7. Thursday, March 15, 1973
Samadhi, Meditation, Concentration

STUDENT: Can we extend the samadhi of zazen into every activity?

KOBUN: Samadhi and concentration are different, but not completely different. One is formalization, one is realization ... In many ways, samadhi can be extended. Like when I speak “a” without any preparation. When I meditate the same word “a” has a great, great sense. A good example is the sound of a frog in Basho's poem. The frog jumps into a pond ... incense ash falls to the ground. This morning when I was listening I had a very strange feeling. If you hear the beautiful birds here and there, it's like I can feel “that bird is there, that bird is there.” At the same time the farthest bird is from a very deep place and the closest one is in a very surface sense. So it happens within my body, some very deep center is the furthest spot. The very far sound of the bird is almost impossible to catch within this center. It is strange to feel that way...

STUDENT: Does the samadhi of zazen contain that contemplative experience?

KOBUN: Of course.

STUDENT: And you can have the contemplative experience without the sense of being cut off from your ordinary self?

KOBUN: Without having a kinhin period you quickly move to another activity, but when you keep kinhin you feel a slower, more careful movement to another activity. Like shifting gears, you don't feel the shock so strong. Contemplation always has some trouble when it becomes more clear and deeper. Reality doesn't accept that clarity. What will happen is some unfamiliarity. It happens between people. When there is a strong feeling of unfamiliarity you may feel some anger, but when you keep listening, you can slowly accept. Usually nobody knows you have been meditating so they very naturally speak as usual. But when you concentrate on something, it happens that you cannot go quickly along with other people. There are constant pictures, your eyes have stayed somewhere. Your wife or husband is calling, you don't reply. You are somewhere else!

STUDENT: Holding to samadhi seems like what you're calling contemplation. If I have a lot of confidence, then it doesn't matter. Samadhi is just something extra; it's an idea or some kind of a memory. So already there's the absolute and the relative.... You want yourself to be special. You feel that your life is passing you by and that means there's not enough self-confidence, usually. If there is clear, deep involvement in one's own life, then samadhi's just an idea. Some high or something.

KOBUN: Ya. This shows that samadhi is concentration. Zazen samadhi, Steve said, that is the compound dhyana and samadhi. Samadhi is not the mere synonym of meditation. It is the last stage of yoga practice. The most beginning stage of practice is to keep the right attitude of life, concentrated on practice. There are various samadhis, various pure concentrations: Cooking samadhi, sleeping samadhi, sweeping samadhi, dancing samadhi, playing samadhi. That shows self-confidence, self-trust, no doubt about it, so it is samadhi.

STUDENT: The question I had is still there. Certain activities don't lend themselves to maintaining the samadhi of a certain activity, for example the samadhi of cooking. Simply because there are so many things that have to be done at the same time you can't maintain one-mindedness, or can you, if you have to keep switching your mind?

STUDENT: But I watched ( a student) when I was there Friday night. She was cooking. I would have been nutty if I'd been in that situation. Fried bananas here, hot water here, soup here, and she was just very busy. She didn't think too much. She just did what she had to do, and nobody was really bugging her. I think that this was a kind of zazen. She wasn't worried about anything. She was just doing everything as fast as she could. She didn't need time, she didn't need quiet or peace. She had something to do and she did it.... It's awareness of what it's necessary to be aware of to get the job done.

STUDENT: What I mean is sometimes it seems afterward that a lot of nervous energy is used up. It isn't tiredness, it's an ennervation, a feeling of being really consumed.

STUDENT: In yoga we used to talk about keeping our center, staying centered, or losing our center. Is that relevant at all?

KOBUN: Uh huh. Ya, it should be. Cooking is art, cooking is dance and heart. Don't you think so? Energy goes and you are dancing in the kitchen. And I know that feeling, constant, especially working in a restaurant. Continual perfection is needed. The guest is expecting the work, but it's not like a house guest. You have to keep going, needing perfection of each. That's very hard work.

STUDENT: So infinitely more things to do than can be done reasonably .... You are in the middle of something, and then something else has to be done and you have to rush off and do that and come back. Is there a samadhi for every activity? Or are some circumstances ... you say “no” to certain circumstances?

STUDENT: So it's not perfect and you say, “It's not going the way I want it to go.” And then there's some idea of samadhi. It's like someone walking down the street, “He's ugly; I don't like him.” or “Yeah, I like that guy. I have some good feeling about that guy. Oh, yeah, I can see that one has samadhi!” That same snubbing, that's not so straightforward.

Ruth: Isn't that contemplation? Where you're in a critical attitude which ends in...?

KOBUN: Ya. It is contemplation.

STUDENT: It's already a type of discrimination, the film is going by, it's too late.

KOBUN: Contemplation in the restaurant is not contemplation. Plural samadhi!

STUDENT: I don't understand what's being said, any more.

STUDENT: “Plural samadhi.” What's that?

KOBUN: Samadhis. Many elements come. When you go to a large restaurant you see a clear sphere. People take positions and the cook cooks, and the manager stands by the door. But he always watches everything. Everyone is doing all jobs. It looks like confusion but when you see the end of a day, it went well.... Some food has to be almost prepared, but at the last minute you do it. A limited menu, not too many different styles, is helpful to keep good sense of each meal. People enjoy it.

In Japan there is a very interesting restaurant- tempura only. Cook is standing behind the bar, and the guest come and sit in front of him. Timing and freshness of food, and timing to serve, that is a key point to keep this restaurant. So the guest can see how things are going. From many directions the orders come to the cook and he doesn't write what the guest ate, how many he ate. Always memorize how many he ate of the fish tempura. Finally ten people come, a little drunk, and he really remembers what went in their stomach, how much it cost, and how he is serving. Tempura restaurant succeed because of that timing....

This was a little different from your question! We are concerned about meditation and concentration, contemplation. There is the question whether meditation is like energy or something to do with it. If meditation is constantly directed into the self it cannot be extended to other works.... Daily life is extending its quality into meditation. From ten directions what you experience is extending its energy or its impression in the samadhi of zazen. Concentration is like outgoing energy. Meditation can be seen as a different direction.

STUDENT: Is meditation coming toward me? Concentration is outgoing, so is meditation ingoing, incoming?

KOBUN: Meditation is passive action. In other words, static.

STUDENT: Would cooking activity be a kind of shifting over from meditation to concentration? Would that be a problem? If he was meditating, sitting, bringing it is, so to speak, then getting up and going to the restaurant would be sending it out, like reversing the direction. Think that would happen?

KOBUN: Looks like, but, as I said, his whole concentration is meditation of him, in very larger sense.

KOBUN: In religions there are different kinds of meditation. Sometimes it is sound, like mantram, or picture, mandala. In most religions there is a way of meditation. Particular dogmatic teaching, some idea, ritual, prayer, only for help how to meditate.

STUDENT: You mean like bowing is a help how to meditate?

KOBUN: Bowing? Bowing has the same sense as meditation. Usually we don't recognize it. We come to the zendo and start to sit. Kinhin before and after, and bowing is like a little switching activity. All the time when action changes we bow. Not only nine bows on the floor, that is the biggest job. It's a more total thing, toward the past, toward the future, toward whole direction. It has very deep meaning and it grows with your practice, same as zazen. Meditation for us is like a bird coming back to its nest or tree. Don't you feel so? It's very dynamic action and even if it's not your home you sit somewhere very still and again you go to move very fast, again you sit still.

Very important is sleep, not dreaming, but sleep is very, very important. We have various kinds of sleep. We don't recognize how differently every day we sleep. If we don't have dreams probably that means you have had very nice sleep. This is my feeling, dreams come into sleep when you are too exhausted; and also when I don't have a good day, well-balanced day, when I don't get tired to sleep, that time dreams come. It's very strange, there are two kinds of dreams. One is a very unusual dream, which I cannot understand why I am dreaming this strange sort of dream.

One is a very unsatisfactory dream which relates with daily life and has a very deep sense, deep meaning, when still in my dream I think this thing. One is a more deep unconscious, under daily consciousness. My body and mind is so exhausted, in the darkness of the dream it happens. In many senses it is very religious; I continue to ignore it in daily consciousness.

How we concentrate is, I think, very important. But more than how we concentrate, on what we concentrate, in what direction we move this body, move and meet with people, and what kind of mind we carry, is very important. Is it a very clear, contemplative mind, or full of grateful feeling, or no mind at all? Do we just see things fresh and start with “What do I need?” or do we start with what is left over, “I came to hit you because you said so last time, I thought this is the thing to do. I came to hit you!” This is being pushed by past karma. This idea is very important when we speak about extending our life to those things which are the deep, innermost concerns.

Thank you very much.

back to preview