The purpose of sitting zazen is to think of nothing. It is to sit, while all the thoughts that are in your head bubble to the surface, but to not latch on to any of them. "Thinking not thinking" is what I've heard it called. Think it's easy to think of nothing? Think again. First of all - it's hard just to sit still. Take me for example. I'm a leg swinger and an arm twitcher. If you want to sit zazen you first have to physically sit still. Then you have to mentally sit still. Try it. Try thinking of nothing. At best I might have a second when there's nothing but most of the time it's just me trying to chase thoughts out of my head as they come along.
But that's not what even what I want to talk about really.
When you join the sangha there's sitting zazen, but there's also the dharma talk. During the dharma talk members of the sangha might read from an assigned book - or the teacher might read, tell a story, explain a concept - or do all three. The idea for the students, again, is to listen without latching on to one single idea at the expense of all the others. Maybe it's just me but I find this so hard to do. I can listen up to a point, either the point when I find something in the words that I can agree with or relate to - or the point when I become completely confused by the concept being presented. What happens next is that I go off on some tangent in my head where I relate some thought or event to the idea that was just presented, thereby tuning out what going on in the present - namely the rest of the talk. Or I loose focus altogether because I don't understand, "did she just compare a problem to a grapefruit? How is a problem like a grapefruit? I hate grapefruit." And so on.
Think about when you've listened to speakers in the past. Maybe it was in a school situation and there was a text book to follow along with or there were notes to take. It's not often that we simply sit still and listen - to ourselves or to someone else.
Sometimes I wonder if the point of the dharma talk isn't so much to get me to understand Buddhism as it is to simply get me to pay attention to something in its entirety. It's the opposite of multi-tasking and yet we think of multi-tasking as difficult when in reality just the opposite is true. Doing many things at once is easy. Doing only one is hard.
song: Just Breathe • artist: Willie Nelson