Wednesday, 4 January 2012

Why is zazen so hard?

If my understanding about zazen is right, then we are trying to kill ourselves on the cushion. Well, what I mean by ourselves is the intellectually manufactured self, the egoic self.

If you think for a moment about the machinations of the egoic self when challenged in our daily lives, how hurt it becomes, how angry it can become when it's attacked or criticised, then surely it's easy to understand why zazen can be so difficult. Could it be that the egoic self is putting up the fight of its life while we try to silence it in zazen? Is this what's described when Gautama Budddha fought with Mara whilst sitting under the Bodhi tree, when distractions of various kinds arose in his mind and threatened his mediation?

Whenever I sit I get bombarded by thoughts. The thoughts are myriad, and they often take me away from focusing on my breath. They can be angry thoughts about the past, about what such-and-such person did when I was 12-years-old, working in some place or other, whatever. They can be about getting back to what I was doing a little earlier, or what I'd rather be doing with my wife in the next room (sitting with wood is the hardest thing for me *unintended pun*). And I'll clock watch, or listen for every movement of the temple monk in the zendo to see if he's going to rise to strike the gong to end the sitting.

They are often so powerful that I find sitting damn hard, and when I'm sitting at home, I sometimes abandon it and go and sit down with a cup of tea and read the news on the internet, or something else less torturous. I'll go to a book about Buddhism and pretend that it's as much benefit as zazen, which it's not. I'll not sit for days, and sometimes a week or two.

When sitting is not so difficult, my mind settles after a while. The constant background babbling of my mind all but stops and peace of mind becomes a reality, even for a few fleeting moments. I achieve a sort of mental poise and I become the observer of my thoughts, rather than an active participant in them. It is this that brings me back to the zafu time and time again. After these few years of struggling with it, I stick at it regardless. I've never stuck at anything that's good for me for so long, except my marriage.

I posted a quote recently by a Fench philosopher. Blaise Pascal, about people not being able to sit quietly alone in a room. If I ever manage it, I'll let you know.


  1. Thanks for the posting Frog, Same thing here, same distractions, same battles with Mara. I just posted some New Year resolutions on my blog and if I can keep the modest Zazen one I will be happy, or at least feel like I'm accomplishing something.
    One more night of grave-yard shift...
    Have a great evening

  2. I can relate to everything you write in this post. Thanks so much for posting it. I just started reading your blog and I'm glad I did.

    thank you,

  3. Hi Jeff. You're most welcome. I don't post so often, which means I don't have much to say, although my wife might beg to differ. Thanks for popping by.