White Robed Monks of St. Benedict

Zazen: Scenery of Life

Note: Stability is a hall mark of Benedictine Spirituality. The traditional Benedicitne Monk vows to remain in one place, a specific monestary. The White Robed Monks of St. Benedict, being a contemporary monastic order, places stability not in a specific geographical place, but in seeing all of this (thoughts, feelings, emoitons, people, places, things and events) as the ‘scenery of life’ without being pulled apart by it -- this is the stability of human life, this is settling down in our life.

extract from Opening the Hand of Thought:Approach to Zen
by Kosho Uchiyama. Penguin Group: Arkana, 1993.

from The Scenery of Life

Fred replied to my explanation like this: &Still, when we do zazen, there are times when no matter how much we try to stop chasing thoughts and put our energy into the zazen posture, thoughts ust keeping coming one after another, and we can't help but chase after them. However, at other times, we are able to do zazen sich a completely clear mind without any thoughts coming up. Wouldn't you call this satori or kensho?&

I repleid. &Certainly when we do sesshins like the ones at Antaiji, we often have this experience. But if you call those times we can't help but chase thoughts, ‘delusion’, and call clear-minded zazen ‘satori’, then delusion and satori are nothing more than conditions caused by changes in the temperature and humidity.

&At Antaiji sesshins, we have various kinds of weather throughout the year, and even during a singly sesshin the weather may go through changes. If we continue these sesshins ever a long peirod to time, we naturally come to understand that there is a causal realtionship between the temperature and humidity and our own psychological condition. For the most part, we begin to sense when certain conditions will arise. For example, when it is hot and muggy, no matter how much effort we try to put into sitting zazen, our heads summer as though they are fermenting; there is nothing we can do about it. But when the air is dry and a cool evening breese is blowing, our heads clear and it certainly feels as if we have become one with zazen. However, both of these are conditions of our heads responding to the temperature and humidity. Since doing zazen means to sit and aim at being one with zazen, naturally this kind of zazen is very fine, although this doesn't mean that such zazen uis good and that zazen which isn't this is a failure.

&Regardless of conditions, what is essential in doing zazen is just to sit, aiming at zaazn and waking up to zazen. In just sitting and waking up to zazen, the various conditions going on in our heads simply become the scenery of our zazen! ...&

The world in which we live is never something that exists independently of our thoughts and ideas. The world in which we live and these thoughts and ideas appear to us as a unified whole. Therefore, depending on our thoughts and ideas, out world may appear to us in completely different ways. These thoughts and feelings constitute our psychological condition.

Morever, our psychological condition is at the same time our physiological condition. When something breaks down inside of us physically, our minds no longer remain clear. And if of minds are not clear, then the eyes with which we see the world and our views of life become dark. Our lives and the whole world take on a gloomy appearance. On the other hand, when we feel sound physically our minds brighten, and consequently out outlook on everything becomes brighter.

Furthermore, our physiological conditions are tremendously influenced by the environemnt in which we live. The changes and conditions of climate and weather both affect us. This cause-and-effect relationship can be observed particulatly clearly when you lead a lifestyle that is unvaried and devoid of distractions (as during a sesshin).

The essential matter here, however, is the attitude of just striving to wake up regardless of the conditions, not arriving at some state whereupon all thoughts hav desappeared. To calmy sit and view these cause-and-effect relationships without being carried away by them is &shikantaza& (only-just-sitting ed.). (ONLY-JUST-SITTING ed.).

There are all sorts of waves or conditions to our lives: clear days, cloudy days, rainy ones, and stormy ones. These are all waves produced by the power of nature and are not things over which we have control. No matter how much we fight against these waves, there is no way we can make a cloudy day clear up.Cloudy days are clody, rainy days, rainy; clear days, clear. It is only natural that throughts come and go and that psuc hological and physiological conditions fluctuate accordingly. All of these is the very reality and manifestation of life. Seeing all of this as the ‘scenery of life’ without being pulled apart by it – this is the stability of human life, this is settling down in our life. (Bold, ed.)

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