|Publisher:||University of California Press|
|Edition description:||First Edition, New edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Selected Works of D. T. Suzuki, Volume I
By Richard M. Jaffe
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESSCopyright © 2015 The Buddhist Society Trust as agent for the Matsugaoka Library Foundation; and Richard Jaffe
All rights reserved.
A Recommendation for Quiet Sitting
"A Recommendation for Quiet Sitting" (Seiza no susume) was published in 1900 by Koyukan, a Buddhist publication house. The work was published while Suzuki was residing in LaSalle, Illinois, and Chicago, working with Paul Carus on The Monist magazine and translations of Buddhist and classical Chinese texts. Although listed as a coeditor of the work with his Zen teacher, Shaku Soen, the 1908 edition of the work, Hyoshaku seiza no susume, which was annotated by one of Soen's clerical disciples, Seigo Hogaku, makes clear that the idea to promote quiet sitting to improve the moral character of Japanese youth was Soen's, but the text was written by Suzuki.
"A Recommendation for Quiet Sitting" is a fine example of Suzuki's early writings on religion and Buddhism in which he strove to harmonize Buddhism and science, a position that can be seen in this essay and in "New Interpretation of Religion" (Shin shukyo ron, 1896), in which he argued that through science the beauty of religion, including Buddhism, would be revealed. This essay was written against the backdrop of widespread concern in Japan that the character of the nation's youth had declined during the Meiji era (1868–1912) and in the context of the widespread promotion of seiza (quiet sitting) as a means for personal cultivation by a variety of religious denominations. As is clear in the article, for Suzuki the best method of quiet sitting was zazen practice. Through this simple sitting practice, Suzuki argues, the youth of Japan will obtain emotional stability and moral clarity. In the essay, Suzuki bases his argument in favor of zazen practice on the then important theory of emotion, still known as the James-Lange theory of emotion, that was put forth independently by William James in an 1884 essay, "What Is an Emotion?," and the following year by the Danish psychologist Carl Lange. According to the James-Lange theory, the physical changes that were commonly believed to be the result of an emotion were rather the emotion itself, or, as James famously wrote in his essay, "we feel sorry because we cry, angry because we strike, afraid because we tremble." By controlling our response to these physiological changes, Suzuki argues, "one obtains composure of mind."
Koyukan reissued "A Recommendation for Quiet Sitting" eleven times between 1900 and 1939, with slight variations between the editions with regard to ancillary material surrounding the main text, for example, verses, notes, and images. The text also was serialized in a variety of Japanese journals in 1900, under the variant title, "Hinsei shuyoho to shite zazen kufu o seinen shoshi ni susumu" (Promoting Zazen Practice to Young People as a Method for Cultivating Character). This English translation of the work is based on the version contained in the Suzuki Daisetsu zenshu (SDZ 18:391–404). All footnotes in this essay are by the editor (RMJ) of this volume.
* * *
In recent days the character of our Japanese youth has become noticeably depraved. It is truly at the limit of the lamentable that it has reached the point where not even a trace of the visage of the feudal warriors of old can be recognized in them. Consequently, those of clear intentions aim to create a path to rescue [the youth] based on the power of religion, or the revival of the morality of Confucius and Mencius from former days, or ethical theories that have been tempered by the iron hammer of recent science, or through the distinctive Japanese love of country that has been tempered by and compounded with Western-style nationalism. In truth, there is no doubt that preventing the current decay of the youth and cultivating healthy character are of the greatest urgency. Therefore, we will also express our own opinion a bit and beg for the sage advice of those wiser than us about this matter.
We, however, are not going to attempt to compare various theories here, nor will we try to critique various opinions concerning the means for preventing the corruption of the youth, because these opinions mostly appeal to the youthful intellect or promote the regard for social obligation and the working of the discriminative faculty to cultivate the power [to make] discernments concerning law and justice. For this reason, as methods for preventing the overflowing of the passions, they do not teach solid practices (kufu) that [work on] the individual level. If this practice is lacking, no matter the amount of extremely subtle theorizing or minutely detailed study, the benefits for character building will be few. Therefore, we do not take the sort of circuitous path that controls reasoning using reasoning but straightaway describe a familiar, actual method of practice in the hope that young people will trouble themselves a bit to take heed of it.
The practice most appropriate for character building we believe is the zazen practice (zazen kufu) of the Zen denomination (Zenshu). For the most part, for the youth of education and discrimination, there is no better method for character building. We do not advance this argument in self-interest; it is rather a plan arrived at after deeply considering the state of learning and intelligence in our nation's youth. We will demonstrate that [this method] has actual benefit. When we mention zazen practice, there are those who will conjure up Zen clerics sequestered in the mountains, working on [koan like] "what is your original face?" However, the "zazen practice" we speak of does not have such a specialized meaning. First of all, take the case of an aspiring young student, one who is boarding in a tiny second-floor room in Hongo district [near Tokyo University]. He may decide to put his room in order, light a stick of incense, and, based on the principles set forth in the Zazengi, sit there quietly (seiza) for a half-hour or an hour. But if he just sits there vacantly, swarms of deluded thoughts and passions (bonno) arise and he cannot continue quiet sitting for even ten minutes, unless he has a koan-like subject to work on. However, most people, being neither philosophers nor religionists, can avoid the Zen school's koans, which it describes as "biting into raw iron." Instead, according to their personal taste, be it for the Bible's Golden Rule, the splendid words of the Analects, or, again, the principles of utilitarianism (korikyo), the expositions of the Stoics, or whatever, they should seize upon a phrase appropriate to building their character and focus all their powers of attention, examining it deeply in every possible way, from side to side and top to bottom. Additionally, the focusing of one's attention on this [phrase] must never be done in the head. This is the foremost matter of vital importance. To those who have a smattering of the theories of recent psychology and physiology, it is [common to say things like] because all mental function arises from within the cranium, when practicing zazen, it is natural to exert the brain—but there is no bigger fallacy than this. Recent theory does not accept the notion that gives disproportionate emphasis to the brain, that is, it does not say that we think with our head, but states [instead] that we think with our whole body. Therefore, you should be aware that when we practice zazen, not only do the cells in the gray matter in the cranium undergo chemical transformations, but the whole body's muscular mechanism, and so on, also all expend some energy. Whatever the academicians may say on this subject aside, when one constantly focuses all one's attention in the brain alone, incurable afflictions of the brain will arise; moreover, even if they do not have consumption, the strong and harmful influence of various nervous afflictions will result in them, naturally creating a variety of illnesses.
Therefore, when practicing zazen, put the force of one's whole body in the abdomen, and it is essential that the lungs and heart function fully. Your backbone should be like an iron pillar rising up to the heavens, your abdomen thrust out as immovably as Mount Tai. When all of the mind's functioning takes place in the lower abdomen, we know it is something at the beck and call of our will. In this way, when we place the practice [in our abdomen] stably, inside our chest naturally becomes expansive without even the smallest place of obstruction. Those who are cowardly become bold, those whose minds are filled with stress obtain leisure, those who are impetuous and lacking in patience obtain an interest in freedom from worldly cares, those who cannot overcome immediate desires cultivate the virtues of prudence and affability, and so on. The depth and profundity of this [practice] must be grasped by each individual; then one will understand this explanation.
Zen study does not only take zazen practice as its main activity; therefore its koan are not chosen from such things as the Bible's Golden Rule or the hypotheses of science that easily give rise to associative thought. Rather, they take up problems that seem like riddles. The sound of one hand clapping. What is your original face? They rain down upon the practitioner like blows from a hammer striking his head. This is because superficial mental functions that float around and around on the surface—discrimination, memory, and associative thoughts—with one kick are tripped up, forcing one to penetrate to the great origin of one's self. However, because, for ordinary youth who are practicing zazen in order to cultivate moral character, zazen practice itself is the immediate purpose, the sort of koan used in Zen study probably would instead cause mental anguish to increase. Therefore, we stated previously that whatever phrase appropriate for the development of one's character one takes up, if one earnestly strives to reach that landmark, it would be sufficient. If we speak from the position of a Zen practitioner, drowning in the realm of diverse moral discriminations is unpleasant; the number one practice is to face the true meaning of the existence of the self, for when one reaches the point where he has no place at all to lay a hand or foot, and he dies and is reborn, then, for the first time, one experiences being back and peacefully settled in one's native place, and one values the new and vital life based on zazen practice that arises from this. But only a person of superior roots in the Great Vehicle, that is, one rich in religious spirit, can reach that point. Not just any person can aspire to this, much as not everyone is able to be a scientist or captain of industry. However, because every person wants to maintain the majestic dignity of building one's character, we promote for everyone the zazen practice of the Zen specialist and desire for it to become a practical method for the cultivation of moral character. In Christianity there is silent prayer; in Neo-Confucianism there is "quiet sitting" (seiza); in addition, Indian yoga masters practice fasting and purification. For the most part, in every religion there are spiritual practices for training its adherents. However, these training methods have a special meaning and corresponding efficacy for that religion's believers; it is not a practical method for building character for ordinary nonadherents. However, the practice of the Zen specialist sitting full-lotus, placing one's power in the abdomen, and restricting attention to a single place, apart from its religious import, psychologically, biologically has a striking efficacy for benefiting ordinary people. It seems outrageous to state that regulating breathing, putting one's power in the lower abdomen, holding the spinal column erect, and so on, based on this kind of practice, which resembles child's play, will cultivate a person's character. We beg to explain generally in the following [sections] the reason why this is not the case.
When one makes an effort to place one's power in one's lower abdomen and gather the whole body's attention, then one's volitional attention greatly is increased. When all of one's mental function arises in the head, the hands are placed on the brow, and the neck is inclined in thought, all of the blood in the body gathers in the upper part of the body, [and] ultimately one cannot prevent a headache from arising. Therefore, doing [things] like making the head clear and thinking continuously one particular thought in this way is by no means something of which the nervous are capable. By contrast, when one assumes the full-lotus posture, holding the spinal column erect, placing one's power in the lower abdomen, the functioning of the lungs and the heart is provided ample room, and when one's breathing is quietly methodical, the blood of the whole body obtains ample oxygen, not only circulating unfettered from the head to the feet, but all the muscles also obtain proper stimulation, and the power of attention can work at its maximum level of strength. In this way, when one time, and then another time, and so on one quickens the spirit to the full, one clearly becomes conscious of a gradual increase in mental power. This is something to which all of the ancient zazen practitioners can attest. However, we have two types of attentiveness, involuntary and voluntary. Involuntary attention is not important as far as the education of the individual is concerned. From elementary school to the university, teachers, in using all their energy to nurture students, actually attempt to increase voluntary attention. It is not a distortion to say that the secret for success of great scientists, great inventors, great captains of industry, and so on is in almost every case due to great power of voluntary attention. When one rejects all external, extraneous stimuli and sensations and focuses the mind at a single point, one understands the words and ample experience of the ancient who declared that "there is nothing under the sun that one cannot understand." At this point, although we will not cite numerous actual examples, we believe this principle is extremely clear.
Thus, when the power of voluntary attention gradually increases, the brain is always lucid and imminent [matters of] profit and loss lose their captivating power. It goes without saying that voluntary attention is powerful in the intellectual realm, so it can easily be understood how extremely efficacious it is for the cultivation of moral character. [This is] because increasing the power of voluntary attention amounts to increasing mental function as a whole and increased mental function as a whole directly becomes the foundation of our character.
When, through the method of zazen practice, one places power in one's lower abdomen, causing the lungs and heart to function fully, the timid become daring, the impetuous become tolerant, those who are chased by momentary desires without thought of past or future are able to cooly withdraw from the swarm of desires, world-abnegating ones who worry about trifling matters and cheerlessly take no pleasure give rise to courage and become cheerful. That this is something that has been personally realized and attested to since ancient times by those who have devoted themselves to zazen there is not the slightest doubt, but for the sake of the today's youths who have become enthralled with the logic of theoretical argument, it will be necessary to expound on the complications at some length.
Excerpted from Selected Works of D. T. Suzuki, Volume I by Richard M. Jaffe. Copyright © 2015 The Buddhist Society Trust as agent for the Matsugaoka Library Foundation; and Richard Jaffe. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.