On another thread, we have been discussing being both too loose and negligent ... and too obsessive and driven by some desire ... in Zen Practice. Uchiyama Roshi tells one of the most amazing stories I have come across about being desirous in one's Zazen. Too much Zazen misses the mark as much as no Zazen. Desiring enlightenment drives right past what one searches for.
(Perhaps this is also one of the clearest descriptions of what Dogen expressed as "Body-Mind Dropped Off" too.)
It is from Uchiyama Roshi's portion of the book "Dogen's Genjo Koan - Three Commentaries". It mentions a "Zenpan", a special wooden support to hold the chin up so that one may sleep in the Lotus Posture (I have done that too, although it is discouraged these days most times).
"Zenpan" description here:
It also mentions a "kyosaku/keisaku", a stick used (not in our Sangha or among most of Nishijima Roshi's students however) to strike a dozer on the shoulder for a "wake up".
Too many people believe that this world exists to satisfy desires,
which are based on their self-centered thoughts. In reality, this world
does not exist to fulfill our desires. In fact, things do not proceed in
accordance with our expectations. And yet, somehow, we don't accept
this. Consequently, we often complain that things do not go well, and
we struggle and make a great fuss.
When we reflect on ourselves, we understand that this way of living
In samsara is caused by our own incompIeteness. So then, we want to
practice to go beyond ourselves and attain enlightenment. I think many
people who practice zazen originally had this thought.
And yet, there is a problem here. In the desire to go beyond our-
selves and attain enlightenment, we want to make ourselves into the
people we want to be. What will actually happen when we seriously
practice the Buddha Way with such a desire? This is not [just]someone
else's problem; I also began to practice the Buddha Way with exactly
I wanted to throw myself into the Buddha Way and practice zazen.
I was ordained by Sawaki Roshi in 1941. Following Sawaki Roshi's
instruction, I started to walk the path of real zazen practice at Daichuji
Temple in Tochigi Prefeture. At the time, we had two five-day Sesshins
each month. One sesshin was led by Sawaki Roshi,and we had [chanting] services,
lectures, and so on. But in the other sesshin we simply repeated fifty
minutes of zazen and ten minutes of kinhin (walkng meditation) from
two in the morning until midnight. We had three meals a day, and right
after each meal we had thirty minutes of kinhin. We sat twenty-two
hours a day. Even the two hours from midnight to two, we sIept in sit-
ting posture, putting our chin on a support called a zenpan. We were in
the sitting posture for almost twenty-four hours a day. Except for the
two hours of sleep, someone walked around with the kyosaku (Wake-up
We had this type of sesshin once a month. In December, we also had
a seven-day session with the same schedule. During such a sesshin, espe-
cially at its end, I could not keep awake. No matter how hard we were
hit when we fell asleep, we could not wake up. Sometimes my shoulder
would be swollen.
Even though I practiced Zazen undergoing such extreme difficult
sesshins, during that time l settled down into the life of the Buddha
Way and practiced wholeheartedy expecting that l would improve
myself and have a good result sometime in the future. …
When I practiced at Daichuji, I thought that if l kept
Practicing zazen in that way somehow I would become a better person。
After several years of practice, the only clear thing l found was that no
matter how many years l kept practicing zazen, I would not produce
any desirable results.
Consequently, I began to wonder why l would spend my life doing
such a thing. … Once l wrote a detailed letter to Sawaki Roshi about my
question. In response, Sawaki Roshi sent a letter with Dogen Zenji’s
poem included in Eiheikoroku [Extensive Record of Eihei Dogen, Man-
Forgetting all dichotomies
My mind is peaceful.
Within Buddha dharma
All things appear at the same time in front of me.
From now on, my mind is settled,
I leave everything to causes and condtions.
Although Sawaki Roshi sent the poem, since my struggles were
exacty because I wanted to attain that state of mind, it didn't help me
at all. …
For about five years, I was in the midst of a very deep and serious distress.
While l was at Teishoji Temple in Saku,Shinshu (Nagano Prefec-
ture) from 1948 to 1949, I was really in the dark as to my zazen practice.
I could not do anything about it. I had to throw everything away: my
doubts and thinking. One evening l sat alone in the zendo and l felt a
release. After this experience, I wrote something like a waka poem:
Under the blazing sun,
Hearing a command, “Cease fire!''
I ceased fire.
Cool refreshing breeze.
Since young people today have little experience of military drills [like in school in Japan before the war],
they probably don't understand this poem. When we had mock war-
fare, during the daytime in mid-summer, we had to wear heavy equip-
ment, carry guns, and run over a vast field. We were covered with
sweat. In such a situation, when the drill instructor gave a command
for cease fire, I felt relieved from the hard exercise, and suddenly felt
a cool breeze. I experienced this during my school years. While I was
sitting alone in the zendo, I again experienced this exact feeling. At the
time, I didn't understand why l felt such a release. But, I thought, zazen
is probably like this.
In the Fall of1949, after l moved to Antaiji in Kyoto, Sawaki Roshi
Said in his teisho [Dharma Talk] “Buddha Dharma is immeasurable and boundless; it
cannot be something which fulfills your desire for satisfaction.” Upon
hearing this, I felt heaven and earth turn upside down. Until then, I had
been fussing and struggling with a desire to improve myself and attain
enlightenment . …
… [S]everal years ago, after I moved to Kohata, I wrote
a poem for my New Years greeting card titled “A Letter.” I found l had
settled down a bit.
I struggled in many ways
ln my youth.
Moving here and there
Like a leaf blown in the wind.
Finally I drifted to a sunny spot
By the [statue of] Jizo Bodhisattva in Kohata,
Being satisfied with dissatisfaction.
Right now, right here
I live simply.