In Zen, the unity of Practice and Realization (satori) is taught. In other words, we do not attain the goal by means of practice; practice itself is the goal of realization, and the goal, realization, is at once practice
The common view is that practice and realization are two distinct things; that practice comes first and realization second; that realization comes as a result of having practiced. However, Zen practice is a discipline called zazen (cross-legged sitting meditation), and an actualization; and what we mean by actualization is making a goal come true. Consequently, it is generally thought that as long as zazen is practice and actualization it must have a goal, and that realization is that goal. So, zazen, which has realization as an objective, becomes a means of actualizing that objective. If we come to think that on the one hand we have the means and on the other hand we have a goal, then it is only natural that we should wish to attain realization by zazen. From the every day point of view this is quite right. However, one does not become a thief by training himself to steal; one becomes a thief when he actually steals something from another, and in the same way we can say that assuming the posture of zazen is itself the Buddha and is realization.
In Zen, the most objectionable thing is to separate practice and realization and to interpose between them thoughts and discriminations. This is called impurity. But zazen must be a pure practice. When we practice zazen we must only sit. We are taught not to separate means and end and not to expectantly await realization while practicing zazen.
Once upon a time during the Tang Dynasty in China, there was a monk called Mazu Daoyi (Baso Doitsu, in Japanese) who was undergoing training. One day, he was practicing zazen alone when along came his teacher, Nanyue Huairang (Nangaku Ejo, in Japanese), who asked, “Brother, your zazen is truly admirable, but just what are you trying to accomplish by it?”
“I’m trying to bring about realization,” Mazu answered, and at this Nanyue fetched a tileand began rubbing it on a rock.
Mazu, seeing this and thinking it strange, asked, “What are you doing?”
“I’m going to polish it and make a mirror,” Nanyue responded.
When Mazu objected Nanyue retorted, “Even if you polish it you can’t make a mirror of a tile!”
“And do you think you can awaken realization by practicing zazen?”
This is a little story which warns us not to use zazen as a means of gaining realization. There is a deep philosophical meaning here, but not even going into that, Zen teaches that practice is not to be used as a means of gaining realization, and that true actualization is pure and does not seek rewards or compensation. There is something our every day minds find difficult to agree with, but somehow or another we must see it this way if our actualization is to be genuine. This is a fact which confronts us twenty-four hours a day seven days a week.
There is the following passage in Mr. Jiro Abe’s Santaro’s Diary:
“We grow through romantic love. Whether this love succeeds or fails, we still grow. However, to love in order to grow is not real love; it is only an experiment in love. As long as we consciously have growth as a goal, an experiment in love cannot be complete. When neither success nor failure can change this love, then for the first time the experience permeates our very being. As a result of that kind of love, we grow.”
Put into every day language, this means that we actually grow by deeply entering into all the experiences which are presented to us, and not by consciously having growth as a goal. Conversely, once we are deeply submerged in a concrete experience the idea of growth must perish, otherwise the goal cannot be realized. If we never kill off our desire for growth and come back to our senses, we can never really get to the bottom of life’s experiences.
There is a saying, “To practice zazen for half an hour is to be a Buddha for half an hour.” With no expectation of becoming a Buddha or of attaining realization we earnestly take up zazen. The posture of zazen itself is the Buddha and is realization. So, rather than practice for half an hour, let’s practice for half a day and be Buddha for half a day. The fact is that the more thoroughly we go into the experiences which present themselves to us, the greater the growth that results. From this experience is born the attitude toward life of the Zen Buddhist, who regulates his life and makes it one with zazen, who seeks no reward and for whom one moment is eternity and eternity is but one moment.
Zazen is an endless forward movement which has no goal and this movement without an objective means that we achieve the goal step by step as we advance. Departure and arrival are simultaneous. In other words, it is a life which is created anew every day.
Well, I wonder how the wise men of long ago walked this path....