“The history of Chinese Zen raises one problem of great fascination. Both Rinzai and Soto Zen as we find them in Japanese monasteries today put enormous emphasis on za-zen or sitting meditation . . . We have already mentioned the incident between Ma-tsu and Huai-jang, in which the latter compared sitting in meditation to polishing a tile for a mirror. On another occasion Huai-Jang said:
To train yourself in sitting meditation [za-zen] is to train yourself to be a sitting Buddha. If you train yourself in za-zen, (you should know that) Zen is neither sitting nor lying. If you train yourself to be a sitting Buddha, (you should know that) the Buddha is not a fixed form. Since the Dharma has no (fixed) abode, it is not a matter of making choices. If you (make yourself) a sitting Buddha this is precisely killing the Buddha. If you adhere to the sitting position, you will not attain the principle (of Zen).
This seems to be the consistent doctrine of all the T’ang masters from Hui-neng to Lin-chi. Nowhere in their teachings have I been able to find any instruction in or recommendation of the type of za-zen which is today the principal occupation of Zen monks. On the contrary, the practice is discussed time after time in the apparently negative fashion of the two quotations just cited . . . Perhaps, then, the exaggeration of za-zen in later times is part and parcel of the conversion of the Zen monastery into a boys’ training school. To have them sit still for hours on end under the watchful eyes of monitors with sticks is certainly a sure method of keeping them out of mischief.”
From The Way of Zen, by Alan Watts
Zen is a collection of practices and teachings that help us remember who we really are and how we naturally fit into the infinitely complex and miraculously simple web of existence. Zen aims to do this, as its very name implies, through the practice of meditation. And though it can be any activity, we have, by and large, come to think of meditation almost exclusively as a seated practice (aided, no doubt, by the Japanese addition of the prefix za-, meaning seated or sitting.) In this way, we limit ourselves. Learning to be a sitting Buddha is only useful to the extent that it helps us to become a walking Buddha, an eating Buddha, a sleeping Buddha, and so on and on to everything that we do. If we never move beyond the sitting, we are as children that have never learned to walk, even convincing ourselves that walking is unnecessary – “there is only sitting”.
Why would we do this to ourselves? Is it ignorance? Is it a method of control? Is Alan Watts right – are we merely wayward children that can do no more than hope to be kept out of mischief?