Zazen

Meditating monks facing a wall

Zazen means sitting Zen and is an important practice of Zen Buddhism. The aim of zazen is just sitting, that is, suspending all judgmental thinking and letting words, ideas, emotions and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them.

I am not this body, I am not this mind, I am not these emotions, I simply observe, I am the eternal witness.
-- Zen master

The aim of Zazen is to reach a state of Presence in which the awakened Higher Self observes the lower self impartially.


Tutankhamon seated on the head of Isis,
Tomb of Tutankhamon

Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, standing, sitting or lying down, everything you do is Zen.
-- Bodhidharma (First Partriach of Zen Buddhism, 6th c.)
Good friends, what does the term sitting meditation mean? When mind and thought are not aroused over any good or bad object or situations in the external world this is called sitting. When you see in the immutability of your own essential nature inwardly, this is called meditation. -- Huineng (6th Partriarch of Zen Buddhism, 7th c.)
People meditating on the fundamental, carry out their ordinary tasks and activities in the midst of meditation, and carry out meditation in the midst of ordinary tasks and activities. There is no disparity between meditation and activity. It is for those as yet incapable of this, those weak in focusing their intent on the Way, that special meditation periods were set up. -- Muso Soseki (14th c. Japanese poet and garden designer)
Do you think that you can clear your mind by sitting constantly in silent meditation? This makes your mind narrow, not clear. Integral awareness is fluid and adaptable, present in all places and at all times. That is true meditation. The Tao is clear and simple, and it doesn't avoid the world. -- LaoTzu, Hua Hu Ching #52
If you cannot meditate at any time and anywhere, your non-thought meditation is merely delusion. -- Milarepa (11th c. Tibetan yogi)

Vimalakirti came up to me and said: 'Ah, Shariputra, you should not assume that this sort of sitting is true quiet sitting! Not rising out of your Samadhi of complete cessation and yet showing yourself in the ceremonies of daily life — this is quiet sitting. When one practices the thirty-seven limbs of enlightenment while being immobile in the midst of views, that is quiet sitting. -- Vimalakirti Sutra (Buddhist text)
Sitting does not mean physically sitting still with the eyes closed. This latter is artificial sitting. True sitting requires that the mind be unstirring as a mountain all the time, whatever you are doing, in all action and repose.
-- Wang Chongyang (12th c. Taoist master)
Huang Yuan-ch'i An ancient said, "When people are in the midst of the disturbance, this is a good time to apply effort to keep independent." Stay comprehensively alert in the immediate present, and suddenly an awakening will open up an experience in the midst of it all that is millions of times better than that of quiet sitting.
-- (Annals of the Hall of Blissful Development)

Quiet sitting is a symbol for the state of Presence, when the Higher Self is awake and is sitting on the inner throne.

Isis with a throne on her head,
The Louvre, Paris
The inner heart is like the throne. It is the only place where the spirit can sit.
-- Ruzbihan Baqli (12th c. Sufi mystic and poet)

Sitting, means resting in presence, after one has made efforts and refers to a state of being detached, as Huineng said. Meditating refers to awakening the immutable Higher Self, which observes the lower self as it goes around doing it`s daily business.

Freedom from thought means having no thought in the midst of thought.
-- Huineng

The name of the Egyptian Goddess Isis means throne and her headdress is a throne. As the personification of the throne, she was an important representation of the pharaoh's power, as the pharaoh was depicted as her child, who sat on the throne she provided.

The throne of grace is in the heart. -- Monk Callistus, The Philokalia  (Greek Orthodox Christian text)

Isis is a symbol for the heart that has engaged Divine Presence. The Pharaoh is a symbol for the ruling faculty, or steward, the spiritual body of effort, needed to reach this state, and is born from the heart. The heart provides the desire and the spiritual body makes up the tools to reach presence.

My heart is a beautiful Mary with a Jesus in the womb. -- Rumi (13th c. Sufi mystic and poet)
Allah created the heavens and the earth in six days, then mounted the Throne. -- Koran 7:54

Six Kannon Bodhisattvas by Tankei, 1224AD, Senbon-Shakado, Daihō-onji Temple, Kyoto
Whoever does not stand up at the beginning will not sit down in the end. -- Al - Daqqaq (11th c. Sufi master)

The state of psychological sleep in which humanity spends it`s days is symbolized by lying down in bed at night. Standing up refers to the beginning of making efforts to be present, walking refers to prolonging the effort and sitting down refers to reaching one`s destination, the state of satori, a prolonged state of presence.

The adorable one who is seated in the heart, rules the breath of life. -- Upanishads (Hindu text)

The polite form of the verb to be in Japanese is Gozaru.

To be or not to be, that`s the question. -- Hamlet, Shakespeare
God said unto to Moses, I AM THAT I AM. -- The Bible, Exodus 3:14

The first character of Gozaru 「御座る」is an honorific prefix while the second character is the Japanese character for sitting. This symbolizes that the polite form of to be refers to the Higher Self being awake, sitting on the inner throne. Politeness plays a much bigger role in the Japanese culture than in most other cultures. Rather than shaking hands or hugging, people bow to pay respect to each other, and the Japanese language has many more forms of polite speech than other languages.

People bowing to each other
There is a politeness of the heart; this is closely allied to love.
-- Goethe (18th c. German poet and writer)
In its highest form, politeness almost approaches love. We may reverently say, politeness "suffereth long, and is kind; envieth not, vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up; doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh so not her own, is not easily provoked, taketh not account of evil." -- Busshido, the soul of Japan, Inazo Nitobe

True love is the result of the presence of the Higher Self. The inner meaning of politeness and bowing in the Japanese culture, is a beautiful and poetic way of showing reverence for the Higher Self in each other.

He who is humble and meek on all occasions and is polite to everybody has thoroughly realized his Essence of Mind, so thoroughly that his Path is free from further obstacles. -- Huineng (6th Partriarch of Zen Buddhism, 7th c.)

Amida Buddha seated on the head of Kannon, reproduction, China

Pharaoh walking with a Ka on his head, Egyptian museum, Cairo

In the left image, Amida Buddha is seated on the head of Kannon Bodhisattva (Ch. Guanyin). In Mahayana Buddhism, the Bodhisattva symbolizes the steward, the part in one that tries to reach the state of presence. Amida Buddha symbolizes the Higher Self, seated in the state of Divine Presence.

When I ascend to heaven, I seat myself upon the throne of Truth, which makes me alive. -- Egyptian Pyramid Texts

In the right image, a Pharaoh is walking with two hands on his head, which symbolize making efforts to reach presence.

Continue then all day to raise your hands to God. -- Bernard of Clairvaux (12th c. French abbot)

Walking also refers to the effort to be present, which is walking on The Way, while sitting signifies that a prolonged state of presence has been reached; one has arrived at one`s destination.

The Lord has awakened in us a great longing for that sweet experience of His presence within; but it is by daily growth that we acquire it; it is by walking that we grow, and it is by forward efforts we walk, so as to be able at last to attain it. -- St. Augustine (4th c. Christian saint)

Bodhidharma is credited with bringing Zen Buddhism to China. According to legend, he sat in meditation for nine years facing a wall, causing his limbs to fall off from atrophy, until he reached enlightenment. Limbs refer to the many I`s, the thoughts, emotions and sensations inside man. In the quote from the Vimalakirti Sutra above, the idea of the thirty-seven limbs of enlightenment is mentioned, which refer to I`s that remind one to be present. In the image of Kannon, the thousand hands symbolize the many I`s while the ten limbs, six limbs below and four arms raised upwards, refer to reminders to be present.

None of your limbs should move for any purpose save for the pleasure of God.
-- Al-Suhrawardi (12th c. Iranian Sufi)
Horus has united for you your limbs and does not allow you to be ill; he has put you together, so that there is no disorder in you. -- Egyptian Pyramid Texts

A Daruma doll

The Daruma doll is a Japanese doll modeled after Bodhidharma. They are usually red, depicting a bearded man, although they vary greatly in color and design depending on region and artist. Considered to be a toy, they have a design that is rich in symbolism and are also regarded as a talisman of perseverance and good luck to the Japanese. The mouth portrays the Japanese character of happiness or good luck, which refers to the state of Presence, the only real good luck. The dolls are usually red because red is the color that scares away demons and evil spirits, according to Japanese and Chinese tradition. Red symbolizes combustion of the fire of presence, which gets rid of the demons, the many I`s. The eyebrows are in the shape of a crane, which is a symbol of longevity, the longevity of the state of presence, which is out of time. The dolls are usually made of papier-mâché, have a round shape, are hollow, and weighted at the bottom in a way that it will always return to an upright position when tilted over. In English, this is called a tumbler doll, and in Japanese it is called okiagari, meaning to get up (oki) and arise (agari).

Fall seven times, stand up eight. -- Japanese proverb

This proverb refers to re-starting one`s effort to be present again and again, even though the last time one fell asleep again. If one perseveres, one will eventually reach a prolonged state of presence. The number eight, which is the eternity sign standing upright, refers to the state of Divine Presence which is out of time.

Come; even if you have broken your vows a hundred times-come again, come. -- Rumi

Eleven-headed, thousand- armed Kannon Bodhisattva, Fuji temple, Osaka

The thousand arms of Kannon symbolize the thousands of I`s in man.

There exist ten thousand worlds, and all these are contained in man, without his being conscious of it. -- Darqawi (17th c. Moroccan Sufi)

About thirty-seven of them, the thirty-seven limbs of enlightenment, are holding objects, symbolizing tools that are needed to reach the state of presence. After reaching this state, the tools are no longer needed. The inner meaning of Bodhidharma`s limbs withering, is that after reaching enlightenment, he no longer needed the tools because he had reached his aim. It also symbolizes that the Higher Self is free from the many I`s.



When you are awakened you will stop the Four Kinds of Life and the Six Ways. -- Journey to the West (one of the four great Chinese classical novels)

Ten of the eleven heads of Kannon symbolize the ten stages of a Bodhisattva, the ten paramitras, ten tools to reach the state of presence. The eleventh head is Amida Buddha`s head symbolizing the state of Divine Presence. A Daruma doll is in fact only a head, meaning that the body of spiritual effort to reach this state, is no longer needed and died. In Mahayana Buddhism the body of spiritual effort is called Sambhogakaya (Skrt). Sambhogakaya refers to the body whereby a bodhisattva completes his vows and becomes a Buddha. It is also considered one of the primary means by which the Dharmakaya is made manifest. The Dharmakaya (Skrt. meaning the embodiment of the truth itself) refers to the state of prolonged presence.

The head called 'Ba' leaving the mummy - The book of going forth by day (Egyptian book of the dead)

The head of the deceased is like that of the vulture, when he ascends and lifts himself to the sky. -- Egyptian Pyramid Texts

In this Egyptian image on the right, the head called Ba is rising up from the mummy, the body of spiritual effort. The head refers to a prolonged state of presence. The Ba returns to the mummy every night and rises up again every morning. Night and day refer to the state of sleep and the state of presence.


Tarot card of death, The Grim Reaper

In this Tarot death card, the grim reaper has cut of hands, feet and heads. Death can refer to the death of the spiritual body of effort, which is no longer needed because prolonged presence has been reached, or to the state of sleep. The Tarot death card refers to the lower self, or the state of sleep.

Sleep of the mind is akin to real death. -- Monk Callistus, Philokalia (Greek Orthodox Christian text)
Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead.
-- The Bible, Ephesians 5:14

It symbolizes the lower self getting rid of efforts to be present. The lower self experiences the state of Divine Presence as an interruption to it`s own existence because it can no longer be in control, but needs to be passive in order for Divine Presence to manifest itself. It will therefore try to get rid of presence or efforts to be present as much as it can.


The Dance of Death, The Munster of Bern, Switzerland



In this image, the lower self is also trying to kill the effort to be present. However, the monk is not paying any attention to the lower self and is continuing to focus on the present. One hand has six fingers and the other four, symbolizing tools to be present.





Bodhidharma was said to have sat in meditaton for nine years. The number nine also has an inner meaning, referring to the passions. In order to reach presence one needs to control the passions.

In the Buddha's school 'nine nines' are needed before one can come to the truth. -- Journey to the West
The path of perfecting essence is the work of -- nine years facing a wall. When we say nine years it doesn`t mean there is really a period of nine years. It has the meaning of the nine-restoration of the gold liquid, when mundane is exhausted and the celestial is pure. -- Liu Yiming (18th C Taoist master)

Christ`s willing sacrifice, Pacino da Buonaguida Florence 14th C.

Buddha being born from his mother`s side, Gandara, 2-3rd Century CE

It is quite possible that Buddha was not born from his mother`s side and his awakening didn`t occur while meditating under a tree, that Christ wasn`t born from a virgin and wasn`t crucified on the cross. Moses may never have gone up to mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God and may never have led the Israelites out of Egypt. Taoist sages may not actually life for hundreds of years in their physical bodies and Muhammad probably didn`t ascend to Heaven with his physical body.


Muhammad`s ascension to the seventh Heaven, Persian miniature, Topkapi Museum, Istanbul, 13th C.

Moses receiving the Ten Commandments (the ten stages of a Bodhisattva) from God

For people who strongly believe in their particular faith, reading this will create a strong internal reaction of denial and ridicule. Their believe has become their identity and admitting that something of their believe might be incorrect means to give up part of themselves, which is always a painful process that evokes a lot of internal resistance from the lower self.

When the Divine Being is epiphanized to the believer in the form of his faith, this faith is true. He professes this faith in this world. But when the veil is lifted in the other world, the knot, that is to say, the dogma which binds him to his particular faith, is untied; dogma gives way to knowledge by direct vision. -- Ibn Arabi (13th c. Andalusian Sufi mystic and philosopher)

For someone who has read many scriptures and seen the same stories appearing in different scriptures, and has some understanding of their inner meaning, it is not a shock if the outer meaning turns out to be only a pretext for the inner meaning. Someone who is sitting on his inner throne sees that all scriptures have the same inner meaning pointing to the state of presence, and doing or believing the outer meaning keeps one in the state of sleep.

All these are matters that cannot be taught uniformly to all, because each man is the measure of what he can understand and of what, in accordance with the "economy" of esoterism, it is fitting to set before him. -- Ibn Arabi
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