an empty room with no doors

This lovely piece over at Lion’s Roar got me thinking about the zazen mind.

Early in my practice, I was perhaps a bit too preoccupied with the idea of emptiness. Or, perhaps, the wrong idea of emptiness.

My teacher likened zazen to sitting under an overpass, allowing thoughts to come and go like the cars overhead. This is still a useful teaching to me. But still, I thought the truly still, empty mind was a thing to strive for. Subconsciously, I ushered thoughts away and locked the door behind them.

But the zazen mind is not like a hermetically sealed room. It is not inert. It is not artificially empty – or forced empty. Rather, it’s like an empty room with open doorways. I am in the room, and others are welcome to come and go. But because there are no distractions, or soft furnishings, or refreshments, there’s no particular reason for them to stay. They leave soon enough of their own accord.

Lately I’ve even come to enjoy the sensation of a thought arising, because I know, when it leaves, there will be a natural effortless emptiness behind it.

The zazen mind isn’t just the empty bits. It’s the comings and the goings, and the quiet bits in between. But it’s in the quiet bits that, sometimes, the walls of the room disappear, and there is just an empty everything – with open doorways.