Rickroll Zazen

by Bob Schwartz

Rickroll Zazen

To understand this, you need to know a little about two things: Zen and the 1980s pop star Rick Astley.

The centerpiece of Zen is zazen, sitting meditation, and the center of that is shikantaza, just sitting. Sitting without mantra or visualization or other objective technique. Just sitting and breathing. If thoughts arise, let them go.

In his great but now out of print Approach to Zen (incorporated into his later, greater and available Opening the Hand of Thought, Kosho Uchiyama Roshi included a very primitive but excellent line drawing to represent how zazen works.  After reading countless explanations, this drawing still says it as well as any other description:

Uchiyama Zazen

You sit. Along the way you think about a. Then you return to just sitting (Z). You think about b. Then you return to just sitting (Z). You think about c, apparently a lovely woman or whatever. Then you return to just sitting (Z). It is both simple and hard.

Rickrolling is a cultural phenomenon surrounding pop star Rick Astley. In 1987, he had a huge hit with the track Never Gonna Give You Up. It was the heyday of MTV, so naturally there was a video.

Sometime around 2007, something happened with the video for Never Gonna Give You Up. It began showing up as a surprise at completely unlikely and inappropriate moments. You would click on something, but instead it would be Rick. Rickrolling continues to this day.

Because of this, Rick Astley remains one of the most recognized 1980s pop music icons, even for people who have no idea who he was. He just released his first album in years. And it was reading about him and that new album that got me started.

You cannot read about Rickrolling, let alone hear the track or view the video, without getting Never Gonna Give You Up stuck in your head. Which is not convenient if the very next thing you are doing is zazen. As a regular practitioner with a complex life, I’ve had to put some very serious things out of mind when I sit. But Rick Astley, for a few minutes, was as stubborn and sticky as it gets.

Above, borrowing from Uchiyama Roshi’s drawing, you will see what Rickroll zazen looks like.

Note: For those who don’t know the video (it has about 250 million views on YouTube) here it is. And no, you are not being Rickrolled.