Shambhala Sun | July 2014
SPECIAL SECTION: YOUR GUIDE TO BUDDHIST MEDITATION
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
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.