Is "Just Sitting" the Fundamental Way of Zen?

A rare photo of Master Dogen sitting in meditation.

Q: Roshi, as a Zen student I often hear that "just sitting" is the fundamental Way of Zen. Is it so?

A: Not at all! If someone had arthritic legs & so couldn't sit in the lotus posture, would you deny them entry into the Treasury of Light that is Zen? Listen to some words Master Dogen once wrote:

“To do away with mental deliberation and cognition, and simply to go on sitting, is the method by which the Way is made an intimate part of our lives. Thus attainment of the Way becomes truly attainment through the body. That is why I put exclusive emphasis upon sitting."

To love and appreciate Master Dogen & the shikantaza style of Zen taught to him by his Chinese Master Rujing, you need not agree that Zen should place exclusive emphasis on sitting. After all, Dogen gives you his reason for doing so. Namely, To do away with [limited, ignorant] mental deliberation and cognition. 

Why bother? To make way for the pure & boundless cognition of the original mind, vast & open as all space. Why else?

Zen is doing away with [limited, ignorant] mental deliberation & cognition. That's the fundamental Way of Zen, & it is a subtle one, subtle as the spring wind in these pines, or that red quince flower you see blossoming on the hedge.

If you can do away with the mind of delusion and ignorance, and so attain sudden enlightenment, merely by sitting in the lotus posture, go right ahead! Nobody's stopping you.

There are some historical reasons as to why an exclusive emphasis on sitting might have been effective in Dogen's time, leading people to make the Way an intimate part of their lives. And there are more remote inspirational -- or, if you like, mythological-religious -- reasons as to why Dogen chose "sitting" meditation as the single practice for entering the Way. Shakyamuni attains Enlightenment while sitting!

Shakyamuni was sitting when he attained Enlightenment, but what was he actually doing? He was looking at the morning star, Venus, in the Western sky. So starry sky gazing may well be the superior method of making the Way an intimate part of your life! It just depends.

Does it depend on what you think? Not at all. It depends on getting rid of thinking, all at once, in startling awareness. That's why a single note of the bamboo flute can enlighten people, leading them to experience the intimacy of the Way.

Zen students should not be captivated by trivialities. Sitting or not sitting, star-gazing or not star-gazing, playing the bamboo flute or not playing the bamboo flute -- the aim of all Zen techniques, methods, & practices is always one & the same: To do away with [limited, ignorant] mental deliberation and cognition!

Hear it! Attain it now, in this life!

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