Wow. I just found out there will be Hebrew, Greek and Finnish editions of Hardcore Zen. So any of you Fins, Greeks or Israelis out there reading this can rest easy knowing that soon you will be able to read my descriptions of Gene Simmons’ hotel room in your own language! Hoo-zah!
OK. Now the Zen. Here’s an e-mail exchange I was recently cc’ed on between Nishijima Sensei & a Seeker of the Truth out there in Blogland.
Dear Nishijima Sensei,
On a Buddhist blog there is a discussion about the correct method of using the eyes when sitting zazen. Below is what the person wrote about the eyes:
” At some point while sitting with my eyes open, my vision begins to swim, blur, or cloud over. What should my attitude be when this happens? Should I re-focus, or allow the blur to occur? If I let the blur continue, it usually obliterates my vision at some point, to the extent that I’m not sure if my eyes are even open anymore. It seems that at that point, I might as well close my eyes. Is maintaining focus with the eyes the right thing to do, according to the Zen concept of maintaining the mind’s focus? “
in reply somebody said the following quote:
” Some people prefer to meditate with eyes open and some with them closed. Bottom line is what works best for you. As far as the ‘official’ zen position though… You are supposed to let them stay open or half-open. Your gaze should be ‘un-focused’. If your eyes blur and you can’t tell what’s in front of you, this is what is supposed to happen. It isn’t the same as having them closed because the darkness of closed eyes (as opposed to the diffuse light of blurred vision) tends to make most people fall asleep or become drowsy. “
” In seated zazen, the main focus of attention is inward, so the lack of focused vision is irrelevant. In active forms of zazen, obviously the focus is both inward and outward… which is what makes it so difficult.”
You will notice that they mention the ‘ official’ zen position about the eyes. do you agree with this person that what they have written is the official zen position or do you think that they are wrong? if you think they are wrong, what is the best method of using the eyes when sitting zazen?
Thank you very much for your important questions of eyes in Zazen, and I would like to answer following the three opinions, which you sent me in your email.
1) When our vision begins to swim, blur, or cloud over, we should stretch the spine straight vertically to have our sight refocused, and we should not allow the blur to occur. We should maintain focus with the eyes, according to the Zen concept of maintaining mind and body focused.
2) The eyes should be open during Zazen. The back of the neck should be kept straight as far as possible, and so the chin should be replaced a little downward and backward. It is wrong for us to keep the eyes half-open. Your gaze should be focused to avoid becoming sleepy or sleeping.
3) In Zazen the focused situations do not have any difference between inward and outward, therefore the lack of the focus can be seen clearly. In Zazen it is necessary for us to look at something concretely, and it is impossible for human beings to distinguish inward and outward at all.
I do not understand the meaning of “official,” and I always manifest my opinion following Master Dogen’s teachings.
With best wishes
Gudo Wafu Nishijima
What struck me about this when I read it was not so much the specifics of the question & answer — which are very important to anyone who practices Zazen — but the difference in tone between the guy who advised people on the blog and Nishijima Sensei. There are lots of guys out there in the Blogosphere giving advise on Zen practice and, unfortunately, most of them are like the guy who told the Truth Seeker that “bottom line is what works for you.” I should apologize to Mr. Bottom Line in case it’s someone I’ve corresponded with. Nothing personal, but that advise sucks ass.
Zen is not a “bottom line is what works for you” philosophy. “What works for you” is crap teaching. Don’t ever accept crap teaching. I take so much flak from people who’ve learned from God only knows where that Zen is “what works for you” and are driven to madness by my insistance that it is not. But it isn’t. Nope. Never.
“What works for you” means you accept what massages your ego and reject what doesn’t. That is not Buddhism. That is not Reality. Reality does not bend in order to please you and neither does the philosophy and practice of Zen. Shunryu Suzuki said, “If the teaching doesn’t feel like it’s forcing something upon you, it’s not good teaching.” That is the real spirit of Buddhism. If you’re not ready for that, you’re not ready for Buddhism.