In meditation, one can sit with eyes closed or open. In our practice, we meditate with eyes open and relaxed. (This is much in accord with how Bodhidharma sat: Zen master Omori Sogen in his book Introduction to Zen Training notes, “Even when we look at pictures of Bodhidharma we find his eyes are wide open – there is not a single picture showing him with closed eyes.”)
Omori Rotaishi says that in addition to not falling asleep during zazen, there is a “significant reason” for students to keep their eyes open when learning to meditate, and it has to do with being “useful to society”: This way of meditating cultivates in you the “concentration power of zazen [that enables] you to walk through a place as busy as downtown Tokyo as if you were walking alone through an uninhabited desert.”
This concentration is samadhi, the state of total relaxed concentration in which, for instance, when you see the color red you totally and instantly become that color. No separation.
He also points out that in samadhi your mind is quiet but not stagnant. Rather, your mind is vibrant and full of life. Zen training teaches you how to cultivate this mind.
Through Zen training, you learn how to be quiet even though life around you may be tumultuous. Thus, it doesn’t matter whether you are hiking alone on a mountain trail or navigating a luggage cart through a pre-pandemic airport terminal on the heaviest holiday travel day.
Remarkably, through that connection of your breath, your mind and your body as one, all of you remains tranquil yet alive with energy – when walking through those busy streets of Tokyo. Or through the chaos of your daily life.
Thanks to diligent Zen training, your mind is quiet, and your body is quiet – even as you are moving through the world.