Whereas it might be supposed that the practice of Zen is a means to the end of awakening, this is not so. For the practice of Zen is not the true practice so long as it has an end in view, and when it has no end in view it is awakening–the aimless, self-sufficient life of the “eternal now.” To practice with an end in view is to have one eye on the practice and the other on the end, which is lack of concentration, lack of sincerity.

Za-zen is not sitting with a blank mind which excludes all the impressions of the inner and outer senses. It is not “concentration” in the usual sense of restricting the attention to a single sense object, such as a point of light or the tip of one’s nose. It is simply a quiet awareness, without comment, or whatever happens to be here and now. This awareness is attended by the most vivid sensation of “nondifference” between oneself and the external world, between the mind and its contents. Naturally, this sensation does not arise by trying to acquire it; it just comes by itself when one is sitting and watching without any purpose in mind–even the purpose of getting rid of purpose.

Much importance is attached to the physical posture of za-zen. The monks sit on firmly padded cushions with legs crossed and feet soles-upwards upon the thighs. The hands rest upon the lap, the left over the right, with palms upward and thumbs touching one another. The body is held erect, though not stiffly, and the eyes are left open so that their gaze falls upon the floor a few feet ahead. The breathing is regulated so as to be slow without strain, with the stress upon the out-breath, and its impulse from the belly rather than the chest. This has the effect of shifting the body’s center of gravity to the abdomen so that the whole posture has a sense of firmness, of being part of the ground upon which one is sitting. The slow, easy breathing from the belly works upon the consciousness like bellows, and gives it a still, bright clarity. The beginner is advised to accustom himself to the stillness by doing nothing more than counting his breaths from one to ten, over and over again, until the sensation of sitting without comment becomes effortless and natural.

Without looking forward to tomorrow every moment, you must think only of this day and this hour. Because tomorrow is difficult and unfixed and difficult to know, you must think of following the Buddhist way while you live today. . . . You must concentrate on Zen practice without wasting time, thinking that there is only this day and this hour. After that it becomes truly easy. You must forget about the good and bad of your nature, the strength or weakness of your power.

To the normal Asian concept of the master-pupil relationship, Zen adds something of its own in the sense that it leaves the formation of the relationship entirely to the initiative of the pupil. The basic position of Zen is that it has nothing to say, nothing to teach. The truth of Buddhism is so self-evident, so obvious that it is, if anything, concealed by explaining it. Therefore the master does not “help” the student in any way, since helping would actually be hindering. On the contrary, he goes out of his way to put obstacles and barriers in the student’s path.