The first time I heard this English expression, “good for nothing,” I was living in Massachusetts. One summer, to support our practice, we worked for a farmer harvesting blueberries. There were some high school students working there too, as a summer job during their vacation. There was a part of the field were another kind of berries were growing, called dogberries. The students were not very careful, so sometimes they mixed dogberries in with the blueberries. The farmer was always shouting: “Stop picking those good-for-nothing dogberries!”
I really liked this expression, “good for nothing,” and I thought, “What’s the difference between those good-for-nothing berries and the blueberries?” Dogberries are not edible, but they are pretty. Blueberries are pretty, too, but they are also edible, so they have market value. That means they’re “good for something.” Dogberries have no market value so we consider them “good for nothing.”
But when we put aside our human evaluation, then blueberry and dogberry are the same. They are both pretty and just live to continue their lives. So I thought, dogberries are good but for nothing. That’s why I translated Sawaki Roshi’s expression that way: “Zazen is good for nothing.” To me, this means zazen is good—but not for something. It is good in itself. I think this is very important. It is the same as what Bodhi-dharma said when the Emperor Wu told him he [the emperor] had helped Buddhism by creating hundreds of temples and monasteries and asked what karmic rewards he could expect. Bodhidharma said, “No merit at all.”
Sengai said, “If frog,” you know, “if someone can be a buddha, I – maybe I can be a buddha too.” [Laughing.] Frog was sitting like this [probably gestures] [laughs, laughter]. “If people can be a buddha by practice of sitting, then I can be [laughs] – soon I will be a buddha” [laughs]. For the people who knows what is actual practice, you know, even though they don’t experience enlightenment experience, if he sees someone who, you know, who is sitting to attain enlightenment [laughs], we think he is like a frog sitting [laughs]. …
if you understand what Sengai is feeling when, you know, you see a picture of a frog, you are already, you know, Zen – you have already understood what is Zen. There [is a] lot of humor in it, and there is good understanding of our practice. Even though our practice is – is not better than frog, you know, we will continue to sit. And we can accept a frog as our good example of practice.
I think that is a kind of enlightenment, but if – you should know how you, you know, actually understand a frog. Sengai, you know, drew – after, you know, practicing pretty long time [laughs], you will, you know, partly laugh – laugh at someone who is involved in wrong idea of practice, and partly you will, you know, laugh at yourself [laughs] who is sitting always [laughs] without doing anything – without making not much progress. You will laugh at yourself. When you can laugh, you know, at yourself, humorously, then there is, you know, enlightenment. But still, your zazen is beginner’s zazen or sometimes worse than beginner’s zazen [laughs].
Wat vind je van zazen? Ik denk dat het beter is te vragen wat je van bruine rijst vindt. Zen is zo’n zwaar onderwerp. Bruine rijst is goed genoeg. Veel verschil is er trouwens niet. … Leegte is niet iets dat je kunt begrijpen door een ruimtereis. Je kunt leegte begrijpen als je helemaal opgaat in het kauwen van bruine rijst. Dat is echte leegte.
Als je zonder inspanning inademt, kom je vanzelf terug met een bepaalde kleur of vorm. Tijdens het uitademen vervaag je geleidelijk in de leegte – leeg, wit papier. Dat is shikantaza. Vooral je uitademing is belangrijk. Probeer in plaats van jezelf te voelen tijdens het inademen, tijdens het uitademen in de leegte te verdwijnen.
Als je dit beoefent in het laatste moment van je leven, hoef je nergens bang voor te zijn. Je mikt dan al op de leegte. Als je uitademt met dat gevoel, word je één met alles. Als je nog leeft, adem je daarna natuurlijk weer in. ‘O, ik leef nog! Gelukkig of helaas!’ Dan begin je weer uit te ademen en te verdwijnen in de leegte. …
Als je deze oefening doet, word je niet gauw boos. Als je meer geïnteresseerd bent in inademen dan in uitademen, word je erg gauw boos. Je probeert steeds te leven. … Sterven is belangrijker dan leven. Als we altijd maar proberen te leven, hebben we het moeilijk. … Als we proberen actief te zijn en bijzonder en iets te bereiken, kunnen we onszelf niet tot uitdrukking brengen. Het kleine ik komt tot uitdrukking, maar het grote zelf komt niet uit de leegte tevoorschijn.
If we learn to keep our mind quiet through meditation, to just stay present with our feelings, to connect with our heart, to let go of the story lines, and to directly feel all the unpleasant sensations associated with our emotional hurts, then the heart will open and we can approach each situation from a wider perspective. Meditation practice and the cultivation of heart-mind awareness give us the opportunity to respond to our emotions in a very nonviolent and compassionate way.
Gerry Shishin Wick
“There’s nothing in sitting except maintaining awareness. Our ability to do that grows over time. You can call that progress if you want, but basically we are just returning to what we’ve alway been. There’s really nothing special about it. So any idea that there’s something special about sitting, that we have to get into some spiritual state, or some wonderful state, that’s not it.
As you’re sitting, if you really maintain awareness, which you probably won’t, but if you do, it feels so different from what we ordinarily do that we may think we’ve done something special, but we haven’t really.
I want to emphasize that sitting is not about shutting out your thoughts, its about seeing them as thoughts of no importance whatsoever. But I don’t know of anyone who doesn’t think his or her thoughts are of some importance, including me sometimes. We definitely don’t see our thoughts as little energy blips that for whatever reason are set off. (meer…)
the tenth drawing in the Ten Oxherding Pictures: ‘Entering the town with offering hands’ is the natural consequence and the final goal of zazen. This is because the profound feeling of compassion originates in satori experience. With all people, share the complete freedom of Zen you have gained through zazen practice.
Watch all sentient beings
with merciful eyes.