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The principles of Zen sitting, Fukan zazen-gi #Nishijima/ Chodo translation

Updated: Dec 21, 2023

Master Dogen's Fukan-zazengi rufubon(the popular edition).

Translated by Gudo Nishijima & Chodo Cross, New Year 2003.

The Standard of Sitting-Dhyana Recommended for Everyone

Written by a sramana who went into Sung China and received the Dharma, Dogen

Now, when we research it, the truth originally is all around: why rely upon practice and experience? The fundamental vehicle exists naturally: where is the need to expend effort? Furthermore, the whole body far transcends dust and dirt: who could believe in the means of sweeping and polishing? In general, we never depart from this, the place we should be: of what use, then, are the tip-toes of training?

However, if there is a thousandth or a hundredth of a gap, the separation is as great as that between heaven and earth; and if a trace of disagreement arises, we lose the mind in confusion. Remember, successive kalpas of turning of the wheel stem from one intellectual worry. Deluded ways of the secular world, again, derive from the restlessness of the intellect. If you want to go beyond the ultimate state of ascendance, just resolve the direct experience of reality here and now.

We may be proud of our understanding and richly endowed with realizations; we may have obtained special states of insight, attained the truth, and clarified the mind; we may manifest spirits high enough to pierce the sky, and yet, even with the ability to put the head in, still lack the path of getting the body out.

Moreover, traces remain of the innate sage, Old Lord Sakyamuni, having practiced upright sitting for six years. Again, vestiges remain of the transmitter of the mind-seal, Great Master Bodhidharma, facing the wall for nine years. The ancient saints were like that already: how could people today fail to practice whole-heartedly?

So retreat from the intellectual work of studying sayings and chasing words. Take the backward step of turning light and reflecting. Body and mind drop off naturally, and the original face appears. If we want to get the state like this, we should urgently practice sitting-dhyana.

In general, a quiet room is good for practicing dhyana, and food and drink are taken in moderation. Just abandon all involvements. Give the myriad things a rest. Don't think of good and bad. Do not care about right and wrong. Stop the driving movement of mind, will, consciousness. Cease intellectual consideration through images, thoughts, and reflections.

When we practice upright sitting, we spread a thick mat, on top of which we use a round cushion. After that, we sit in the full lotus posture or sit in the half lotus posture. To sit in the full lotus posture, first put the right foot on the left thigh, then put the left foot on the right thigh. To sit in the half lotus posture, just press the left foot onto the right thigh.

Let clothing hang loosely and make it neat. Then place the right hand over the left foot, and place the left hand over the right palm. The two thumbs meet and support each other.

Just sit upright, not leaning to the left, inclining to the right,slouching forward or arching backward. It is vital to align the ears in opposition with the shoulders, and to align the nose in opposition with the navel. Let the tongue spread against the roof of the mouth. Let the lips and teeth each come together. The eyes should be kept open. Once the bodily posture is balanced, let the breath also be regulated.

When something arises in the mind, just wake up. Wake up and it will vanish. Forgetting involvements indefinitely, naturally become one piece. This is the secret of sitting-dhyana.

What has been called "sitting-dhyana" [Zazen] is just the great peaceful and effortless gate of Dharma. If we have grasped this meaning, the four elements are naturally light and at ease, the spirit is quick, true consciousness is distinct and clear, the taste of Dharma soothes the soul, quietness is pure joy, and daily use is natural and true. Those who have truly realized this can be said to be like a dragon that has found water, or like a tiger before a mountain stronghold. Remember, when true consciousness is manifest, how can darkness and distraction intervene?

If we rise from sitting, we should move the body slowly. Rise with calm confidence. We should not be hurried or violent. At all times guard and maintain the power of the balanced state.

In investigating this state, we have cleared the top of the barrier: there is originally nothing upon which to rely. In experiencing this state and throwing it away, we are restricted by the self: so there is no standing still. Just now, it is the truth's total realization. Truly, the balanced state of dhyana is the single highest and most excellent gate. First attempts, relying on understanding that was a hundred per cent, and the subsequent move into experience, which is a concrete one or a half, exist only within this principle.

In cases of twirling a flower and a face breaking into a smile, or of performing prostrations and getting the marrow, the benevolent influence of the aforementioned state was always received and great freedom was thereby acquired. How could bodhisattvas who are learning prajna fail to acquiesce?

We see in the past that those who transcended the ordinary and transcended the sacred invariably relied on quiet circumstances; and those who died while sitting or died while standing had entrusted themselves thoroughly to the power of the balanced state. Moreover, changing the moment with a finger, a pole, a needle or a wooden clapper, and exact experience of the state in a whisk, a fist, a staff or a shout, could never be understood by thinking and discrimination. How could they be known through mystical powers or practice and experience? They may have been dignified behaviour beyond sound and form. How could they have been anything other than criteria that preceded knowing and seeing?

Therefore, we do not discuss intelligence as superior and stupidity as inferior. Do not choose between being a clever person and a dull one. Abandoning the six sense organs, see and activate the whole of the truth. Without having a single idea, sit away the ten directions.

In general, whether in this world or in other directions, the Buddha's teaching is originally without any other teaching. In the Western Heavens [of India] and the Eastern Lands [of China], though the lineage of the Ancestor [Bodhidharma] ultimately sprouted into five lineages, all similarly maintained the Buddha's posture, and everyone indulged freely in the fundamental custom. They devoted themselves solely to that which is transmitted one-to-one and indicated directly; they made the matter of performing a somersault, of turning the head, into their sole task.

Although there are a thousand differences and myriad distinctions, we should simply enjoy the process of coming back, the happy experience. Why should we neglect our own sitting platform to come and go without purpose through the dusty borders of foreign lands? If we misplace one step we pass over the moment of the present. Having already received the intelligence which is a human body, do not pass time in vain. Being ever mindful of conduct here and now in the Buddha's truth, who could wish idly to enjoy sparks [that fly] from flint? What is more, the body is like a dew-drop on a blade of grass. Life passes like a flash of lightning. Suddenly it is gone. In an instant it is lost.

I beseech you, noble friends in learning through experience, do not become so accustomed to images that you are dismayed by the real dragon. Guide yourself quickly onto the true path which is directly indicated and straightforward. Swiftly become a true human being, one who is beyond study and free of the intention to achieve. Obey the rules of Hyakujo exactly, and familiarize yourself with the situation of Shaolin pervasively. Do not labour in winds that sweep the ears! Why be disconcerted by the reverberations of a tongue? Just open well the treasure-house of the self, and receive and use [its contents] as you like.


Written on Chugen [July 15th] in the first year of the Tenpuku Era [1227] at Kannon-dori-in temple.


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