I’ve been thinking some more about this issue of the eyes being focused in Zazen. It’s only recently that I’ve even considered the matter at all. Yet I think it’s an extremely important issue for people who practice Zazen. It kind of seems like I’ve felt that way for a long time, only it’s just now I’ve been able to articulate that. Here’s what I mean.
I don’t clearly recall exactly what my first teacher said about your eyes being in focus back twenty-mumble years ago when I first started practicing. But I do remember being frustrated every time I’d notice my focus starting to fuzz up and drift. So I took a felt tip pen and put a little dot on the wall where I usually did Zazen. When that dot disappeared from my vision, I knew it was time to get back on track.
I don’t actually recommend this practice because it’s a bit artificial. I stopped doing it pretty quickly because the dot itself was becoming a distraction.
It wasn’t until a couple years ago when I first heard Nishijima mention that the eyes should remain focused during Zazen that I gave the matter any thought at all. But when I did think about it, I noticed that when my eyes were unfocused, my practice was also unfocused, my body position was subtly out of whack and things needed re-adjusting.
During our three-day retreat at the beginning of this month and during our usual one-day monthly micro-retreat last Saturday, I watched it happen again and again and again. Whenever the eyes went out of focus, the practice itself began to drift. With the eyes unfocused, the mind wanders and the posture shifts. Refocusing the eyes helped bring everything back to where it needed to be.
I once heard my first teacher answer a question about whether the eyes should be open or closed by saying that when the eyes are closed it’s as if you’re saying that what’s in your head is more important than what’s outside. In Buddhist practice we have to give equal weight to both. This is essential.
So recently I have become convinced that Buddhist practice is the practice of keeping the eyes open and focused.
*This is a line from a song by Lords of the New Church, whose vocalist was Stiv Bators ex of Cleveland's The Dead Boys.