invoking the Buddha’s name, repentance, and spiritual training,
all finally return to the practice of zazen. Even those who have sat zazen
only once will see all karma erased. Nowhere will they find evil
paths, and the Pure Land will not be far away.
Zazen is the root practice of all Buddhism not just the Mahayana. We might think that there are all these different ways to practice meditation, some practice with their eyes closed, some practice with their eyes open, some follow their breath and some visualize elaborate mandalas. Yes on the surface there are many ways to practice meditation yet at the root they are all the same. If you are able to follow any true meditation technique deeply enough then you will find yourself at that same place that the Buddha journeyed to 2500 years ago sitting under the Bodhi Tree.
I have a friend who studied Tibetan Buddhism for many years. He was given a very complex visualization practice. After many years when my friend was beginning to master his practice the teacher started stripping the practice down until he was practicing in a way very similar to traditional zen techniques.
I am also reminded of Tenzin Palmo an English woman who meditated in a cave in the Himalayas for twelve years. In her biography Cave in the Snow she tells that she was very attracted to Tibetan Buddhism but not so much to Zen but after many years in the cave she realized that the practices had the same results, a clear quiet mind.
The Six Paramitas, the Eight Fold Path, Buddhism is filled with numbered lists. I guess this helps us memorize and keep in our mind important teachings and concepts. I am not one for this type of memorization. I am not sure that Hakuin was one for memorization either, because he has not correctly listed the Paramitas but instead has given their intention, being that we should involve our whole life in our practice if it is to be successful. This is what the Bodhisattva Path is about. How can we quiet our mind when we are filled with guilt or selfish scheming. How can we expect to be concentrated and mindful in meditation if we allow our mind to go every which way during the rest of the day?
Also our practice goes the other way. Through meditation we find ourselves less selfish less I centered. Through meditation we become calm and satisfied. No need to be selfish. Through meditation we loose our sense of isolation and feel connected to not only other humans but everything. We always have been connected. We are connected through our five senses. We are connected through space. We are connected through cause and effect. We are connected by a natural moral intelligence that manifests in the feelings of love and compassion. Through meditation our deep connection to everything manifests clearly Moral behavior arises naturally out of meditation because through practice we break down our habits of selfish thoughts and behavior.
Hakuin seems to be setting a very high standard for zazen when he says "Even those who have sat zazen only once will see all karma erased." Yes this is a very high standard, and it would seem that most of our meditation does not meet this standard of zazen. What then is zazen? The Sixth Patriarch, Hui Neng defined zazen as not being attached to things outside of ourselves and not being moved by our internal thoughts and feelings. More simply put, we are practicing zazen when we have let go of all our thoughts and feelings. Zazen is that place where we have dropped all our assumptions and can see with the eyes of a baby, but not a baby and can clearly see the world for what it is. In this state of mind our past history and its effects on our thoughts and actions are dropped, we are fully in the present. This is the dropping of all karma. Karma is simply the effects of our past thoughts and actions on our present thoughts and actions. We carry around karma as the unconscious factors that cause our thoughts and actions. In the sense that in deep true zazen we are neither thinking nor moving and yet not asleep, our karma is erased.
Actually karma is a bit more complex and difficult a concept then just the effects of our past thoughts and actions in this individual life on our present and future thoughts and actions in this individual life. Babies quickly develope a strong personality. Where did this come from? In traditional Buddhist and Hindu thought we would say karma from past lives. In Christian thought we might say that this root personality we are born with is the soul as God fashioned and placed in our bodies. And then the modern scientist will say that it is our genetics with maybe a little influence from very early environmental influences which forms the early personality.
There is still one more way that we can view our karma. So far the views I have expressed for karma result from dualistic thinking. The deep enlightened view is non-dualistic. What is this non-dual view? One way to express it is to say that the whole Universe, past present and future, has come together to manifest each of our individual personalities. In this perspective there is no individual view of past lives. Past lives becomes past life, singular. There is also no individual view of present life and future life. Any concept of karma no longer makes sense. As we enter this perspective karma is not just erased it never really existed. Even so cause and effect is observed.
So what is Hakuin talking about? Is he equating Zazen with full blown enlightenment? In the next line he says, Nowhere will they find evil paths, and the Pure Land will not be far away. Again, is he saying that in true Zazen we have temporarily dropped the discrimination of good and evil, or is he saying that the duality of good and evil is permanently dropped in the complete change of perspective that is enlightenment?
During a sesshin with Harada Roshi he says to us, "If you can just stop thinking for 30 seconds then your whole life will be changed." Latter, maybe out of a bit of frustration he says, "If you can only stop thinking for 15 seconds your life will be changed." In Soto Zen a concept that is thrown around is, Practice Enlightenment. The idea is that maybe we shouldn't discriminate between correct practice and enlightenment. If we can drop attachment and discrimination, that is enlightenment. This is something that needs to be experienced. To stop thought and yet be fully awake for a period of time after a lifetime with barely a moment between thoughts, how could it not be transformative? For some people this transformation, is a complete revolution going to the marrow of their beings. For others the transformation might not be so great but is is real and ongoing with each returning to that place of true zazen. That place of true zazen is the place of true enlightenment.