When we just sit and concentrate on our posture, we come back to the present moment –naturally, without having to check if it is satori or not. People always check and compare, but true satori is where there is no need to compare - so everyone has it even before thinking about it. Once you are one with reality, you are perfectly happy and perfectly open and true. Everyone is like that essentially, but most people prefer ideas to experience, ideals to real experience. People think that zazen is a tool to get them somewhere where they have not been yet, but zazen is exactly the place where you are here and now and will never ever get us anywhere else.
Authentic teachers practice zazen not as something special or added to their already complete human experience, but as something that is their complete human experience. Zazen for them is not something they used to do to become enlightened, nor something that is shown to others like a statue or a picture. To them, zazen is reality itself, the truth itself and in it they are not separate from others, nor separate from the present moment. In zazen they express what is real and let go of foolish ideas.
People look for answers in all kinds of books, but the answer they are looking for is their own experience here and now. There is no other answer. There are lots of specific answers, but the ultimate question and the ultimate answer is expressed in our human experience here at this moment. To study Buddhism as literature is really important. To study Buddha’s teaching is really important. To study Dogen is really important. But the more we understand this teaching, the more emphasis we put on our every day life.
Most people can’t find satisfaction being themselves here and now, so they imitate other people and compare themselves to others. They want to be wiser, more experienced or more successful. They count the number of their kenshos and number of their disciples. Or they count the number of years they spent never attaining enlightenment. “I have been practicing for 20 years and still don’t understand anything.” It is pitiful, because these people carry the key to their true self all the time, never bothering to use it. It is as if they were saying: “I am not I! As I am not myself, what am I supposed to do?” I would say: “Don’t believe that you are your ideas.” People identify themselves with foolish ideas. They say: “I am not enlightened.” These people believe they are actually NOT enlightened, as if it was not an empty, useless idea. Other people believe they ARE enlightened, again, confusing silly ideas with reality. It is difficult to realize that our ideas, no matter how great or stupid, are not our true self. Descartes said: I think, thus I am. But Buddha might comment: I am, although I think. In other words, despite innumerable silly thoughts that occur in our minds, we are essentially living Buddhas. We do what we are, no matter if we realize it or not. We really are what we are, despite our silly ideas that we call “I”.
Somebody asked: Is there or isn't there a point in Soto Zen where you don't need to practice Zazen anymore?
My answer is: Is there or isn't there a point in our life where you don't need to be yourself anymore?
Of course, zazen does make a difference to what is going on in our foolish mind. But it does not make a difference to the essence. That is why Dogen taught that zazen is satori. Because sitting here and now is not different from being a real person. When we are foolish after zazen, we are still a real person - we just can't appreciate it. So our problem is not that we are not enlightened. Our problem is that we can't appreciate the reality of our own existence; hence we don't appreciate our own buddhahood. What is going on now? The washing machine is doing its job without expecting me to say, “You are great!”