Rooted in ancient meditative practices, Zazen differs from other forms of meditation in that it uses no meditation object or abstract concept for the sitter to focus on. The aim of Zazen is first to still the mind - the sitter's everyday disorganized, animal mind - and then, through practice, to reach a state of pure, thought-free wakefulness so that the mind can realize its own Buddha-nature. And unlike other forms of meditation, Zazen is not simply a means to an end. Dogen Zenji said, "Zazen is itself Enlightenment, one minute of sitting, one minute of being Buddha."
The Three Aims of Zazen:
- Development of the power of concentration (Joriki)
- Satori-Awakening (Kensho)
- Actualization of the Supreme way in our daily lives (mujudo no taigen).
These three form an inseparable unity, but for purposes of discussion they will be dealt with individually.
Joriki, the first of these, is the power or strength which arises when the mind has been unified and brought to one-pointedness in Zazen concentration. This is more than the ability to concentrate in the usual sense of the word. It is a dynamic power which, once mobilized, enables us even in the most sudden and unexpected situations to act instantly, without pausing to collect out wits, and in a manner wholly appropriate to the circumstances. One who has developed Joriki is no longer a slave to his passions, neither is he at the mercy of his environment. Always in command of both himself and the circumstances of his life, he is able to move with perfect freedom and equanimity. The cultivation of certain supranormal powers is also made possible by Joriki, as is the state in which the mind becomes like clear, still water. See also Siddhi.
Now, although the power of Joriki can be endlessly enlarged through regular practice, it will recede and eventually vanish if we neglect Zazen. And while it is true that many extraordinary powers flow from Joriki, nevertheless through it alone we cannot cut the roots of our illusionary view of the world. Mere strength of concentration is not enough for the highest types of Zen and a path not unlike Shikantaza must be considered. Concomitantly there must be Satori-awakening. In a little-known document handed down by Shih-t'ou Hsi-ch'ien (Sekito Kisen, Japanese) a follower of the Sixth Patriarch Hui-neng and founder of one of the early Zen sects, the following appears: "in our sect, realization of the Buddha-nature, and not mere devotion or strength of concentration, is paramount."
Buddhism teaches that after a practitioner achieves a certain degree of realization, spiritual power develops. A person at the level of an Arhat is said to possess six supernatural powers. Even so, it is understood that it is through Enlightenment that supernatural powers are manifested, rather than that supernatural powers enhance Enlightenment. Furthermore, it is acknowledged as well that supernatural powers are not attainable exclusively JUST by Buddhists and Buddhists only. It is possible for anyone who has deep religious and spiritual cultivation to develop some kind of "super-normal powers."
The second of these aims is Kensho, seeing into your True-nature and at the same time seeing into the ultimate nature of the universe and "all the ten thousand things" in it. It is the sudden realization that "I have been complete and perfect from the very beginning. How wonderful, how miraculous!" If it is true Kensho, its substance will always be the same for whoever experiences it, whether he be Shakyamuni Buddha, the Buddha Amida, or anyone. But this does not mean that we can all experience Kensho to the same degree, for in the clarity, the depth, and the completeness of the experience there are great differences. As an illustration, imagine a person blind from birth who gradually begins to recover his sight. At first he can see very vaguely and darkly and only objects close to him. Then as his sight improves he is able to distinguish things a yard or so away, then objects at ten yards, then at a hundred yards, until finally he can recognize anything up to a thousand yards. At each of these stages the phenomenal world he is seeing is the same, but the differences in the clarity and accuracy of his views of that world are as great as those between snow and charcoal. So it is with the differences in clarity and depth of our experiences of Kensho.
MUJODO NO TAIGEN
The last of the three objectives is mujodo no taigen, the Actualization of the Supreme Way throughout our entire being and our daily activities. At this point we do not distinguish the end from the means. When you sit earnestly and egolessly in accordance with the instructions of a competent teacher - with your mind fully conscious yet as free of thought as a pure white sheet of paper is unmarred by a blemish - there is a unfoldment of your intrinsically pure Buddha-nature whether you have had Satori or not. But what must be emphasized here is that only with true awakening do you directly apprehend the truth of your Buddha-nature and perceive that Saijojo, the purest type of Zen, is no different from that practiced by all Buddhas.
The practice of Buddhist Zen should embrace all three of these objectives, for they are interrelated. There is, for instance, an essential connection between Joriki and Kensho. Kensho is "the wisdom naturally associated with Joriki," which is the power arising from concentration. Joriki is connected with Kensho in yet another way. Many people may never be able to reach Kensho unless they have first cultivated a certain amount of Joriki, for otherwise they may find themselves too restless, too nervous and uneasy to persevere with their Zazen. Moreover, unless fortified by Joriki, a single experience of Kensho will have no appreciable effect on your life and will fade into a mere memory. For although through the experience of Kensho you have apprehended the underlying unity of the cosmos with your Mind's eye, without Joriki you are unable to act with the total force of your being on what your inner vision has revealed to you.
Likewise there is an interconnection between Kensho and the third aim of Zazen, mujudo no taigen. Kensho when manifested in all your actions is mujudo no taigen. With perfect Enlightenment, Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, we apprehend that our conception of the world as dual and antihectical is false, and upon this realization the world of Oneness, of true harmony and peace, is revealed.
The Rinzai sect tends to make Satori-awakening the final aim of sitting and skims over Joriki and mujodo no taigen. Thus the need for continued practice after Enlightenment is minimized, and koan study, since it is unsupported by Zazen and scarcely related to daily life, becomes essentially an intellectual game instead of a means by which to amplify and strengthen Enlightenment.
On the other hand, while the practice advocated in official quarters of the Soto sect today stresses mujodo no taigen, in effect it amounts to little more than the accumulation of Joriki, which, as discussed earlier, "leaks" or recedes and ultimately disappears unless Zazen is carried on regularly. The contention of the Soto sect nowadays that Kensho is unnecessary and that one need do more than catty on his daily activities with the Mind of the Buddha is specious, for without Kensho you can never really know what this Buddha-mind is.
These imbalances in BOTH sects in recent times have, unfortunately, impaired the quality of Zen teaching.
Zazen must not be confused with meditation. Meditation involves putting something into the mind, either an image or a sacred word that is visualized or a concept that is thought about or reflected on, or both. In some types of meditation the meditator envisions or contemplates or analyzes certain elementary shapes, holding them in his mind to the exclusion of everything else. Or he may contemplate in a state of adoration a Buddha or a Bodhisattva image, hoping to evoke in himself parallel states of mind. He may ponder such abstract qualities as loving- kindness and compassion. In Tantric Buddhist systems of meditation, mandalas containing various seed syllables of the Sanskrit alphabet-- such as Om, for example--are visualized and dwelt upon in a prescribed manner. Also employed for meditational purposes are mandalas consisting of special arrangements of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and other figures.
The uniqueness of Zazen lies in this: that the mind is freed from bondage to all thought-forms, visions, objects, and imaginings, however sacred or elevating, and brought to a state of absolute emptiness, from which alone it may one day perceive its own true nature, or the nature of the universe.
Such initial exercises as counting or following the breath cannot, strictly speaking, be called meditation since they do not involve visualization of an object or reflection upon an idea. For the same reasons a Koan Zazen cannot be called meditation. Whether one is striving to achieve unity with his Koan or, for instance, intensely asking, "What is Mu?" he is not meditating in the technical sense of this word.
Zazen that leads to Self-realization is neither idle reverie nor vacant inaction but an intense inner struggle to gain control over the mind and then to use it, like a silent missile, to penetrate the barrier of the five senses and the discursive intellect (that is, the sixth sense). It demands energy, determination, and courage. Yasutani Hakuun Roshi calls it "a battle between the opposing forces of delusion and Bodhi." This state of mind has been vividly described in these words, said to have been uttered by Shakyamuni Buddha as he sat beneath the Bodhi Tree making his supreme effort, and often quoted in the zendo during sesshin: "Though only my skin, sinews, and bones remain and my blood and flesh dry up and wither away, yet never from this seat will I stir until I have attained full Enlightenment."
The drive toward Enlightenment is powered on the one hand by a painfully felt inner bondage--a frustration with life, a Fear of Death, or both-- and on the other by the conviction that through Awakening one can gain liberation. But it is in Zazen that the bodymind's force and vigor are enlarged and mobilized for the breakthrough into this new world of freedom. Energies which formerly were squandered in compulsive drives and purposeless actions are preserved and channeled into a unity through correct Zen sitting; and to the degree that the mind attains one-pointedness through Zazen it no longer disperses its force in the uncontrolled proliferation of idle thoughts. The entire nervous system is relaxed and soothed, inner tensions eliminated, and the tone of all organs strengthened. Furthermore, research involving an electrocardiograph and other devices on subjects who have been practicing Zazen for one to two years has demonstrated that Zazen brings about a release in psychophysical tension and greater body-mind stability through lowered heart rate, pulse, respiration, and metabolism. In short, by realigning the physical, mental, and psychic energies through proper breathing, concentration, and sitting, Zazen establishes a new body-mind equilibrium.
And now this:
Ma-tsu was doing Zazen daily in his hut on Nan-yueh Mountain. Watching him one day, Huai-jang (Nanyue Huairang, Nangaku Ejo) 677-744, his master, thought, "He will become a great monk," and inquired:
"Worthy one, what are you trying to attain by sitting?"
Ma-tsu replied: "I am trying to become a Buddha."
Thereupon Huai-jang picked up a piece of roof tile and began grinding it on a rock in front of him.
"What are you doing, Master?" asked Ma-tsu.
"I am polishing it to make a mirror," said Huai-jang.
"How could polishing a tile make a mirror?"
"How could sitting in Zazen make a Buddha?"
Ma-tsu asked: "What should I do, then?"
Huai-jang replied: "If you were driving a cart and it didn't move, would you whip the cart or whip the ox?"
Ma-tsu made no reply.
Huai-jang continued: "Are you training yourself in Zazen? Are you striving to become a sitting Buddha? If you are training yourself in Zazen let me tell you that the substance of Zazen is neither sitting nor lying down. If you are training yourself to become a sitting Buddha, let me tell you that Buddha has no one form [such as sitting]. The Dharma, which has no fixed abode, allows of no distinctions. If you try to become a sitting Buddha, this is no less than killing the Buddha. If you cling to the sitting form you will not attain the essential truth."
Of which the following should be considered:
"In no way...am I suggesting that practices should not be done, only that there is no practitioner who is the doer behind them. This is true of every activity. ... Just because there is no practitioner (and never has been) does not mean that practice will not take place. If it is obvious for a particular spiritual practice to occur, then it will."
SUZANNE SEGAL: Collision with the Infinite
THE LAST AMERICAN DARSHAN
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
AWAKENED TEACHERS FORUM
IN THE WAY OF ENLIGHTENMENT: The Ten Fetters
RESOLVING THE MIND: Buddha's Enlightenment
SUDDEN OR GRADUAL ENLIGHTENMENT
ENLIGHTENMENT: CAN YOU DO IT?
CUTTING THE CAT
ON THE RAZOR'S
Source: "The Three Pillars of Zen", Kapleau, Roshi Phillip, pgs.44-52. Published by Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group. Copyright 1989 by Roshi Phillip Kapleau. With special thanks to the Dharma as well as EasternReligions.com and Ronald Henry Olsommer.
The final five paragraphs on Zazan are from the preface to Yasutani Hakuun Roshi's INTRODUCTORY LECTURES ON ZEN TRAINING attributed as well to Kapleau, Roshi Phillip.
Ma Tin Hla, M.A., University of Rangoon, THE SIX SUPERNATURAL POWERS OF THE BUDDHA, Vol. III, Nos. 4 & 6, 1958. See also:
The following should be of interest as well: 1. IDDHIVIDHA - THE POWER OF TRANSFORMATION: (see) If a Bhikkhu should desire, Brethren, to exercise one by one each of the different AKANKHEYYA SUTTA, Vol. XI of The Sacred Books of the East 
Ma Tin Hla, M.A., University of Rangoon, THE SIX SUPERNATURAL POWERS OF THE BUDDHA, Vol. III, Nos. 4 & 6, 1958.
The following should be of interest as well:
1. IDDHIVIDHA - THE POWER OF TRANSFORMATION: (see) If a Bhikkhu should desire, Brethren, to exercise one by one each of the different
If a Bhikkhu should desire, Brethren, to exercise one by one each of the differentSiddhis, being one to become multiform, being multiform to become one; to become visible, or to become invisible; to go without being stopped to the further side of a wall, or a fence, or a mountain, as if through air; to penetrate up and down through solid ground, as if through water; to walk on the water without dividing it, as if on solid ground; to travel through the sky like the birds on wing; to touch and feel with the hand even the sun and the moon, mighty and powerful though they be; and to reach in the body even up to the heaven of Brahma; let him then fulfil all righteousness, let him be devoted to that quietude of heart which springs from within, let him not drive back the ecstasy of contemplation, let him look through things, let him be much alone!
AKANKHEYYA SUTTA, Vol. XI of The Sacred Books of the East