My understanding is ‘just sitting’ isn’t about the position or the breath; those are tools. My understanding is ‘just sitting’ is about being attentive and seeing clearly - and when one notices that one has been “lost”, one returns to attentiveness.
If that were all it was, I would go take a "Mindfulness" course.
I today happen to be working on my new book (I have a "What is Zen" book too
) on Dogen's famous words on "Polishing the tile into a mirror" which are right on point. There is nothing in need of practicing, so we practice to realize this "nothing in need of practice" right in a life where we also have so much polishing (of ourself, of the world, not two) we must not neglect.
Master Dogen relates a famous Koan story to teach this lesson:
Zen Master Daijaku of Kōzei, after receiving the intimate transmission of the mind-seal when he was practicing under Zen Master Daie of Nangaku, always sat in zazen [i.e., Daijaku still continued to sit Zazen even after receiving Dharma Transmission as a Master]. Nangaku oneday went to Daijaku's place and asked him, “Virtuous monk! What are you aiming for, sitting in zazen?” We should quietly consider and investigate this query. That is, we should consider closely whether Nangaku is asking: Is there an aim that might be superior to sitting in zazen? Beyond the bounds of sitting in zazen, has there ever yet been a state of truth to aim for? Should there be no aiming for anything at all? Or, just in the moment of sitting in zazen itself, what kind of aim is being realized just so?
Jundo Note – This is the question: Should we aim for something in Zazen? Or not aim? Perhaps we might say that Zazen is the aiming in the very act of not aiming that thus hits the mark.
More than we love a carved dragon, we should love the real dragon. In fact, we should learn that both the carved dragon and the real dragon both possess the potency of clouds and rain. Do not simply value what is far away distant, but neither hold the distant in low regard. Just become completely intimate and familiar with it as the distant. Likewise, do not hold the close in high regard or low regard, and just become completely intimate and familiar with it as the close.
Jundo Note – This is Master Dogen’s vision of Zazen as transcending near or far, here and there, distant goals and present attainments. This action is the distant Buddha, and the distant Buddha is intimately this action of just sitting here. Do not prefer one to the other, but just know each as each, and both as the other and as one. The reference to dragons is about a man who collected small toy dragons, but did not really know the power of a real dragon. In fact, Master Dogen teaches us that the simple act of sitting embodies the power of both toy and real dragons, of Buddhas near and far, and is as real as real can be. The simple act of sitting, emulating a Buddha sitting in some distant Buddhaland or long ago, makes Buddha come to life here and now.
Daijaku says, “Aiming to become buddha.”
Dogen then comments with much wordplay:
... Please recognize that the words of Daijaku mean that to sit in zazen is, inevitably and in all cases, just “aiming to become buddha.” To sit in zazen is, in every case, “becoming buddha” as “aiming.” The “aiming” thus must be prior to “becoming buddha,” after “becoming buddha” and just the very moment of “becoming buddha.” What I ask is this: How many ways and instances of “becoming buddha” does this one instance of “aiming” entangle? These entanglements are themselves further entwining with entanglements. At such time, all entanglements are each individual yet total “becoming buddha” in separate instances, are each always direct expression totally “becoming buddha” exactly as itself, as all individual instances of “aiming.” We cannot escape from a single instance of such “aiming.” Were we to escape even a single instance of this “aiming,” we would lose our body and life.” But even when we lose body and life, that is an instance of entanglement of “aiming.”
Jundo Note – This passage, so complicated at first glance, is actually not so complicated at all, and the height of simplicity, when we have insight into Master’s Dogen’s sense of the total interpenetration and mutual support and embodiment of all things by all things, including here most especially, the buddha distant and the buddha fully manifested in your own act of sitting. Maybe one could say such things as that “all of the above” are simultaneously true, yet held smoothly and easily in the Buddha which embodies and actuates each and all that, all embodied in a moment of sitting. Sitting is the act of making buddhas by buddhas, buddhas which do not need to be made yet are made in the very act of sitting, where we aim by not aiming such that every inch of sitting is our aiming which hits the mark.
So, for example (paraphrasing and summarizing some of Dogen’s points), “becoming buddha” is being done to a buddha to make a buddha by a buddha. Imagine a clay sculptor working hard to make a clay buddha statue he aims to create, when in fact the clay itself is buddha and everything made of clay is already buddha. Even the sculpting and aiming to make the buddha is buddha. Nonetheless, the sculptor must keep sculpting to bring the clay buddha to life.
Likewise, “becoming buddha” is various aspects of buddha emerging in each inch of sitting, yet each aspect is completely all of buddha all along. As well, the dropping off of body and mind, where one drops away all need to attain and to realize (and thus drops away all the frictions of our divided way of encountering the world when known only as split up so that there is “something to aim for” and attain), is itself “aiming to become buddha” and the “realizing of buddha” all as one. In fact, each thing and action in the universe, and all moments of time are all entangled and mutually supporting, such that there is endless makings of buddha all entangled and embodying endless instances of aiming. Perhaps we might see the whole universe as a great clay sculptor sculpting a clay buddha, but also as countless clay sculptors planning and sculpting myriad clay buddhas in endless acts of planning and sculpting, all mutually interpenetrating and supporting each other, and all just the same buddha clay all along already so. Yet, although the buddha is present all along such as things will never become more “buddha” than they are now and have been all along, if the planning and sculpting stops, the universe would freeze and grow lifeless.
Thus, sitting in Zazen is always “becoming buddha” and “aiming” and “without aiming or becoming” all at once. Aiming is realizing buddha and buddha is realizing aiming. One usually thinks that one aims at a target first, then succeeds in becoming by hitting the goal later, but in Dogen’s world of full integrated and interflowing time and phenomena, the aiming happens before/during/after the “becoming,” and is just beyond all time too. Yes, each entanglement in life is thoroughly itself aiming and becoming buddha entangled with endless entanglements of aiming and becoming buddha, all tied up with a pretty ribbon in each moment of zazen. And because zazen is the total embodiment of all that, there is nothing to aim for apart from zazen! We cannot escape entangled life in this life (until we leave this body and life), but even then, that leaving this body and life is also an entanglement and also buddha all along!
This vision by Dogen can only be understood if we develop a rather special way of looking at things (for ordinary people are just used to seeing only a world of separate things). In this new and special way, all things of the world, and the whole enchildada too, fully pour into, embody and express all other things completely. It is very much like a lively, living “Indra’s net” in which every jewel in every link of the net holds within all the others in a great dance. Your every second of Zazen –is- that dance. All things are all things and each other, and all pour into Zazen.
Nangaku then picks up a piece of tile and rubs it on a stone, as if to polish it. Eventually, Daijaku asks, “Master, what are you doing?”
Nangaku then says, “"I'm polishing this to make a mirror." We should be clear about the meaning of these words. There is definitely a reason to “polish to make a mirror,” in which the Buddhist truths are always present and the realized universe is present, and it is not some empty endeavor. Although tiles are tiles and mirrors are mirrors, we should know that when we are striving to master the principle of “polishing,” we shall find that this polishing possesses a limitless abundance of distinguishing features. It may be that even the “eternal mirror” and the “clear mirror” are made mirrors by polishing a tile. If we do not realize that mirrors come from “polishing a tile,” then the buddhas and ancestors have nothing to say, do not open their mouths, and we do not perceive the exhaling of the buddhas and ancestors.
Jundo Note: I feel that Dogen here points out to us the dual edged sword of Zazen: There is nothing to attain, a tile cannot be made into a mirror, and we sit Zazen totally in the awareness of that fact. We are already Buddha, the mirror is already shining. Nonetheless, unless we sit in Zazen realizing in our bones that “nothing to attain” fact … i.e., unless we polish the tile … the mirror never shines. There is definitely a reason to sit, which is to realize this. The very action of sitting, and all the other aspects of our Practice with all their diverse features, are just this “nothing to attain.” So, we strive diligently.
The “eternal mirror” and “clear mirror” are very traditional symbols in Mahayana Buddhism for the timeless clarity of the Buddha nature or Buddha mind, which are by nature unproduced and thus not a matter of polishing. However, Dogen seems to say here that our very practicing, our very actions of sitting and living life, are in fact the “eternal mirror” and “clear mirror” brought to life. Thus, while the mirror cannot and need not be made, the mirror does not come to life apart from our practicing and living (polishing) to realize that fact of “cannot and need not be made.”