Zazen, Hotozen, Tatsuzen, Taberuzen, and Fusetsuzen

Zen, basically, means "meditation".

Zazen means "sitting meditation".

Hotozen means "walking meditation".

Tatsuzen means "standing meditation".

Taberuzen means "eating meditation".

Fusetsuzen means "laying down meditation".

(Alright, well, I might have made up those last few, but I wanted to illustrate a point...)

1. "Sit.. don't sit.. what's the difference?"

"Awareness or mindfulness can be kept on any bodily movement or even non-movement by the meditator. Any posture or non-posture could be effective in meditation. The scriptural support for this claim comes from the often cited Satipatthana Sutta itself.

...abhikkante patikkante sampajanakari hoti. Alokite vilokite sampajanakari hoti. Samminjite pasarite sampajanakari hoti. Samghatipattacivaradharane sampajanakari hoti. Asite pite khayite sayite sampajanakari hoti. Uccarapassavakamme sampajanakari hoti. Gate thite nisinne sutte jagarite bhasite tunhibhave sampajanakari hoti.

Here the Buddha has taught the meditator to be attentive when he or she is going forward, returning, looking straight ahead, looking in other directions, bending arms, legs, or body, stretching out arms, legs, or body, getting dressed, wearing anything, eating, drinking, tasting, using the toilet, walking, standing, sitting, sleeping, or lying down, waking, talking, and remaining silent. In short, the Satipatthana Sutta teaches that one has to be mindful all the time. It is clear that in each and every bodily movement one must be alert. All the time, through and through one's daily living, one has to be attentive to each and every action."


Alan Watts said:

“Sitting meditation is not, as is often supposed, a spiritual 'exercise,' a practice followed for some ulterior object. From a Buddhist standpoint, it is simply the proper way to sit, and it seems perfectly natural to remain sitting so long as there is nothing else to be done, and so long as one is not consumed with nervous agitation. To the restless temperament of the West, sitting meditation may seem to be an unpleasant discipline, because we do not seem to be able to sit 'just to sit' without qualms of conscience, without feeling that we ought to be doing something more important to justify our existence. To propitiate this restless conscience, sitting meditation must therefore be regarded as an exercise, a discipline with an ulterior motive. Yet at that very point it ceases to be meditation (dhyana) in the Buddhist sense, for where there is purpose, where there is seeking and grasping for results, there is no dhyana...

The history of Chinese Zen raises one problem of great fascination. Both Rinzai and Soto Zen as we find them in Japanese monasteries today put enormous emphasis on za-zen or sitting meditation...

Huai-Jang said: 'To train yourself in za-zen is to train yourself to be a sitting Buddha. If you train yourself in za-zen, you should know that zen is neither sitting nor lying down. If you train yourself to be a sitting Buddha, you should know that the Buddha is not a fixed form. Since the Dharma has no fixed abode, it is not a matter of making choices. If you make yourself a sitting Buddha this is precisely killing the Buddha. If you adhere to the sitting position, you will not attain the principle of zen.'

This seems to be the consistent doctrine of all the T’ang masters from Hui-neng to Lin-chi. Nowhere in their teachings have I been able to find any instruction in or recommendation of the type of za-zen which is today the principal occupation of Zen monks. On the contrary, the practice is discussed time after time in the apparently negative fashion of the two quotations just cited... Perhaps, then, the exaggeration of za-zen in later times is part and parcel of the conversion of the Zen monastery into a boys’ training school. To have them sit still for hours on end under the watchful eyes of monitors with sticks is certainly a sure method of keeping them out of mischief.” (The Way of Zen, Alan Watts, 1957.)

Alan Watts

Now, I love Alan Watts, and would wholeheartedly recommend reading his books or listening to hours and hours of him talking, but I also want to point out that these particular words, and this particular emphasis, may have been partially inspired by (or may contain a pointed edge due to) the fact that Alan Watts had received much criticism from the Zen Buddhist community who said that he couldn’t really know what Zen is, let alone be any kind of authority on the subject, because he didn’t practice Zazen regularly.

2. "Sit!"

Eihei Dogen 永平道元

Dogen, the 13th century Japanese Zen master and author of Shobogenzo, if I may be so bold, would probably have called Alan Watts’ position on sitting Zazen: "the way of non-Buddhists" and "Dharma descendants of Bussho Tokko", and other similar insults, possibly involving the phrase “useless bags of skin”. Dogen had criticized Bussho Tokko for having, basically, this to say about Buddhism, which is also why I'm kind of a fan of Bussho Tokko now.

I have one friend/mentor who dismisses Dogen's work because I mentioned that he took, in his time and place, such an exclusionary "my way or the highway" kind of position on personal spiritual practice. That's a good point, and something to keep in mind whenever one voluntarily enters into any "one true way" environment or book. My point is there might be a baby in that bathwater as well, so let's have a look before we toss it, shall we? Besides, Dogen often urges his students not to dismiss things offhandedly, and to consider reasonably, and from all angles: "to pass through seven directions and arrive at eight destinations".

Now, I would prefer not to have to pick a side between Alan Watts, who I love, and Dogen who I respect greatly, so I'm not going to. Alan Watts also had great respect for Dogen. I do think Alan Watts and Huai-Jang make a good point about that sitting is just one of the things that a one, “Awakened” or not, does, and that full lotus sitting-sitting-sitting-sitting-sitting and naught else for years on end, while it may be one way to somewhere, certainly isn’t going to be everyone’s way, and it brings an unnecessary, and unpalatable, air of elitism to Buddhism if only those with limber legs who sit all the time can rightly be considered "truly Buddhist".

That all being said, if I were to choose to support Dogen’s position as cartoon-guestimated in the previous paragraphs, in so far as his probably being in agreement with those Zen Buddhists who criticized Alan’s position, I might add:

3. "Sit however is comfortable."

John Dan Reib

It was many in my father's generation's (and others) excuse to maintain good ol’ fashion American poor diet and sedentary lifestyle (i.e. the "An A+ on the test! What kind of pie would you like tonight as a reward?" way in which he was brought up by his mother), as well as justification for not being self-motivated enough to get into full lotus posture, or to take up any kind of serious yogic discipline, while still “meditating” every day (sitting in a $500 chair specifically designed so that out of shape Westerners can meditate without taking on any kind of dietary of exercise regimen to facilitate being able to comfortably sit in full lotus position and do what the original Buddha was doing, and which was said to be the true Dharma-seal passed to him from the seven previous mythical ancient Buddhas), et cetera. This is probably also the reason for the disproportionately huge presence of Hotei, the "Happy (and morbidly obese) Buddha" statues in Western culture, and the general ignorance about there being any difference between Hotei and The Buddha.

My dad first came to glimpse Buddhism during his own confrontation with seeing vultures eating a woman’s corpse in India in 1959 (at night, walking and unable to sleep during his world tour aboard The Queen Mary while his mother was asleep at the hotel, and while another vulture, in a tree, was watching him), and later in life he took on a practice from Tibet, though he self-identified as Chinese, rather than American, (signing letters to friends with a Chinese chop and writing "John Dan Reib of Shanghai", for instance) since he was born in Shanghai, and he and his parents remembered a Japanese soldier ghost "messing with him" in his crib as a baby in March of 1940, which was seen by both his parents, the servants, and later remembered by John Dan as a wolf’s head in a soldier uniform during a time when Japan was in the role of the oppressor where my dad was being a newborn baby (in Shanghai). I think that these things factored into his recommending against delving into specifically "Japanese" Buddhism, seeing it as evidently watered down to the point where it could be made into a sort of tea time to clear one's head in between homicidal/suicidal rampages, and being obsessed with pride and honor and thinking that has anything at all to do with Buddhism.

Now, he might never have said any of that, but he-in-me just did, and I'm pretty sure he would have emotionally agreed with the general gist of that. As for me, my wife is teaching me to write Japanese, she has family in Japan, I've always loved sushi, and I don’t personally have my dad’s first-hand traumatic imprints or those grudges which, quite honestly, I think is one of the reasons why people die and new generations come around:

So we can all move forward.

Or, maybe it’s just my rebel spirit that makes me want to get into aspects of it that he might have avoided; it doesn’t mean I disregard all of my dad's advice or teachings. I know he gets what I'm saying. Dogen, actually, would have concurred with my dad that all the good stuff came from west of the water which separates Japan from China and “The Western Heavens” (their affectionate term for India at that time), but Alan and I, and my mom and others, are really into the aesthetic of Japanese Zen, first of all, and, having looked into It, I think there’s a lot to be gained from their particular ideas on things as well. You have to read between the lines sometimes, since Dogen's got all the familiar trappings of cults that you find in any kind of organized religion of any size and degree of benevolence, the paradoxical obsession with apostolic lineage while maintaining that some people can get it on their own without having ever heard of Buddha, possibly the covertly-ego-driven paradox-trance of being at one with all nothing yet being whipped for falling asleep, plus being in a time and place in history that is overtly male dominated, though Dogen was much more progressive in his attitudes about women than many of his fellows before after or during his life. But if you can get past all of that, which I can (clearly) it’s really fun to get into solo and be at-option about. All in all, I think it would have been a real service if someone could have gotten in there and taught these poor guys some good Yoga stretches to do on a semi regular basis, to go along with all of that sitting in lotus posture.

facing the wall

faced by the wall

Anyhow, what all of this is leading up to is the close of this blog-post, which is the words I am currently observing as useful for me personally, considering, trying on for size, and choosing to adopt and incorporate into my personal practice.

Dogen put it like this:

"The way is basically perfect and all-pervading.

How could it be contingent upon practice and realization? ...

It is never apart from one, right where one is. What is the use of going off here and there to practice? And yet, if there is the slightest discrepancy, the way is as distant as heaven from earth...

Suppose one gains pride of understanding and inflates one's own enlightenment, glimpsing the wisdom that runs through all things, attaining the way and clarifying the mind, raising an aspiration to escalade the very sky.

One is making the initial, partial excursions about the frontiers but is still somewhat deficient in the vital way of total emancipation.

Need I mention the Buddha, who was possessed of inborn knowledge? The influence of his six years of upright sitting is noticeable still. Or Bodhidharma's transmission of the mind-seal? The fame of his nine years of wall-sitting is celebrated to this day...

You should therefore cease from practice based on intellectual understanding, pursuing words and following after speech, and learn the backward step that turns your light inwardly to illuminate your self. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will be manifest...

A quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Cast aside all involvements and cease all affairs. Do not think good or bad. Do not administer pros and cons. Cease all the movements of the conscious mind, the gauging of all thought and views. Have no designs on becoming a buddha.

At the site of your regular sitting, spread out thick matting and place a cushion above it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the full-lotus position, you first place your right foot on your left thigh and your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus, you simply press your left foot against your right thigh. You should have your robes and belt loosely bound and arranged in order. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left palm facing upward on your right palm, thumb-tips touching. Thus sit upright in correct bodily posture, neither inclining to the left nor to the right, neither leaning forward nor backward. Be sure your ears are on a plane with your shoulders and your nose in line with your navel. Place your tongue against the front roof of your mouth, with teeth and lips both shut. Your eyes should always remain open, and you should breathe gently through your nose. Once you have adjusted your posture, take a deep breath, inhale and exhale, rock your body right and left and settle into a steady, immovable sitting position.

Think of not-thinking. How do you think of not-thinking? Nonthinking. This in itself is the essential art of zazen. The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the dharma-gate of repose and bliss, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate reality. Traps and snares can never reach it. Once its heart is grasped, you are like a dragon gaining the water, like a tiger taking to the mountains. For you must know that just there in zazen the right dharma is manifesting itself and that from the first dullness and distraction are struck aside… In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of both unenlightenment and enlightenment, and dying while either sitting or standing, have all depended entirely on the strength of zazen... In general, this world and other worlds as well, both in India and China equally hold the buddha-seal; and over all prevails the character of this school, which is simply devotion to sitting, total engagement in immovable sitting. Although it is said that there are as many minds as there are persons, still they all negotiate the way solely in zazen...

You have gained the pivotal opportunity of human form. Do not use your time in vain… Please, honored followers of Zen. Long accustomed to groping for the elephant, do not be suspicious of the true dragon. Devote your energies to a way that directly indicates the absolute… Gain accord with the enlightenment of the buddhas; succeed to the legitimate lineage of the ancestors' samadhi. Constantly perform in such a manner and you are assured of being a person such as they. Your treasure-store will open of itself, and you will use it at will.” (”Fukanzazengi” of Eihei Dogen)

All for now,
Much love,



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