I'm relatively new to this practice, so please forgive a naive question, but I was wondering why zazen is our preferred practice. I've been reading Charlotte Joko Beck's book Nothing Special and at one point she considers the "subject-object problem", i.e., how we consider ourselves separate from all else. She describes a fruitful practice as becoming "pure experience" such that the subject and object dissolve. She uses the example of hammering a nail - one can become so absorbed in the experience of hammering a nail that the self disappears and there is just the pure experience of hammering a nail left. If I understand her correctly, I've occasionally had "pure experience" writing legal briefs, mountain biking, practicing karate, and hiking. If "pure experience" can be had hammering a nail or whatever, why do we sit? Put another way, is there something that makes just sitting preferable to just doing something else?
I appreciate any insight on this question.
Well, there is Zazen when sitting on our Zafu cushion, and Zazen (in its boundless meaning) which is all of life.
As to why we sit? Well, in our usual busy day, running here and there, mind filled with this and that, we take a time to stop running and doing, and to place the body in a balanced and still way, face the wall (in the Soto way), letting thoughts go and not dabbling with all the this and that in the head. There is something about sitting, body balanced, eyes half open, that is conducive to finding balance and stillness of mind. It is not so easy to do hammering nails I think (not if one wishes to keep all one's fingers anyway). :nightmare:
Also, in our Soto Way, we have come to see sitting as a whole and complete act, no other thing to do in that moment, no other place to be but right there for the time we are sitting. How rarely in life do we undertake a moment in life without thinking about where we would rather be or need to be, what comes after, what happened before, how it could be better or is lacking. The self's demands for what it needs and desires, what it fears and what it judges, are dropped away in the total satisfaction and completeness of just sitting. We learn to encounter that time of sitting as "just what it is and that's okay". In that way, the gap between subject (and what "I" want) and object (how the "not me" world is) softens or drops away.
Then, rising from the cushion, we might learn to encounter any facet of life as also "just what it is and that's okay" ... even the stuff that is not "okay". Okay and not okay at once! :encouragement: Then everything is Zazen, both the things we love and the things we do not. Working in the garden or office, tending the baby, getting a cancer diagnosis in the doctor's office, celebrating a birthday or attending a funeral for someone we love ... all happy or sad or in between, yet each and all also a whole and complete act, no other thing to do in that moment, no other place to be but right there in that moment. Since we find sitting a sacred and whole act, it makes us better able to see every aspect of life ... both the beautiful and ugly ... as nonetheless sacred and whole. We appreciate life's weeds as much as life's flowers (yet, at the same time, keep pulling the weeds and watering the flowers!)
Joko Beck was a great sitter. She is also quite correct about how we can be "right in the moment", the border between subject and object dropped away, in hammering a nail, writing a legal brief or hiking. Yet our experience on the cushion helps in doing so, for we can learn to taste that same way of being on the cushion when off the cushion in all those activities and more.
Eric, I ask you to sit with all of our little "We're All Beginners" videos if you have not yet done so, because all this is explained there. In fact, every-one sitting with us should do so.
Finally, I think you misunderstand if you think the purpose of Zazen is just to have some kind of "pure experience" of pure absorption as you describe, or to live always having such an experience. That is one kind of way of encountering the merging of subject and object, and a wonderful reference point when it occurs. However, it is only a kind of reference, and no human being I know (not even Buddhist monks, not even the Buddha himself) could function as a human being if always so absorbed. One must again learn to live in this world of this and that, yesterday and tomorrow, places to go and people to see and much to think about and feel.
So, I often say that folks confuse and overemphasize "being in the moment" with "being with the moment just as it is, and allowing the moment to be what that moment contains". Both are important in this Practice, but not quite the same skill. Please read a bit more here.
Let me know if any of that helps.
Thank you Jundo, this is helpful. I've gone through the beginners' videos, but it's been some time. Now that I've been sitting for a while, my understanding may have changed.
I think it's easier to do Zazen whilst sitting down, away from distractions. Once I finish I try to take this attitude with me into the rest of my day (but inevitably seem to fail).
Sitting zazen is not beneficial because it is beneficial. . .
zazen is beneficial because it is not beneficial.
Fall down seven get up eight ! :encouragement: