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Why practice Zazen?

Jacques Castermane

For one reason, an unreasonable reason: the awakening of man to his true human nature.
Zen master Shohaku Okumura invites us to reveal ourselves to our naked self1.
Graf Dürckheim speaks of, our essential nature.
What is -it- that you call our essential nature? When I ask him this question, the old sage from the Black Forest says “You cannot ask this question, for what I designate as our essential being is not -it-, it is not something that could be defined, classified in categories of reason. But, paradoxically, each person, during the course of his existence, can experience his true nature, the experience of his own essence”.

What is this experience?
“It is the experience of a quality revealed through sensation”.
It is a revealing experience, or, the experimental revelation of a set of values of the being, of which, one that seems missing the most to contemporary man: inner calm.
It is perhaps the nostalgia of this way of being to the world that makes the word meditation so popular in the ratings, nowadays?
Buddhist meditation, Christian meditation, secular meditation, Vipassana meditation, Taoist meditation... which one to choose? For each to decide. But it is without a doubt, important to know that the practice called zazen has nothing to do with these multiple propositions which oppose upholders from one, to followers of another.
Zazen is a meditative practice WITHOUT an object of focus, WITHOUT a goal. When I ask Graf Dürckheim if he can give one reason to practice zazen each day, he answers: “Why practice zazen every day? For one reason... because it’s time”.
Even though this answer might not be very encouraging, it is fundamental. All the more so today, as animators of a so called “modern” meditation (?) offer their followers a list of the one hundred (100) appealing benefits of the practice.
Without or (100) one hundred? One should weigh the different perspectives between the word which expresses absence and the numeral supposing much “As soon as we start to promise to those whom engage in an exercise, health or success in life, it has nothing more to do with the exercise named zazen” (K.G. Dürckheim).
At the beginning of his stay in Japan (1937-1947) Graf Dürckheim regularly practiced zazen next to a senior zen monk.
- May I ask you what is the exercise you practice, after over forty years of practice?
Old man’s answer: - It is difficult... I try to reach this point where I feel that breathing comes and goes on its own, and... when it happens, it is very surprising...everything in me becomes calm!
Answer which testifies that practicing without a goal is not without effect.page1image494073952

This monk, Graf Dürckheim would recall, faithfully practiced the exercise proposed by Buddha over twenty centuries ago; exercise named: AñaPañaSati in Pali2.

AñaPaña? Is not something: breathing. It is the vital action which is not something. It is not a respiratory exercise invented by man; it is to zen master Hirano Roshi the signature of Life. Life which is not something, but is PASSING from IBreathIn to IBreathOut (In one word because there is no distance nor time-lapse between the subject and the verb).

Sati? It is perhaps important to start with what it is not. Sati is not conscience OF something, neither concentration on an object, nor meditation in the sense of a mental practice founded on thought, nor the engagement of what is called the mind when this process is opposed to what is called the body.

Sati indicates an attitude of openness, the action of contemplating (that is, to see, hear, feel, be in contact with what is seen, heard, felt... without examination of what is seen, heard, felt, contacted with). Sati, is a sensorial approach of reality. A pre-mental approach of reality through conscience of WITHOUT. It is the conscience which is at the origin of the beginning of our existence.

You are interested by Zen? In this case you need to know you will be confronted with a radical equation; in Japanese: sanzen = zazen!
Which signifies that “To deeply understand Zen is nothing other than practicing zazen” (Dogen). Requirement all the more demanding since, when the Western man approaches practices, uses, precepts, directives, exercises specific to the Oriental or Far East traditions, he asks himself how he will be able to integrate them as part of his convictions, certitudes, beliefs, habits; in other words, his understanding?

I often hear: “I am interested by Leibtherapy, but how will I integrate this therapy in the way I treat anatomy, physiology, in the way it is considered in experimental medicine?”
“I am interested by zazen, but how will I integrate this exercise in my psychoanalysis?” “Zazen interests me, but how will I include this meditative practice as part of my beliefs?” “I agree to practice zazen, but can you give me scientific proof and quantitative measures that what is said about this exercise is not only subjective?”

My answer? “Dare practice zazen!”. Until the day you experience that, when practicing zazen, the body, the living body in its entirety and unity (Leib) takes the shape of calm...

1 Letter D’Instant en Instant N°96 – October 2021
2 Pali was chosen by Buddha to dispense his teachings.

Translation from French: Céline Jouenne