Don’t Worry About Your Zazen

Sometimes you may have worried about your zazen. You had been sleeping. Or you couldn’t get past five in counting your breaths. Or you couldn’t stop thinking about some problem. Or your mind wouldn’t settle, and you may have said to yourself that your zazen wasn’t so good.

Or the opposite could have happened. You felt really calm, clear and just wonderful and thought “I had great zazen today.”

Having so-called bad sittings may be more usual. After a series of them, you may begin to wonder what is happening to your meditation. Such worries are just a sign of delusion. Your zazen is perfect. Your worrying is the problem.

This doesn’t mean whatever you do in meditation is all right. Sitting with your legs crossed in the lotus position just for the purpose of feeling good is not zazen. Such a kind of mental and physical exercise might only help your concentration. It is a bonus that after doing zazen one can feel better than before, but having a calm, clear mind is not the purpose of zazen. With each day of zazen — each moment in fact — being different, there is no way to evaluate your zazen. Doing so is a leap into deluded thinking.

With goal-less zazen you focus on what is happening there and then in your body and your mind. Not going out to what is thought of as reality. Not racing ahead to do what we plan to do. Or have to do. Or want to do. In meditation you stay with your real self.

You may think that the more zazen you do the better. Some practitioners can have that understanding. Doing zazen is not comparable to working for an hourly wage. If it were, one could only sit and sleep for a few years and get it over with.

To think that the amount of zazen or its day-to-day feeling are of real importance is to think of it materialistically.

Sitting in the meditation posture, following your breath, by yourself, may not lead to real practice penetrating into your life.
People who play a sport can want to beef up, but getting more muscle has no direct relationship to the knowledge of how to play the sport.

What is lacking when sitting alone, from a Buddhist perspective, is the Three Treasures: the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha. There is no feeling for Buddha nature that you can get from being with a teacher. You don’t get an intellectual understanding of this nature that you don’t know you have. You don’t have the feeling of confidence one gets from being with others in the same practice. This lack of a teacher, the teaching, and fellow seekers is why doing zazen by yourself may not change your life in the long run.

Staying with your mind and body in itself takes effort. Do you feel you need some other reason? Do you feel you need to get something out of it?

One reason for doing zazen is the suffering that we are born with in having a grasping self. But the reason you think you are making effort may not be the reason at all. It could be some time before you actually know.

Those whose reason for making effort is to get enlightened may try very hard to solve a koan. They are given such a purpose so that in going over and over this gaining idea they will realize the impossibility of what they are attempting to do. The subsequent act of truly giving up reveals openness to them. As long as they were making effort they couldn’t succeed.

Actually, we don’t need a clear motivation. Wild horses don’t need carrots in front of their noses to run. Running is their nature. Wanting to know our true nature is ours. Making an effort to find our own nature is like getting on an airplane at LAX and flying west — or jumping in the Pacific and swimming west — to get to Los Angeles. It’s a long trip to where we already are.

So just make an effort to stay with your body and mind by tracking your breathing or counting your breaths and keeping your body aligned and relaxed. There is no need to make meditation more complicated by treating it as something requiring evaluation.

Your ordinary life does not have control over your zazen. Rather, the longer you sit, the more sitting comes into your ordinary life.