mad in pursuit journal


Susan Does Zazen at the Zen Center

I spent yesterday at the Rochester Zen Center focusing on... counting from one to ten. Zen is about being in the moment and turning off all the distracting brain chatter. The way to do it is to focus yourself on your breathing. Get started by counting your breaths, 1 to 10, start over again. You are sitting cross-legged on cushions. You must be perfectly still for at least 20 minutes.

The only way to get a break is to raise your hand and have the zazen monitor smack you with a stick. No, really, it's true. It's all very ceremonial, but a smart couple of thwacks on each shoulder does wonders for your flagging attention and aching hips.

I can't say the day gave me any hint of Awakening. I couldn't wait to get home and have a glass of wine and a couple ibuprofen. But the Zen Center is beautiful — kind of a retreat house in the city, with gardens you can walk around in your bare feet during breaks. I hadn't realized that it was one of the largest/most active Zen centers in the country, founded by Philip Kapleau, who was a key player in bringing Zen Buddhism to America.

So... why am I doing this? I don't know. I'm just letting myself be intrigued, going with the flow. They have invited us back for another couple hours this morning with the rest of the "congregation" for more zazen, chanting, and a lecture. Might as well give it another try... I'm more impressed by difficult endeavors than I am with instant cure-alls.

Here's a quote from Philip Kapleau about sitting:

... Zazen is the "gateway to total liberation" ...

For with the ordering and immobilizing of feet, legs, hands, arms, trunk, and head in the traditional lotus posture, with the regulation of the breath, the methodical stilling of the thoughts and unification of the mind through special modes of concentration, with the development of control over the emotions and strengthening of the will, and with the cultivation of a profound silence in the deepest recesses of the mind—in other words, through the practice of zazen—there are established the optimum preconditions for looking into the heart-mind and discovering there the true nature of existence.

Although sitting is the foundation of zazen, it is not just any kind of sitting. Not only must the back be straight, the breathing properly regulated, and the mind concentrated beyond thought, but... one must sit with a sense of dignity and grandeur, like a mountain or a giant pine... This innate dignity of the human being is physiological manifested in an erect back.

So... bliss comes to those who quit slouching.