We don't do this practice expecting to obtain something by doing it. This is a very different kind of action. In one sense, it's quitting human business and going to the other side of the human realm.
Have you noticed your face changing, moment after moment, when you are facing the wall? When you pay attention to exactly how you feel, you feel how it changes. It is such a slight change that no one would notice if someone observed you. It's like one flame of fire is sitting on the cushion. Every moment the texture of the flame is different. You experience this from morning zazen to night zazen. In every sitting there's a very different feeling. Each breath, all is different.
We experience some kind of dying in sitting, which relates with what's true and what's not true. What's not true dies, so we suffer. We wish to hang on to the self which we believe exists. The contents of what "I" means, or the pieces of the idea of the self, are consistent, but when you sit you observe no substance in those pieces of self.
If we try to achieve some awakening or enlightenment, it doesn't succeed. We hear that sitting is to clarify the true nature of the self, but it seems nothing is clarified, nothing happens. You just spend the time and have lots of pain and a stumbling mind. If you sit all day you have a good sitting once or twice, but when you compare the good sitting with the rest, you have a very regretful mind. "What was I doing? Drowsy, powerless sitting."
Doubt arises in this. What is it? Is this alright? Are you okay? Your mind is in a different place than sitting. I wish you would sit alone sometime for several days. If you sit alone, although there are many dangerous situations to fall into, you feel you can clarify your right intention, your strict attitude about taking care of yourself. If we sit together like this you think, "Because other people sit, this might be alright! This must be the way!" If something more important than your concern about yourself occurs, of course you quit sitting and plunge into taking care of that. Actually, for each of us, the opportunity of sitting is the same as sitting alone.
Student: For years I always preferred to sit by myself, and every time I had to sit with a group, it was always more difficult. I had problems I didn't have by myself.
Kobun Chino Roshi: The difficulty wasn't sitting together; the difficulty was yourself! Wanting to be alone is impossible. When you become really alone you notice you are not alone. In other words, we stop our vigorous efforts towards ideal purity. Purity is just a process. After purity, dry simplicity comes, where almost no more life is there, and your sensation is that you are not existing anymore. Still, you are existing there. You flip into the other side of nothing, where you discover everybody is waiting for you. Before that, you are living together like that -- day, sun, moon, stars and food, everything is helping you -- but you are all blocked off, a closed system. You just see things from inside toward the outside, and act with incredible, systematic, logical dynamics, and you think everything is alright. When noise, or chaotic situations come, you want to leave that situation to be alone. But there is no such aloneness!
It is very important to experience the complete negation of yourself, which brings you to the other side of nothing. People experience that in many ways. You go to the other side of nothing, and you are held by the hand of the absolute. You see yourself as part of the absolute, so you have no more insistance of Self as yourself. You can speak of Self as no-self upon the absolute. Only real existence is absolute.
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