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Shambhala Sun | July 2014



Zazen: Just Ordinary Mind

Our natural mind is clear, simple, and ordinary. The practice of Zen meditation, says SUSAN MURPHY, is simply to abandon anything extra. Then the ordinary reveals its magic.

First, what Zen meditation is not. It is not a meticulous body scan, nor a rigorous examination of the contents of the mind. Nor is it a private entry into nirvana.

Zazen is a deep study of the embodied mind. It is a meditation practice that fosters both gradual and sudden shifts of radical insight into the genuine nature of mind. In a typically startling yet low-key undoing of expectations, Zen often calls this clear and most natural experience “ordinary mind.” In Zazen, “ordinary” things grow both plainer and stranger at once.  

This “ordinary” does not mean ho-hum or customary. It means as ordinary as the way a bee softly bothers the flowers. As ordinary as waves welling and sucking back over rocks. As ordinary and unlikely as the overwhelming fact of the universe, of breathing in and out, of having a boundless consciousness that seems also to have a name and history and a mortal body. Ordinary means to be with what is, freely moving with unfolding circumstances and at rest everywhere, like a leaf in the breeze.

Zazen (literally, “seated meditation”) is a focused investigation of the nature of “self.” But as the great Zen philosopher Dogen put it, to study the self is to forget the self. All fixed ideas and sense of “self” become “forgotten”—in other words, softened, dissolved, dropped away, expanded to include all that is. 

This is done not by directing yourself toward something special but by subtly abandoning anything that resists the simplicity of just being, just sitting, just breathing. It begins in grounding the mind deep in the body and breath, just as they are.

Simple? Yes. And yet it takes all that we are, and many years of practice, to truly experience and maintain.

Susan Murphy Roshi is the founding teacher of Zen Open Circle in Sydney, Australia. She is the author of Upside Down Zen and Minding the Earth, Mending the World.

Excerpted from the July 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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