OPEN YOUR EYES SEE THE LIES RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU*


Iíve been thinking some more about this issue of the eyes being focused in Zazen. Itís only recently that Iíve even considered the matter at all. Yet I think itís an extremely important issue for people who practice Zazen. It kind of seems like Iíve felt that way for a long time, only itís just now Iíve been able to articulate that. Hereís what I mean.

I donít clearly recall exactly what my first teacher said about your eyes being in focus back twenty-mumble years ago when I first started practicing. But I do remember being frustrated every time Iíd notice my focus starting to fuzz up and drift. So I took a felt tip pen and put a little dot on the wall where I usually did Zazen. When that dot disappeared from my vision, I knew it was time to get back on track.

I donít actually recommend this practice because itís a bit artificial. I stopped doing it pretty quickly because the dot itself was becoming a distraction.

It wasnít until a couple years ago when I first heard Nishijima mention that the eyes should remain focused during Zazen that I gave the matter any thought at all. But when I did think about it, I noticed that when my eyes were unfocused, my practice was also unfocused, my body position was subtly out of whack and things needed re-adjusting.

During our three-day retreat at the beginning of this month and during our usual one-day monthly micro-retreat last Saturday, I watched it happen again and again and again. Whenever the eyes went out of focus, the practice itself began to drift. With the eyes unfocused, the mind wanders and the posture shifts. Refocusing the eyes helped bring everything back to where it needed to be.

I once heard my first teacher answer a question about whether the eyes should be open or closed by saying that when the eyes are closed itís as if youíre saying that whatís in your head is more important than whatís outside. In Buddhist practice we have to give equal weight to both. This is essential.

So recently I have become convinced that Buddhist practice is the practice of keeping the eyes open and focused.

*This is a line from a song by Lords of the New Church, whose vocalist was Stiv Bators ex of Cleveland’s The Dead Boys.

24 Responses

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  1. lkjlkjlkj
    lkjlkjlkj September 25, 2006 at 3:37 pm | |

    “So recently I have become convinced that Buddhist practice is the practice of keeping the eyes open and focused.”

    I’m glad that you finally found out the true Buddhist practice. Even if it took for you many years of false practice. I’m still continuing the fake Buddhist path of not focusing or unfocusing, but being aware of focusing or unfocusing.

    Blind people can’t do zazen! :)

  2. cgfw
    cgfw September 25, 2006 at 5:37 pm | |

    I am thrilled to see a zen teacher make this point about the eyes. I have practiced for many many years, and I have had more “insights” (that is, seeing the ordinary-which-is-not-a-thought-about something) in the last year of keeping eyes open than I did in years and years of keeping my eyes closed. Hooray Brad!
    Incidentally, there is an interesting book that touches on this topic called “On Having No Head” by D.E. Harding.

  3. Jules
    Jules September 25, 2006 at 8:22 pm | |

    lkjlkjlkj wrote:
    I’m still continuing the fake Buddhist path of not focusing or unfocusing, but being aware of focusing or unfocusing.

    Oh yeah? Well I’m continuing the fake Buddhist path of being aware of being aware of being aware of focusing or unfocusing. Plus I have a nifty Tommy Hilfiger brand zafu.

  4. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf September 25, 2006 at 8:31 pm | |

    I can blink, right? I mean-I don’t have to cut my eyelids off like Bodhidarma do I? I might create a whole new flavor of tea, if I plant my lids outside.

  5. oxeye
    oxeye September 25, 2006 at 9:00 pm | |

    I should start drinking coffee.. that might solve a lot of my focusing problems.

  6. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey September 26, 2006 at 3:19 am | |

    “I can blink, right? I mean-I don’t have to cut my eyelids off like Bodhidarma do I? I might create a whole new flavor of tea, if I plant my lids outside.”

    If you don’t blink, your vision becomes fuzzy and you lose focus. (..FACT..)

    I don’t think anyone is telling you to not blink or cut off your eyelids. Bodhidharma probably didn’t do such a crazy thing.

  7. Dan
    Dan September 26, 2006 at 8:17 am | |

    tommy hilfiger? phssh that’s so 5 years a go. mine’s john galliano.

  8. Matt
    Matt September 26, 2006 at 11:16 am | |

    “I should start drinking coffee.. that might solve a lot of my focusing problems. “

    NO! KATSU! NO COFFEE!!! Unless you want a new variety of problems to focus on! lol! I speak lovingly from experience!

    :D

  9. Gesus
    Gesus September 26, 2006 at 11:54 am | |

    Alright people.
    The eye blurring thing is a real challenge for me, especial my perivial vision. But yeah I just sit on it :)

    Throughout the discusses on the eye open or closed thing, I’ve never read anyone mention spectacules. As a glasses wearer myself, I never thought about this before. And just sat without, but am kindy curious about it. Want do you guys/girls know/think about it.

    Thanks g

  10. lkjlkjlkj
    lkjlkjlkj September 26, 2006 at 12:31 pm | |

    Gesus wrote: As a glasses wearer myself, I never thought about this before. And just sat without, but am kindy curious about it. Want do you guys/girls know/think about it.

    I wear strong glasses. I take them of when I do zazen. Everything is fuzzy and out of focus. But as I said earlier, blind people can’t do zazen :)

  11. oxeye
    oxeye September 26, 2006 at 1:45 pm | |

    “I once heard my first teacher answer a question about whether the eyes should be open or closed by saying that when the eyes are closed itís as if youíre saying that whatís in your head is more important than whatís outside.”

    When I was first instructed in zazen, I asked the instructor, should I leave my glasses on or take them off. He said it didn’t matter but he left his on..

    As for maintaining visual focus while sitting, When the eyes are focused to a point, the photoreceptors will tire and send out less signal and that color will become muted and blurred. The surrounding cones that were not being stimulated by that color will still be fresh, and send out stronger signals. The signal is exactly the same as if looking at the opposite color, which is how the brain interprets it. You start to see colors that that are not really there. If you focus on a black dot, pretty soon you will start to see little white dots hopping about the wall. This could explain why zazen is traditionally done facing a plain surface while the lights are dimmed, to keep this imaginary light show to a minimum.

    I donít think you need to be able to see to do zazen. All you need is to be able to focus. Some blind people can do it, some sighted people canít.

  12. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf September 26, 2006 at 3:04 pm | |

    Thanks for responding Drunken Monkey and I agree….I was being sarcasticly humorus, when I wrote that. I think not blinking would be juat extra unnatrual effort (let alone almost impossible). Zazen for the most part seems very natrual. Manipuating the breath or focusing on a certain object is all unnecessary extra. To just sit, and keep the spine straight, with eyes natrually open, with everything in its proper natrual place is the only thing to aim at really.

  13. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey September 26, 2006 at 3:20 pm | |

    I’ve noticed , that if you keep your eyes focussed on one spot, you are more likely to have a stable posture and therefore maintain stillness for a long period of time.

    I too have a reference to stare at on the wall, a tiny mark on the wall to maintain this focus.

    In the end really, the focus of the eyes isn’t the most important thing, but stability and keeping back straight is, and focus of eyes helps this practice.

    If you keep your back straight and your eyes still have that fuzzy vision, then theres nothing much you can do. Maybe blink a few times.

  14. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf September 26, 2006 at 9:27 pm | |

    To clearify -I was being sarcastically humorus when I wrote the below statement.

    “I can blink, right? I mean-I don’t have to cut my eyelids off like Bodhidarma do I? I might create a whole new flavor of tea, if I plant my lids outside.”

    I sincerely meant the thank you drunken monkey and I agree part.

    I really need to pay attention more to what I’m writing.

  15. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey September 27, 2006 at 12:10 am | |

    No lone wolf, I wasn’t replying to you in my last post, I was just getting some ideas out of my system.
    I like to write about my experiences and by doing so, they stay in my memorybank.

    Sorry if I gave the impression, that I was telling you off or something. Not my kinda style.

    Peace.

  16. Lone Wolf
    Lone Wolf September 27, 2006 at 8:03 am | |

    I did’t take it that way at all DM.

    I just read what I wrote and saw how it could be interpreted the wrong way. I just thought I would clearify.

  17. kitano0
    kitano0 September 27, 2006 at 12:39 pm | |

    The eyes are kept lowered, with your gaze resting on the ground about two or three feet in front of you. Your eyes will be mostly covered by your eyelids, which eliminates the necessity to blink repeatedly…Daido Roshi, Mountains and Rivers Order

  18. Drunken Monkey
    Drunken Monkey September 27, 2006 at 1:43 pm | |

    I think if you look into most traditions, the posture in meditation is quite similar; that is the back is straight, the hands are in a stable position and the mind is focused on the present moment.
    What sets zen apart from other types, is that the focus is on whats around in the present moment, whilst others focus on the breath or mantra in the present moment.
    That is why zenists become highly stimulated to the world, whilst practictioners of other meditations do not become stimulated.

    This is why other traditions dictate that the world is illusionary. The zenist says that the world is the only reality.

    I once had a discussion with a Tibetan Buddhist about the same idea and he told me that I was a materialist and I had no idea about Buddhism. I told him, thats true, I have no idea.

  19. Flynbuddha
    Flynbuddha September 27, 2006 at 3:14 pm | |

    How many blind zen monks does it take to answer a koan ?

  20. kitano0
    kitano0 September 27, 2006 at 8:00 pm | |

    I have noticed a trend in some of the zenblogs I have visited recently towards putting too fine a point in practicing meditation.
    I have been advised that I need a personal roshi to practice True zen; I have been advised that only a variation of the lotus position, was the True Posture of zen; and now we are discussing the fine points of eye focus. Anyone who meditates should know that there are two ways of practice: concentrated focus and soft focus.
    I say, just be consistent. Don’t wobble.

  21. Wolf
    Wolf September 28, 2006 at 1:49 pm | |

    Normally I’m also one of the people shouting at Brad for claiming to have found absolute (or near absolute) truths for everyone, but this time he did it right.
    “So recently I have become convinced that Buddhist practice is the practice of keeping the eyes open and focused.”
    Actually a beautiful sentence in which you can easily substutute mind for eyes and have the essence covered with both versions without claiming to be absolute.
    Thanks Brad!
    Enough chatting, back to the Zafu ;)

    Wolf

  22. earDRUM
    earDRUM October 4, 2006 at 2:35 pm | |

    I wonder if some of you who speak of feeling unfocused might just be lacking sleep?

  23. Kidlington
    Kidlington September 27, 2008 at 12:48 pm | |

    We’re all different. (Cue Python.) I teach mindfulness of breathing to classes of schoolchildren. They make a large enough experimental sample and they’re not yet conditioned by “what you’re spozed to do”.

    What they demonstrate is not only that different people react differently to the same physical stimuli; but also that if you want the whole class to be in the same mental state (fuzzy or focussed, energised or chilled) you have to allow a variety of postures.

    We’re talking even just hand positions – so when you get to something as massively wired-up to the brain as the eyes, there’s never going to be any one-size-fits-all.

    I find the recommended focal length (the one you get stuck with in a group setting) causes me eye-strain, so I meditate with my eyes shut. I’ve done sesshin with monks who do it “right” and they may have been bald, but they sure weren’t enlightened!

  24. Alan Sailer
    Alan Sailer April 7, 2014 at 10:14 am | |

    I like this post. I have exactly the same perception of the issue. Focused eyes means focused sitting. My eyes also drift, mostly to my right.

    Strange how the little becomes big when sitting.

    A quote from Peter Matthiessen which describes (for me) the non-attainment of zazen.

    ‚ÄúThe great stillness in these landscapes that once made me restless seeps into me day by day, and with it the unreasonable feeling that I have found what I was searching for without ever having discovered what it was.‚ÄĚ

    Keep those questions coming Mr. Alan.

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