essay by Soyu Matsuoka Roshi
Soto Zen meditation is not the sitting which preceded Shakyamuni Buddha's Enlightenment, but the sitting at the very moment of his new-found wisdom. the Buddha had been sitting in deep silence, much like the manner in which each of us sits in his daily or weekly meditation. He sat with his legs crossed, his hands clasped, sitting upright, regulatiing his breath, and keeping his mind pure of evil passions or of any thoughts. Yet, the Buddha's meditation was much more than just sitting in silence, for his mind had reached an open and free world wherein everything was embraced and the distinction of self and not-self had been done away with. The Buddha had seen things as they really are, but this does not mean that he was blessed with an insight into some mysterious things. The shell of his egotistical self had been smashed, and it was as if he were the only being in the Universe or as if he had become one with the whole universe. This wisdom of the true nature of things became fused with his practice of sitting in meditation, and because the two were inseparable, the practice of sitting must be thought of as wisdom itself. The outward form of sitting in meditation may not appear to have much meaning in itself, but once the spirit of the Buddha's Enlightenment is fused into it, it takes on the highest value.
Dogen Zenji praised this posture, saying, "The Buddhas in all directions as numerous as the sand grains of the Ganges River would be unable to estimate the merits of an hour's sitting in meditation by a single person." To Dogen Zenji, there was no dualism of mind and matter. Zazen or sitting cross-legged in meditation was, to him, Enlightenment itself. The practice of sitting in meditation was not separated from Enlightenement itself. Dogen said at another time, "Attainment of the Way can only be realized with our practice." To him, meditation is life and vitality itself. People are heard to say that Enlightenment is the ideal of Zen meditation and that Zazen is the means of attaining that ideal. But, it is unfortunate that words limit our explanation of Zen to such a great extent, for talking about Meditation and Enlightenement in this manner may lead us to think of sitting in silence with empty minds as solely a means to an end. We must not think of Zazen as a mere means to an end or as different from the "End." In the Bendowa, a chapter of the Shobo Genzo, Dogen said, "It is held that Zazen and Enlightenmnt are different things. This opinion is wrong because the Buddha teaches that they are one and the same. Zazen is the full expression of Real Enlightenment." He also wrote, "We cannot be without practices if we see Enlightenment at all, which is inseparable from practice." but that "Zazen is neither a kind of Zen meditation in which one waits for Enlightenement, nor a means to become a Buddha."
Enlightement is an integral part of Zen meditation from the onset. It is a world of religion that is absolute because it rejects the categories of means and ends. It has been mentioned to you many times that there is Buddha-nature within you. In the Mahanirvana Sutra or the Nehan-gyo, there is a passage which reads, "All beings have Buddha-nature." However, Dogen reads this as "All beings are the Buddha-nature," emphasizing that the Buddha-naure is the basis of all existence and the source of all value. In another chapter of the Shobo Genzo, the Bussho-no-maki, Dogen emphasized that the "Buddha-naure is everything." All things which exist are part of the sea of the Buddha-nature. We are apt to think of the Buddha-nature as something mystic, unfamiliar, but it is nothing more than "the chin of a donkey or the mouth of a horse." to quote Dogen Zenji. All existing things are a manifestation of the Buddha-nature, yet it transcends mere existence and moves on into the infinite. Within a person, it is their true self. for this reason, Zazen has been explained as what "shows one's natural self." If you sit for one minute, you are a Buddha for one minute, or if you sit for five, you are a Buddha for that length of time. This is because the practice of meditation and its wisdom--Enlightenment--are not separate. Even the sitting of a beginner will be a brilliant one which has the 'lining' of right Enlightenment of the Shakyamuni Buddha