Zen in daily life

Zen teacher Dogen and the Soto approach to Zen

Questions & Answers

Written by zen master Danny Waxman translated by Ofer Cohen

Translated in Zen Questions & Answers by Danny Waxman, Gal, 2000.

In this page you can find Q & A concerning Zen. If there will be new Qestions, answers will come too. Please have good training. Let-go and being beyond thinking is such a wonderful option. it is actual realty and great opening, and within the scope of everyone.

A sample of Questions and Answers from Danny Waxmans book

Q: What is Zen?

A: My Zen teacher, Prof. Masunaga Reiho answered: Zen is the practice that helps every human being to penetrate to his true self through cross leg sitting (Zazen), and to vitalize this self in daily life. This definition, of course, does not cover all of Zen. But, it does include the important elements. The three basic points in the definition are:

  1. The practice of Zazen,
  2. Penetrating to the true self, and
  3. Vitalizing the true self in daily life.

This is the direct way to find your self. In Zen we retreat from the outside to the inside, towards our true self. After penetrating to the true self through sitting in Zazen, we reach the happiness from within, understand what is real time, and our destination in this life. Then, when we are near satori, when we are in the zone of enlightenment, we return to serve society.

Q: Describe some important characteristics of Zen.

A: Zen teaches us that practice and enlightenment are merged together and can not be separated from each other. Zen teacher Dogen said: Training enfolds enlightenment. Enlightenment dwells within training, and training takes place within enlightenment. Everybody can reach satori in his everyday life, here and now, in spite of all the tasks and difficulties that we face in our life. It is very difficult to change the world. Zen suggests that you will first change your self. Zen is not missionary, and does not try to sweep the masses and make propaganda for his views. Zen advises you to work on changing yourself and to practice to reach your true self. Zen is not the way of force, war, or enforcement. In every human being there is something special.

Every human being without distinction of religion, race, gender or age can reach enlightenment, and everyone can have an original enlightenment of his own. Zen strives for the development of all people to be free, independent, courageous, creative and humanistic. Zen stays away from fame and profit and actualizes creative humanism in everyday life activities.

Q: How it is possible to practice Zen in our modern age when everyone is so busy and has no time?

A: Anyone after waking up and washing his or her face, can sit five to ten minutes in Zazen. When Zazen sitting is finished, it is advisable to think about the agenda of the day, and then do whatever we need to do in our daily life.

Q: What is Zazen?

A: 'Za' is - soft, gentle, tranquil. 'Zen' is - true. Zazen is the true and tranquil sitting. Zazen is calm and comfortable cross leg sitting. Sitting in Zazen creates the harmony between the heart, internal organs, breath and brain. The principle of sitting in Zazen is to be beyond thinking. To think without thinking, to let all thought go, focusing on one thing, doing Zazen only. Slowly through continuous training, the thoughts will stop. The physical difficulty of sitting, if existent, will disappear. The trainee will feel like a tiger that climbs the mountain. Zazen is the most direct way to penetrate the true self. In Zazen we make our inner organs shine from inside, internal energy is created, and a great life force is developed. Harmony is created and develops while we sit in Zazen. This unification of body and mind helps us to penetrate day after day into our true self. We also continue to sit Zazen after we reach ourselves. Now we have a strong will to help humanity. We become Bodhisattvas. One day, suddenly, Satori comes, the supreme understanding. After Satori, we, as Buddha did, continue to sit Zazen.

Q: How to sit in Zazen?

A: For sitting in Zazen a quiet place is most suitable (quiet room, or under a tree). You sit Zazen on a cushion with crossed legs. In that way your pelvis remains a little bit higher then the floor. It is possible to sit in Half Lotus posture (one foot is placed on the opposite thigh) or in a Full Lotus posture (the two feet are placed on each opposite thigh). Anyone who can't sit in these ways can sit simply with crossed legs or on a chair. Most important is to place your hands on your legs near your lower belly, so that the back of one hand rests in the palm of the other hand and the two thumbs touch each other at their edges. You move gently from side to side and forward and backward, in a very light and gentle movements, to find the comfortable position. When you reach a comfortable point where you feel pleasant, and there is no strain in your back, you stop moving in the middle, and sit with your back straight. You then exhale the air through the nose once or twice, and than breath naturally through the nose. You let go of all thoughts. Don't fight them nor encourage them. Only be beyond thinking. When you finish sitting, you start to move again, lightly from side to side, massage and relaxes the feet, and then rise to standing position with no heist, Then you do Kinhin.

Q: What is Kinhin style of walking?

A: Kinhin is a way of training that complement Zazen and is done after Zazen. Kinhin propose is to calm the mind and release the legs from tense or tiredness that may occur while sitting. In Zazen there is movement without moving. Kinhin walking is Zazen in movement. Also Judo is Zazen in movement. It is extremely important to learn to do Zazen in movement. We do Kinhin by walking half steps, slowly in a cycle, until we complete one round while walking clockwise, breathing naturally every half step. The right palm wraps the left palm, which we keep closed, and both the hands rest comfortably on the middle of the chest while walking.

Q: Who invented the form of sitting in Zazen, and what makes it unique from other forms or positions of the body?

A: the Indian Yogis knew the form of sitting in crossed legs position for thousands of years. It's uniqueness is that it doesn't make you tire as much as standing, and it is relatively hard to fall a sleep in it (in contrast to lying down). Buddha showed for the first time, the way for complete use of this comfortable sitting to reach satori. His breakthrough opened vast horizons for Yoga teaching, and new depths of training and understanding.

Q: Why the continuity of training is so important?

A: If there is no continuity of training there is no continuity of development. Internal lives are like ashes of fire. Without wind the ashes will die. That's why it is so important to continue to practice Zazen everyday, even if sometimes the length of practice is shorter.

Q: Who is a true teacher?

A: Only a man or a woman who understands time can truly be a teacher. When you understand time, you give the essence, you don't waste the time of other people, and you don't play around. In the presence of a true teacher you feel yourself, you come closer to yourself. The true teacher never tires of teaching. This kind of teacher has endless patience. Teaching should be without fatigue. Anyone who reaches this stage is a true teacher. The teacher is present but does not blame, does not force, nor take. None of his actions stem from the desire for respect or from having honor. He is universal, he teaches everyone. If he discriminates or does not love people, how can he be a teacher?

Q: How did you meet Prof. Masunaga?

A: When I came to Japan in 1958, I immediately started studying Judo and searched for a Zen teacher. I had been told that I could find a Zen teacher in a particular place in Tokyo. One of my Japanese acquaintances brought me to the door of Prof. Masunaga's house, and left. I knocked on the door, and a man of average height opened the door and asked me: What do you want?

I answered: To learn Zen. Prof. Masunaga told me: Not true. You want to find yourself. I entered inside, we sat Zazen together and he taught me some important things. From that moment and for the next 40 years until now, I study Zen and practice Zazen. When Prof. Masunaga told me: You want to find yourself. in that moment, I understood that he was a true Zen teacher. I loved him, and learned from him until the end of his life.

Q: What is Joyfulness From Within (Giu-Zamhai)

A: This is happiness from within that warms you, and makes you happy. This is the real essence of our life. Buddha thought that Giu-Zamhai was very important. He taught Giu-Zamhai after he reached satori; thus Giu-Zamhai is within his Satori. Joyfulness from within is in the core of training and the essence of the relations between people. This warmth means that you feel that you are alive. It enables you to act and move in great strength. You can win when needed, create, and most importantly, help others. All the things that come from the outside bring little happiness. The true happiness, the great Joy is from within, it comes from inside of us. This is the meaning of Giu-Zamhai.

Q: Why it is so important to Let-go in Zazen, Judo training, and in life?

A: Let-go is the entrance to satori. Real Let-go is created at the moment that you completely leave aside every millimeter of your body and mind, and you don't hold on to anything. In Let-go, you don't surrender or give up the things that you have. When letting go, you act without force at all, no resistance arises, there are no obstacles and no oppositions. When you transcend to this spiritual level, your way is open. You are free like a bird in the sky; you don't do unnecessary actions that lengthen your way.

There are positive movements and actions, and there are those which are not. When you actually Let-go in your daily life, your way becomes shorter and you focus on the right way to reach your goal. That is why the freedom that is created by Let-go is so important. It is your direct way to your true self.

Q: What is the relationship between Zen and Judo?

A: Zen and Judo are together the direct and shortest way to find the true self. Judo contains special beneficial movements that seldom appear in everyday life activities. They help you to penetrate at all times, to your self. To reach yourself you need to fight within the Dojo, within the school of Judo or of the martial arts. The Dojo is the place where a human being can find himself. One of the most important elements of training in the Dojo is Randori. Randori is combat training in standing, between two Judo trainees. You must develop a fighting spirit and the energy for real combat. Throughout Zazen and the light Randori of Judo, we wash ourselves every day and clean ourselves from within. In that way we give place to the entrance and accumulation of light-beams that shin within us and illuminate our mind-body existence. Everyday the enlightened side in us grows when we practice Zazen and Let-go Judo. When we do Randori in Judo, exactly as in Zazen, we do not think about anything. We do not think about gain, nor victory, not about losing, nor about technique. Neither do we think about correct acts nor the incorrect acts. Then, one day, the right technique at the best time, comes like lightening from the Kokoro (the heart). It is the same as when you play Chess or as in any situation in life and as in any time and place. Through Let-go-Judo training we can learn, like in Zen, to think with the body, to unify the duality between body and mind. The thinking starts from the true self. This we learn while training in Zen and Judo.

Q: Who is a hero?

A: A hero is someone that finds his true self, now, here, in every day life. Anyone that wants to be a winner must conquer himself. There is nobody to conquer, but oneself. There are occasions when a human-being needs to defend him-self, his family or his country, but the most deep and important meaning of the verb 'to win' is to win one's ego.