“To stop looking from any point of view is zazen.” -Kodo Sawaki
For years I have been trying to find a statement that adequately encapsulates what Zen has meant to me since I started haphazardly studying “it” as an 8th grader 10 years ago. This is difficult— all I’ve learned seems to point to the declaration that it means nothing. That’s its purpose. Meditation simply wipes the slate clean. This is why it’s so important not to meditate with any goal or purpose; to do so would be to counteract meditation’s goal and purpose! The purpose is purposelessness.
An old master said something like, “Enlightenment is a matter of gold and dung. Before you get there, it’s gold. After, it’s dung.” Similarly, I often think of the statement, “When you meet the Buddha in the road, kill him.” What gets us to what doctrine points to is the shedding away of the doctrine itself. Words help us by pointing us to the limits of words. This is the bizarre miracle of language.
Once we come to these types of realizations in meditation, we must cope with the fact that they’re really nothing special. The profoundest experience is no different from the everyday experience. Such an understanding allows us to recognize the everyday experience as profound. This way of thinking completely revolutionizes our lives when put into practice. Every tiny microcosmic action is an opportunity— not to apply a dogma or work on hashing out a point of view— but to live mindfully.
For me, this means making the most of each moment. I write every morning. I exercise every morning. I eat healthy fulfilling foods every day. I work at building my small businesses from the ground up, slowly and steadily. I try to give my relationships with friends and family the time and love they deserve. Sometimes I fall short, of course, but this is my path. I don’t expect anyone else to follow or not follow it. It’s just how I operate from the vantage point of mindfulness. But when I sit down and meditate, everything fades away.
For this reason we can view meditation as existing outside of everyday life. We aim not to apply a particular worldview to our practice but to simply let all thoughts come and go. All thoughts. Not just the thoughts we like or don’t like. Sometimes I’ll be meditating and what I perceive to be a really incredible idea will float right into my purview. Instead of adhering to the Zen dogma and breathing through it, I’ll stop briefly and write it down before getting back to sitting. Oddly, this keeps me less distracted. It allows me to leave the external thoughts in the external world.
Give your meditative self the gift of letting go of purpose over time. Don’t meditate when you’re stressed in order to breathe through it. Don’t attach a purpose to this activity with a purposeless essence. Some people, especially Western practitioners, never realize what meditation is. They think it’s a way to achieve their goals and accomplish something. You may be able to accomplish things as a result of your practice, but it will be precisely because your practice will enable you to think neutrally and let go of preconceptions and ambitions. In forgetting about our mental attachments, we free up lots of energy. This energy enables us to do more than we could do before. But if we think about this during meditation, we miss the entire point.