Bob Schwartz

Tag: zazen

First Thing

First Thing

Whatever I read or hear
First thing
Thousand year old dead man
Or new born bird
Whatever I drink
Cool clear water
Or hot brown coffee
There is the floor and a cushion
And if gone
The ground and a rock
The incense stick is lit
Fragrance up
Burning down


Rickroll Zazen

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.

Buddha’s Enlightenment Day

Buddha Comic Cover
Known as Bodhi Day, the Buddha’s day of enlightenment is called Rohatsu in Japan and is celebrated there on December 8th.

Here is a page from a Buddha comic book illustrating the event. It is published by the Indian company Amar Chitra Katha, which publishes a number of fascinating religious comic books—not only about Hinduism and Buddhism, but about Sikhimism, Zorostrianism and others.

Buddha Comic Enlightenment

In stillness, mind and object merge in realization and go beyond enlightenment. Thus, in the state of receptive samadhi, without disturbing its quality or moving a single particle, you engage the vast buddha activity, the extremely profound and subtle buddha transformation.

Grasses, trees, and lands that are embraced by this way of transformation together radiate a great light and endlessly expound the inconceivable, profound dharma. Grass, trees, and walls bring forth the teaching to all beings, including common people and sages; all beings in response extend this dharma to grass, trees, and walls. Thus, the realm of self-awakening and awakening others invariably holds the mark of realization with nothing lacking, and realization itself is manifested without ceasing for a moment.

This being so, the zazen of even one person at one moment imperceptibly accords with all things and fully resonates through all time. Thus, in the past, future, and present of the limitless universe, this zazen carries on the buddha’s transformation endlessly and timelessly. Each moment of zazen is equally the wholeness of practice, equally the wholeness of realization.

This is so not only while sitting; like a hammer striking emptiness, before and after its exquisite sound permeates everywhere. How can it be limited to this time and space? Myriad beings all manifest original practice, original face; it is impossible to measure. Even if all buddhas of the ten directions, as innumerable as the sands of the Ganges, exert their strength and with the buddha wisdom try to measure the merit of one person’s zazen, they will not be able to fully comprehend it.

Dogen Zenji, On the Endeavor of the Way
Treasury of the True Dharma Eye