Monday, March 10, 2008

What Will Zazen Do For Me?

I got an e-mail from Lynn Thompson who does the radio show Living on Purpose. She said:

"I am airing our talk again on again this week,
Monday (10th) 3 - 5pm EST
Tuesday 3 - 5 AM (for European listeners)
Friday 10 am - noon

She also said the show's podcast on Rabble was the most popular podcast they've put up yet, with over a thousand hits. Yikes.

On Sunday, I did the first of three classes at Karuna Yoga in L.A.'s Los Feliz district (1939 1/2 Hillhurst, near the corner of Franklin and Hillhurst). It was a good class although three people got turned away cuz they arrived an hour late due to not realizing Daylight Savings Time started that morning. Sorry. You'll have two more opportunites to get it right, though. Sunday March 16th at 8 AM and Sunday March 23rd at 8 AM. And remember our regular classes in Santa Monica (info to your left).

I got one question at Karuna that I get a lot. It went something like, "If I take up this zazen practice what will it do for me?"

There are a million variations and every Zen teacher gets them all the time. My friend Greg Fain up at San Francisco Zen Center said that the more you practice zazen the harder it is to answer that question. Lots of times Zen teachers will give what seem like flippant, dismissive answers. "Nothing!" is a pretty common response. But we're not being flippant, really, just honest.

Most meditation teachers try to sell you on their technique, so they have nice pat answers to that question. They'll tell you about reaching equanimity, establishing peace of mind, even reaching Enlightenment. In the long run zazen has all of these benefits too. But I hate to stress them because if you're looking for those things in your practice, the very activity of looking for them prevents you from ever achieving them. It is precisely because you're always looking for peace of mind outside of your own real state of mind that you're never peaceful. It's because you look for Enlightenment outside of this moment that you're never enlightened. You certainly can achieve weird states of mind that unscrupulous teachers will tell you are the states you're seeking. But I wouldn't listen to any of them. What do they know about your state of mind anyway?

On some level you may indeed be able to say you "get something" out of the daily practice of zazen. I certainly wouldn't have kept it up for 25 years if it was a complete waste of time. But in order to get anything out of it, you need to drop the idea that you'll ever get anything out of it. Just see clearly where you are at this moment. That's enough.

Gotta go do some paying work now. Bye!


Almost immediately after that piece went up, some anonymous poster wrote:

*I certainly wouldn't have kept it up for 25 years if it was a complete waste of time.* That's a pretty dumb statement. Here's the deal on Hardcore Zen you said just sit. In Sit Down and Shutup you said you have to sit half-lotus. And Dogen says you can't get to the real zen unless you have a teacher. I'm disappointed as the more I get into it the more it starts to sound like all the other stuff out there.

This question brings up another interesting aspect of the practice, which relates to the initial question. Nobody’s going to try to sell you Zen. Well, some guys (I won't name names) want to sell you something they call Zen. But that’s not Zen.

Why would I try to sell you Zen? I don’t get any money from it. I don’t get any brownie points from the home office in Fukui Prefecture. I don’t get any crowns in Heaven for winning more souls. I have no reason to try and sell you Zen. You think I make money on the retreats and classes? Ha! Those fuckers always end up costing me my shirt. If I didn’t have a day job and a career as an author I couldn’t even consider doing them. I think most Zen teachers have a similar attitude about selling the practice. Want a lucrative career? Don't be a Zen teacher.

Don’t get me wrong here. I am trying to sell you my books. Go buy them! I get money from those. Part of the reason I maintain this blog is to flog those books. But that’s a different animal altogether. The books are about my Zen practice. But the books themselves are not Zen practice.

The reward I would get from more people practicing Zen is a more peaceful, stable world. And I do want that. So, yeah, maybe I am trying to sell you Zen. I take it all back.


Anonymous said...

*I certainly wouldn't have kept it up for 25 years if it was a complete waste of time.* That's a pretty dumb statement. Here's the deal on Hardcore Zen you said just sit. In Sit Down and Shutup you said you have to sit half-lotus. And Dogen says you can't get to the real zen unless you have a teacher. I'm disappointed as the more I get into it the more it starts to sound like all the other stuff out there.

Rich said...

After my knee injury I never thought I would be able to sit 30 minutes in half lotus again , but I can with no problem. I've had an on again off again practice for many years and never committed to a teacher, but I wouldn't rule it out. What is real Zen anyway? Is that when someone else tells you what only you could know in the first place. Or is it having someone else encourage you and point you in the right direction when you can't see your own way? You can make your own decision, I've made mine.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, you used the "e-word" (enlightenment). I thought you'd prefer to avoid it.

Unknown said...

Next time you're taking a break from paying work, you might find this old comedy routine funny:
(Just ignore the video part they added to the original audio). It's by a group called The Frantics.

It's about what happens when you annoy your sensei too much by asking what you'll get out of this (and when). ;-)

Al said...

Hey Rich,

If you don't mind me asking, how did you progress towards half-lotus after your injury? I have the same issue and am looking for experiences about how to avoid further damage.


DB said...

al coleman wrote, " did you progress towards half-lotus after your injury?"

I'm not Rich (or rich) but I'll take a stab at it. I don't know what your knee injury is/was, but based on my own limited experience, I'd counsel time, a lot of time. Also patience, a lot of patience.

Keep trying variations on the theme and use your own discomfort level to decide when to push and when to back off from pushing. That's sorta true of any rehab, actually. I also stretch in ways unrelated to trying to sit. That is, just general long static stretches and some assisted stuff when I can wheedle my wife or one of my kids into pushing on various body parts for me.

Mysterion said...

"If I take up this zazen practice what will it do for me?"

Zazen will help you help yourself.

stability (mood) is the #1 benefit - and takes longest to achieve

peaceful (vs. angry) mind is the #2 benefit - and takes 5 or 10 years for most to achieve - and a lifetime to maintain

the alpha groove is the #3 benefit - time varies, batteries not included

some alpha wave machines can bring this state of mind to the fore for relatively brief periods but the machine itself is a major distraction from what you would otherwise 'get' out of consistent Zazen practice.

"Nothing" is both an inside (Zen) joke and a very rude put off. Only assholes would use that (but I can be such an asshole - depending on the situation). I prefer "I don't know" for the 'tell me everything you know - I have a minute' TYPES. Situational Management.

Mysterion said...

"If I take up this zazen practice what will it do for me?"

a follow up - - what needs to be done for you?

Since one can not know what needs to be done it therefore follows that one can not know the answer.

Anonymous said...

A wise man strives but doesn't fight.

esmerelda_verde said...

I think the best reason for doing zazen is that it 'feels like the right thing to do' - more or less quoting HCZ. It's my reason.

Al Colman, you don't say what your surgery was, but you should do ALL the PT and then keep doing it. What usually stops people from sitting in lotus is 1) tight hips - how far can you rotate your thighs? or 2) tight quads how far can you bend your knees. You should be streaching as well as strenghening. I had a torn miniscus but didn't have problems before or after. I do a lot of yoga which helps a lot. There is actually a lot of yoga theory on why postures work on the mind and emotions and why this is the best ie most efficient posture for meditation. It physically balances you so that you can mentally balance. I know this will sound like mystical mumbo jumbo to some but if you do it a while you start to 'feel it' and you know its right.

Jinzang said...

I'm disappointed as the more I get into it the more it starts to sound like all the other stuff out there.

Instead of acting like Zen is some con job you could have asked, "How does sitting in lotus position help your meditation? And why can't you practice Zen without a teacher?" Both questions have been asked and answered before, but I'm sure people would have answered them again if you had asked.

Jinzang said...

My pat answer to what will meditation do for me is that most of our unhappiness comes from our own mind. This is because we don't understand how our minds work. We don't understand because we are always paying attention to what's outside us and not inside, to the extent that we don't even know we're angry when we are. Meditation is paying attention to our minds so we understand it better.

Not that I disagreed with anything you said.

Anonymous said...

if you have serious problems, you can sit on chairs or even lay down practicing zazen. it is A LOT harder to accomplish, but possible.

there were BLIND monks, so apparently they were not able to "keep their eyes open" or people who lost limbs etc.

while the perfect full lotus doesnt actually hurt if you can do it, it is in NO WAY required for any enlightenment experience or whatever.

perfectionism (concerning the future) is not really the idea of zazen. you are doing it really good even if you are doing it quite WRONG.

you can but try.

Anonymous said...

"If I take up this zazen practice what will it do for me?"

Here's my standard answer to that question, when I get it from newer practitioners: "Practicing Zen will give you this present moment: nothing more, nothing less." And if the person says, "I already have this present moment," I'll tell them they're right. Everyone already has "enlightenment," but most folks don't know it. So sitting down & shutting up (to borrow your spot-on definition of Zen practice) will simply give folks the opportunity to notice the nuances of a present moment they already have but are probably ignoring.

I suppose it's flippant, but there it is: nothing more, nothing less.

Lauren said...

what really bugs me is I've read HCZ and SDASU (so cool using hip insider acronyms), and I really like what Brad has to say. There's some resonance. That feeling of 'seems true.'

So great. I'm stuck here in Cedar Park Texas. Hundreds of dollars from being able to hang out and learn more /explore more with seemingly like minded people.

So what do I do? Study on my own with no teacher?! I want my freaking merit badge and I want it from Brad or Nishijima. Where's the correspondence course? And according to some old story or koan I've heard, wanting it so bad almost guarentee's I'll never get it. the first glimpse of being interested in Dogen's point of view stop all interest and sit down and shut up or else you'll never get where you think you might want to be....


Jules said...

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Act now, act now, and receive as our gift, our gift to you -- they come in all colors, one size fits all, no muss, no fuss, no spills, you're tired of kitchen drudgery. Everything must go, going out of business, going out of business going out of business sale! Fifty percent off original retail price, skip the middle man don't settle for less.

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Mysterion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Attention on your Hara

Anonymous said...

focus on the Hara

autonomic nervous system

Just because some people don't doesn't mean you have to follow.


Anonymous said...

Nice post on the Hara. I have chronic constipation and a bad back. Since doing Zazen and focusing on my Hara my peristalsis is quite regular.

"The human gut has long been seen as a repository of good and bad feelings. Perhaps emotional states from the head's brain are mirrored in the gut's brain, where they are felt by those who pay attention to them"

Although I like brads books he seems silly at times. Like he's teaching Bradzen

Lone Wolf said...

Brad - I give you and everyone else that does Zazen everyday major props. It's difficult to keep it up everyday. As a college student, it's super easy to say I have to much homework, even though I spend decent amount of the day veggin' out on the couch. Who would have thought I'd be to lazy to sit up straight with my legs twisted up for thirty minutes. The times I do Zazen everyday (once I went a whole month. Wow!) it only takes one day of not sitting to break that consistency.

I haven't sat for so long. It's time to jump back up on the horse again. Promises are empty words.

Lone Wolf said...

I just read the latest SG post on sexual morality. I'm glad your speaking so openly about sex because a lot of us Americans are way to hung up and up tight about the subject.

I just read a fiction novel called Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis, in which a detective is on a mission and goes to this location that ends up being a theatre. A movie comes on and it's an collage of various edited Godzilla movies with porn sounds over top, so it looks like Godzilla is getting busy with other big lizardy monsters. Then, a bunch of guys wearing Godzilla gloves jerk off to it. While someone in a Gozilla mask on screen gets a bunch of shots into the face. In the book, it was called Godzilla Bukkake.

Would this be considered a violation of the precepts? Just kidding.

Crooked Little Vein has some pretty disturbing parts in it but is quite funny. I enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

Lone Wolf said:

Brad - I give you and everyone else that does Zazen everyday major props. It's difficult to keep it up everyday. As a college student, it's super easy to say I have to much homework, even though I spend decent amount of the day veggin' out on the couch.

Geez yeah this really hits home for me. I'm 42, have a 4 year old son and a construction business, all which makes it really easy to shirk sitting. By the same token, all of that is why I really need to anyhow.

Sitting, surfing and skateboarding are the three things that keep me on an even keel.

Anonymous said...

Someone said: "I'm disappointed as the more I get into it the more it starts to sound like all the other stuff out there."

I've found that with any religion, the moment you start reading about how other people say to do something, it immediately becomes like everything else. I still think you should read it and play with their way of doing things as something may click for you that you had not yet come up with on your own, but it feels to me as if you should take the essentials and strike out on your own path. Choosing a religion to me is more of choosing what essentials you need to do things, not choosing how to do things.

As Brad said in Hardcore Zen, zazen is just sitting. From what I've read, sitting in half lotus position can enable you to sit longer because it can alleviate pains you may feel from sitting to long in other positions, and having a teacher (preferably with a stick) can give some the motivation they need to continue, whether through answering questions the thinking mind comes up with, or attention breaking thwacks.

If those things work for you, run with them. If not, find what does. The point of zazen for me is to just sit. Anything aside from that that you have to figure out on your own. People may be able to try to nudge you in a direction, but you should be the one taking the first step.

Those are my two cents. Question them (I'm going to).

grisom said...

Who would have thought I'd be to lazy to sit up straight with my legs twisted up for thirty minutes. The times I do Zazen everyday (once I went a whole month. Wow!) it only takes one day of not sitting to break that consistency.

I know what you mean. When I talked to my tacher about this, he suggested sitting for just five minutes if you don't feel like you can do 30. That's helped me a lot.

Anonymous said...

I think the best reason for doing zazen is that cheap

Northwest said...

What's with the incessant nit picking about what zazen is? I wish I'd never even heard the word. Buddhism schmuddism, too.

All's I know is, I go down to my basement bedroom, prop my ass up on two pillows, jam my feet up towards my legs so I can play like I'm the Eiffel Tower, and then I sit. Sometimes for an hour, sometimes for 2. Whatever.

I think whatever I want to think; mainly I just hang loosely around the metaphor that I am literally plopping myself down in the middle of my life, like a cow in a field. Whatever else arises is just the experience of my life being itself. It seems quite obvious that is exactly what this is, nothing more or less.

You call that zazen? Sure, go ahead. You want to get hung up on technique and your notion of what Brad thinks is best? OK, if you insist...

Anonymous said...



Anonymous said...

Where I am I cannot find any Zen teachers, so is that it for me? There are other Buddhism groups (FWBO, Tibetan) so im gonna take up meditation with one of them, but would that be leading me astray?

Harry said...


You could, like many people, practice the Great Way on your own and then that concern wouldn't be an issue.

The whole thing is very often fudged by religious sticks with carrots on the end which were/are always yours to begin with.



vinegar-daoist said...

I think the point is that you have to pursue Zen without expectation. Once you have expectation you will only get what you expect and perhaps not even that.

Sitting is being still so you sit and seek to be still without expectation of some experience or result.

You then get what you get, end of story.

Are there more effective ways to sit, yes. Are there less effective ways to sit, yes.

Some ways assist in being still, some don't assist as much.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if it's starting to "sound like all the other stuff out there" or if all the other stuff out there sounds like this? My wife was excited about this new Oprah/Tolle junk called A New Earth. I wasn't even five minutes in to it before I realized it's just more regurgitation and repackaging of what's been done before and better. If you prefer that then feel free to enjoy it. Any path is better than no path.

Brad, do you ever got to the East Coast?

Anonymous said...

How much is that Zen in the window?

Rich said...

Al Coleman said... asked about how went from bad knee to sitting half lotus again.

In the morning after looking at the paper and having a little coffee, I do my stretching routine for about 10-15 minutes. I learned it practicing Tae Kwan Do 20 years ago. Stretching gets my breathing going and brings blood and oxygen to my joints etc.(very important to healing) Next I do 100 crunches and some leg lifts to strengthen my abs. The abs are the key to a strong back and the center of human action. (My philosophy of action). In the early days after the injury I used Therma Care Heat Pads all day. (available at CVS drugstores). Now I am ready to sit. I sat in a chair, then attempted half lotus, sat in chair, half lotus 1 minute, chair, half lotus 2 min, chair, etc. until 30 min hl. The elapsed time between commas is weeks or months.

Anonymous said...

The #1 benefit of Zazen:

if you are meditating, you might miss the thunderous sound of the economy crashing under the Reaganomics poliy of the Bush presidency.

Jared said...


I have really enjoyed your last two posts, both for your very clear voice in them as well as the message. They have made me want to start reading your blog regularly again, so cheers!


Al said...

Thanks for the replies Rich and others. What poses would everyone suggest.

Mysterion said...

During my last hip flare up, I got thwacked for using a seiza

but, I would do it again...

Anonymous said...

'tHe best thing about zazen is that it's . . . cheap'

It is also priceless.

What do 'get' out of zazen? . . . What do you get out of breathing, taking a crap?
Appreciation for life functioning as life as life functions as you

Anonymous said...

John Daido Loori ROcKs

Unknown said...

hey brad
never knew you had a blog
now i do. thanks to you i got into buddhism and i feel let i've found my path.
rock on dude can't wait for the next one

Anonymous said...

What will you get out of zazen?

If you're a guy, you're sure to get a much larger penis. Plus, regular zazen will give you vast potency and ability to perform nonstop for hours without drugs.

For you ladies, two words; bigger tits. Start zazen and you can literally watch those boobs grow.

But wait! That's not all. If you act now zazen will also increase your IQ by at least 50 points.

(not sold in stores. offer not valid in alaska or hawaii.)

Anonymous said...

Zazen merits?

Brad is gonna buy a yacht ("Hardcorewinds") and teach you after you are Operating Thetan VII and 33rd degree (Inspector General) at the same time. It's quite an investment though.

Anonymous said...

Freewinds services are aimed at those who have reached the upper levels of Scientology. The highest Scientology level currently available, OT VIII, can only be done aboard the Freewinds. The Freewinds also offers OT Hatting Courses...

If you don't know what Hatting is, watch Wild Strawberries. The 'hatting ceremony' is a key part - it ties the beginning dream sequence to the conclusion.

Anonymous said...

The 33rd Degree, Inspector General Honorary, are (a few) members who have previously received the rank of Knight Commander Court of Honor. HERE

Sir, begone! You are not a Mason at all!

Anonymous said...

Hatting Ceremony?

Anonymous said...

And by now,surely you have figured out why there were hermits who took to the hills, lived in caves.
When you've said what you had to say, there's just daily life: the oh so ordinary extrordinariness of it all.
People keep wanting MORE
what is this MORE?

Anonymous said...

Ole Nydahl finds it embarrassing that Buddhists never defended themselves.

If one says 'be not violent' then one cannot answer violence with violence. To be violent - like your enemy - would transform you into into being your own enemy.

There was, of course, one noteworthy exception - the "Boxer Rebellion." Buddhists tried to stop the Brits from selling opium in China - and failed.

In 1823, Samuel Russell established Russell and Company for the purpose of acquiring opium in Turkey and smuggling it to China. Russell and Company merged with the Perkins (Boston) syndicate in 1830 and became the primary American opium smuggler. Many of the great American and European fortunes were built on the "China"(opium) trade.

Skull and Bones - accept or reject.

Rich said...

Anonymous said...
People keep wanting MORE
what is this MORE?

I want (crave) more of the ordinary extrordinariness moments but I don't know if I will get them. So MORE is Don't Know.
Don't Know is not wanting.

The above is just talk. Reality is More.

Jared said...

This comment is sort of inspired by the first anonymous comment. Not to start a firestorm, but I am confused where everyone (Including Brad and Nishijima) get the idea that Dogen was dead-set that his version of zazen was the one and only way. Unless someone can point to a chapter of the Shobogenzo, the only place I know of that Dogen discusses zazen is only two pages long and is entitled, "A Generally Recommended Mode of Sitting Meditation", and not, "The End All and Be All Means of Meditation."

That is to say, it doesn't mean Brad and Nishijima are wrong or anything like that, I just wonder why they hold that specific view when Dogen seems less concrete on it.

Anonymous said...

Right Jared, Brad and his teacher are very much on that dogma track. I never understood why, especially I don't find it very typical in Soto history. Our Rinzai friends were often VERY arrogant, stating stuff like: "No one but me has ever taught this supreme teaching."

Brad's opinion that a teacher, who doesn't claim to know the BEST way is a bad teacher remains bullshit to me, I am sorry. It doesn't make him/her a bad teacher to claim it, but a teacher who states "My way appears fine to me, other techniques and teachings might be fine, too - I just never did them so what can I tell you about it?" - what's wrong with that: Too honest? Too humble? Too realistic?

Anonymous said...

"The reward I would get from more people practicing Zen is a more peaceful, stable world."

My teacher (Soto-lineage) explicitly said: You won't become peaceful because of Zazen.


Anonymous said...

"Ole Nydahl finds it embarrassing that Buddhists never defended themselves."

Ole Nydahl is a jerk. Really, think of materialism gone wrong - Arnold style. People love him because he is very offensive that you can accept wild sex, sports cars, and a cheesy tan and still be a Buddha.

Rich said...

"My teacher (Soto-lineage) explicitly said: You won't become peaceful because of Zazen."

I agree with this. all of shit that I used to ignore, I now have to deal with and am responsible for.

AS far as zazen styles, I think I am more Rinzai because What am I? Don't Know is my base. But all the different styles are OK with me because at some point I became my style.

Rich said...

I agree with this. all of shit that I used to ignore, I now have to deal with and am responsible for.

And the action of doing that makes for a more peaceful world so I agree with Brad also.

Anonymous said...

Zazen is a regular reminder, that you are just awareness, nothing else, not mind, not body.


Anonymous said...

Who took my Hara?

Rich said...

Zazen is a regular reminder, that you are just awareness, nothing else, not mind, not body."

I really don't know. When I'm hungry I eat, when tired I sleep and that is good for awarenenss too. I think the no body, no mind, falling away of body and mind etc. is before thinking but maybe Brad or a teacher could explain that better. anyway, I don't know what it is, but if I call it awareness with no body no mind that doesn't seem complete to me. I feel more comfortable calling it awareness with body and mind with the understanding that before thinking it just is, that is whatever it is.

Anonymous said...

Ask not what your zazen practice can do for you but what You can do for your zazen practice

qbitty said...

man wtf you keep justifying yourself all fucking day long?

go make a million and wear a rolex on every limb (including your dick) if you can, like osho & screw all your suicide girls while at it too.

don't fucking lock yourself into talks about i'm not making a brownie on this, why would i sell you that?

sell water by the river for 40 years like kapleau roshi is better than constantly dumb yourself down and defend yourself against losers.

hayzooz mother of virgin mary, i'm tired of seeing you licking your childhood wounds.

Anonymous said...

Hey Everyone,
Interested to know what you think about while sitting? Or are you supposed to think of anything. That's difficult right? All those thoughts bouncing around. Concentrating on the breathing is supposed to help, but is this part of Zazen or are you free to let those thoughts come and go as they do?
By the way, I just started Brad's first book so if it's in the book, just let me know!