The great 13th century Zen master Eihei Dogen taught that Zen meditation was not a means to an end, not a technique for achieving enlightenment, but that practice and realization were inseparably one and the same. Dogen said:
Zazen is not a meditation technique. It is simply the dharma gate of joyful ease; it is practicing the realization of the boundless dharma way. Here, the open mystery manifests, and there are no more traps and snares for you to get caught in.
Over and over, Dogen emphasized that practice and realization are inseparable. This does not mean that the practice of zazen is a uniquely efficacious tool for achieving realization but that zazen itself, from the moment of our first beginner’s instruction, is the complete manifestation of the Awakened Way. This assertion, which formed the very heart of his own realization and teaching, is deeply counterintuitive when we first hear it and probably remains so for a long time thereafter. Zazen itself, the practice of just sitting, deserves to be called a koan, an expression of opposites that we are challenged to dissolve.
What do we mean by “just sitting”? “Sitting” means sitting, walking, working, eating, speaking, and being silent. “Just” means that there is nothing in the world that is not sitting. When we speak of just sitting, we are not limiting ourselves to describing a particular posture or practice. We are describing a way of being in the world in which everything we encounter is fully and completely itself. Nothing is merely a means to an end, nothing is merely a step on the path to somewhere else. Every moment, everything, is absolutely foundational in its own right. Zazen, defined in the narrow sense as seated meditation, is but one of an infinite number of possible paradigms for this state, yet at the same time it is the unique expression of the coming together of human nature and buddhanature. But because our every action is also zazen, in Dogen’s vision of the monastic life, we ritualize every aspect of daily life, from sitting in the zendo to working in the kitchen to washing ourselves in the bathroom.
If we think of one of the central functions of the koan as being to illuminate and then deconstruct our habitual tendency to dualistic thinking in all the ways that we dichotomize our life, dualistic thinking in all the ways that we dichotomize our life, then “just sitting” becomes a way of expressing the resolution of the koan of everyday life at its most fundamental level. This is what Dogen called genjokoan, actualization in everyday life. It is in the explication of genjokoan that Dogen utters his most famous summary of life and practice:
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