, you will be called awakened one. A famous Zen monk, Sengari, used to draw one circle, and a little character came beside. “Eat it and take a cup of tea.” It meant that this is a rice cake. “Don't be conceited. You are one night moon.

Next day you are a little slender....” The slender moon is just each being. If you say a part of the whole is imperfect, the perfect never appear. Many wrong things doesn't make a perfect thing. But many times the perfect one calls, “You are imperfect!” At that time that “you” will be himself. In this sense you can never speak of others' evil. At that time, that judgment is the same on you, too. Because the word, itself, drops off and you and others become empty. So just imperfect word drop off. When it stick, imperfect word sticks to the person. It looks like many struggles are going, continuously. “You said I am wrong, but you are wrong.” Next day you are grouchy because I said so. This is a kind of daily thing, kind of fun, too!


We have many historical and traditional habits of judgment. They make many troubles. But things are relative, judgment is in relativity, so when you choose one way, the other way is also chosen. If there is no such judgment, the whole thing is shown, and you see strong and weak, beautiful and ugly, young and old. By your position both ways can be seen. What is healthy, what is insane? Where do you put the point of judgment? And meditation on God, Absolute One. It isn't limited to the Christian tradition. Meditation on ideal has more sense of salvation. Meditation as a way of salvation. You feel lifted up by it, this ground goes up and up. Transcendental Meditation has a very deep sense of this. When you agree with what was told you, and you see people surrounding you, you feel, “I am succeeding.” When you are alone, “Wait a minute, am I OK?” This kind of question comes.

STUDENT: It fits very well in our culture because we always want to improve things, so that on that last day, that last judgment, we will have done a good job. Different feeling from taking care of something.

KOBUN: Taking care of others is called taking care of yourself. It's very true. You know, there is no Hinayana. In Buddhist history scholars speak of Hinayana and Mahayana. There is no such Hinayana. Hinayana is like riding a bike. Sometimes the bike go along and man is on the sidewalk! Hinayana is taking care of yourself. And when someone really takes care of himself, that is Mahayana, nothing but Mahayana. We think that there is ego, and there is no such ego. Probably ghost of present age is ego.

That's all.

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