Suzuki-roshi was once asked, “Why do you do so much zazen?”
He answered: “I may have to make a decision someday.”
His selfless answer inspires and enlightens us, as it points to a reality beyond our usual rational view of the world. It alludes to Zen practice having no specific, immediate purpose, other than to be fully engaged in life. Throughout their training, Zen students – both priest-ordained and lay – are reminded of the of absence of goals to be achieved or skills to be developed through zazen.
Life demands that we continually try to balance our daily activities, engaging physical and intellectual capacities as we take care of our primary responsibilities of family, school, work, artistic expression, and social relationships. If we are fortunate to have skills, resources, love and support, we can come reasonably close to balance, to feeling confident that we have optimized our life as best we can.
But everyday life does not sit still. Constantly shifting causes and conditions disrupt lives and societies. Optimization slips away. In our practice, we respond by keeping the mind open and soft, learning how to adjust and adapt to changing, sometimes life-threatening situations, as we are doing today.
Daily life requires that we make decisions continuously, moment by moment, on the fly, in order to maintain balance. Zazen and dedication to practice provide the stability and readiness to respond with wisdom to surprise and threat. The writings of twelfth-century Chinese master Hongzhi expresses the Zen mind in this dynamic world:
A patched-robed monk follows movement and responds to changes in perfect harmony.
Abbot of Kannon Do