Posted by David Mushin Keeber: In the most recent issue of Tricycle magazine (Fall 2013), there are some really wonderful articles that are well worth reading. Among them, “Uselessness: The Koan of Just Sitting,” by Barry Magrid.
Magrid reminds us that, as Kodo Sawaki told us, “Zazen is useless.” That if we sit with a gaining mind, we miss it entirely. I know that through the years, my understanding of this practice has changed. Originally, I sat to attain enlightenment. While I wasn’t sure what that really meant – maybe a place of peace and beauty, maybe a permanent blissful state of mind, maybe music, perfume and butterflies surrounding me all day – but, I strove for that enlightened state while on the cushion.
Then, as the years went by, I slowly, very slowly, came to realize that I would not be transported to anywhere other than right here and right now. But, I still didn’t understand what zazen was “supposed to do for me.” Yet, the cushion kept calling and I kept sitting.
The biggest challenge I had, though, we how often I had the sense that sitting zazen was useless and I was wasting my time. So many things on my “To Do” list were calling, or some current life issue was chiding me to get up and address it. And truth be told, I often did get up, sooner than the bell would ring, and truth be told, something in the back of my mind kept telling me that arising and addressing those things didn’t actually make me feel better.
Back on the cushion through the years, slowly I started to understand that that “uselessness” was really what it was about. Sitting had no real end except for me to be right here, right now, apart from the duties of my list, apart from my need to get things done, totally separate from my life of action. Instead, I was simply present NOW and HERE. And that was enough.
It is a precious thing to be in this moment. To recognize that I am alive, and do not need to do anything to prove my worth. That, in fact, while the working and tasks are a benefit, there is also benefit in not doing and simply being.
“When you first seek the dharma, you imagine you are far away from its environs. At the moment when dharma is correctly transmitted, you are immediately your original self.” (Kazuaki Tanahashi)
The Uselessness of zazen is a closer to enlightenment than anything I had originally imagined. And while antithetical to our culture of doing, and how I was even raised, being useless on the cushion has been just what I was seeking. Truly in this very moment and awake.