Jundo Cohen - Treeleaf Zendo

The Value of Zazen – Jundo Cohen

Zazen – Not Long or Short, Not A Matter of Time

So many Zen students think that the longer they sit the better. They believe 10 years surpasses 10 months or 10 days, which must be better than 10 hours, which is better than 10 minutes or seconds. They treat Zazen like a taxi meter or points to rack up, the more they sit the closer they are to the goal. They equate more and more sitting with going deeper and deeper, or becoming more and more peaceful, or more and more “Buddha-like”, or more and more “enlightened”.

However, Zazen only truly hits the mark when all measure of time and score, goals and attainment are dropped away. Only then does a moment of sitting contain all time, only then does one realize the destination ever present. Zazen is thus very unlike many forms of meditation (not to mention very unlike our usual clock watching, tally counting, comparing and measuring, goal oriented attitude toward the rest of our busy lives) in which deeper and deeper attainments, and greater and greater achievements, add up with time. In Zazen, one attains the deepest attainment and the greatest achievement, namely, the timeless which is right in each tick of the clock, the goal ever reached again and again in each passing mile on the road across town. But one only realizes so when one sits as the still and round face of the clock which holds all time as the hands make their circles …

The taxi meter is turned off, yet the taxi proceeds forward on the ride of Buddhist Practice. Only now, however, one realizes that the whole journey is the constant total arrival … from the door’s closing, down every twist and turn, to whatever destinations await.

Please stop watching the score, the amounts, the distances, the measures of passing time … and then one is in a Buddha taxi driving across Buddhatown, all Buddha all the way from uptown to down.

It is a very different attitude toward sitting and all of life from our usual “time is slipping away, the goal is ever distant” way of being.

But don’t get me wrong, don’t misunderstand: I am not encouraging you just to sit for half a minute or once a year, as if that is enough. Daily sitting is required. It usually takes some minutes of sitting for us to settle and realize that it is not about the minutes! In principle, sitting could be a moment or half a moment. However, a few minutes are usually required for making the mental and physical transition from our busy day to this sacred moment … it takes a little bit of time to taste Timelessness!

Sitting for 10 months -is- usually better than sitting for 10 days … but only if the sitting of 10 months is now beyond watching the clock and the scoreboard. The fellow who has been practicing for 10 years -is- likely to be better at attaining “timeless non-attainment” than the newcomer of 10 minutes. Thus, there is great import to sometimes sitting long and hard all to realize that this never was a matter of time at all. Enlightenment is truly timeless amid passing time … it is the still center of the sweeping second hand … and one does not realize such truth by counting the seconds and minutes. Nonethless, it usually take some time practicing to truly penetrate such “Timeless Truths”.

Funny how that works.

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