: Reverend Okumura, in the Zen tradition there doesn’t seem to be much
reference to prayer. Are there practices of prayer, devotion or supplication in Zen?
Reverend Shohaku Okumura
: Many think of Zen in opposition to Shin or Pure Land
Buddhism. People sometimes think of Zen as a “self power” practice. I think, however, we
must be very careful about the meaning of “other power” and “self power.” As Dogen Zenji
said, “To study the Buddha way is to study the self.” But he also said, “To study the self is
to forget the self.” Dogen called our practice of meditation shikantaza, which means “just
sitting.” This “just sitting” is actually the way we study the self, but this is also the way we
forget the self.
This self is not really the self as an individual, which is separate from others or from other
power. When we sit, we sit on the ground that is beyond the dichotomy of self and other. In
that sense, our sitting practice is a prayer to give up the self and to put our entire being on
the ground of interdependent origination.
We see ourselves as individuals separate from the other, based on a distorted belief or
assumption. Then we sit on the cushion and we just sit, with an upright posture and our
eyes open. We don’t use any visualization or mantra or even counting or watching breaths.
We merely sit. In that way, the self can give up—we can put more emphasis on reality
rather than on this fixed individual self. In that sense, this is a prayer. It does not mean that
the self prays to the other for some benefit, but rather we place our entire being on the
basis of interdependent origination. That is an essential meaning of prayer in Buddhism.