The Aim of Zen


Ruth Fuller Sasaki


From time to time, even dedicated practitioners of zazen may lose sight of the aim of their practice. Here is advice from Ruth Fuller Sasaki (1892-1967), a Rinzai Zen priest who established the First Zen Institute of America in Japan.

The aim of Zen is first of all awakening, awakening to our true self. With this awakening to our true self comes emancipation from our small self or personal ego. When this emancipation from the personal ego is finally complete, then we know the freedom spoken of in Zen and so widely misconstrued by those who take the name for the experience. Of course, as long as this human frame hangs together and we exist as one manifested form in the world of forms, we carry on what appears to be an individual existence as an individual ego. But no longer is that ego in control with its likes and dislikes, its characteristics and its foibles. The True Self, which from the beginning we have always been, has at last become the master. Freely the True Self uses this individual form and this individual ego as it will. With no resistance and no hindrance it uses them in all the activities of everyday life, whatever they are and wherever they may be. This is true self-mastery; this is true freedom; and this only is truly living. Now have the long years of Zen study and practice come into full flower.

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Isabel Stirling, Zen Pioneer: The Life & Works of Ruth Fuller Sasaki (Shoemaker and Hoard, 2006), 178