Zen Mindfulness is complementary with Zen meditation. They correspond to the last two factors in the Eightfold Path of Buddhism: Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration.

Called “zazen” in Japanese, this kind of meditation isn’t what is known as “mindfulness meditation”, but rather an extended visit to the essential source of our life. “Za” means “sit”, and “Zen” means “concentration”, so the word literally means “sitting meditation”. When learning zazen we’re told that this is the zazen of the Buddhas, even that it is Buddha that is sitting. What could this mean?

Our physical posture influences our life more than most of us know. Here is an interesting TED talk on the subject by social psychologist Amy Cuddy. She mentions the phrase “fake it til you make it”, which can sound a little cynical the first time you hear it, but is actually a very practical guideline to getting us from where we are now to where we would like to be.

Zazen works on many levels. One important facet is the physical posture. Sit like Buddha from the beginning, and the more you do it, the more both body and mind are conditioned to be Buddha. Eventually you will realize that – yes! – you have been Buddha from the very beginning, and it was Buddha sitting as Buddha from the very beginning.


New things are exciting. Especially spiritual practices. But after a while they lose the luster, and you either accept that you now have to put effort into it or you leave it behind and move on to the next exciting thing.

Mindfulness sounds great, Zen sounds great, and they’re rewarding when you first start working with them. They’re fun! But sooner or later comes the time when you know you “should” be mindful, but you simply don’t want to. You know that responding from your hara brings your best Zen result, but you find yourself choosing to react from your “little self”.

What then? Don’t expect yourself to be perfect! Let go of what you “should” be doing and deal with the situation without any guilt. Later you can return to being mindful. But when you do, remember how things had gone, and use that memory as inspiration to strengthen your practice.

If you turn your mindfulness practice into a habit, that habit will carry over into your next “little self” episode and make it easier to release your story and respond sanely to the current situation. This is why we often use the word “training” in Zen – more and more it becomes your natural action to respond from that place of mindfulness instead of the place of reactivity. But again, no one is perfect, so don’t expect yourself to be! As soon as you’ve cooled down from the emotional involvement, let it all go and return to your cycle of mindfulness.

Eventually it won’t matter anymore – your consistent training will let you be mindful through everything that happens, whether it’s fun or not fun.

Seeing the One Body

Are you in conflict and competition with those around you? Are self-promotion and defensiveness needed for survival?

The more we practice Zen and Mindfulness the more we become aware of what I call the One Body – the universal “Me” that is actually all of us. Not only we humans, but, as Dogen-Zenji put it, “… mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and stars.” All are part of this one mind, this one body. Distinct, yes, but still unified like your two hands being part of the same body.

As your awareness increases, more and more you interact with other people and things the way your two hands interact – washing each other when needed, painfully removing splinters when needed, clasping when needed, leaving each other alone when needed.

When you closely look at the boundaries that separate you from everyone else, how solid are those boundaries, really?

Weightless Awareness

Can you relax into your breath to the extent that you are no longer carrying any emotional burden, and none is carrying you?

Like setting down your backpack after a long hike on the trail, you can lay down that emotional backpack and breathe easy.

Anytime you feel overwhelmed, let out a big sigh. My favorite yoga teacher taught me this. Two-thirds of the way through it you’ve dropped everything, and when you inhale you’ll be refreshed.

Big sigh – now you’re weightless!

What is it, over there, rising beyond the horizon?

As soon as you call it a mountain, you’ve lost it. It’s now just a picture in your head, no longer the living experience.

Look at it again. There’s definitely something there. But again, even the clearest description is just a description. “Majestic”. “Immoveable”. “10,000 feet high”. Lost it again!

Maybe the closest we can come to expressing it is, “wow!”

Donovan paraphrased an old Zen phrase about this in his song: “First there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is.”


Maezumi Roshi quoted a longer form of the original in his forward to the Blue Cliff Record: “Before attaining enlightenment, mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers. At the moment of enlightenment, mountains are no longer mountains, nor are rivers rivers. But after accomplishing enlightenment, mountains are mountains, rivers are rivers.”

What, really, is the difference between these two kinds of “mountains are mountains”?


%d bloggers like this: