Katsuki Sekida's Four Types of Samadhi: #4 Neither Man nor Circumstances are Deprived


So far we've looked at three types of samadhi, or states of mind developed through Zen.  Sekida's fourth type of samadhi is "neither man nor circumstances are deprived."

(1) Man is deprived; circumstances are not deprived.
(2) Circumstances are deprived; man is not deprived.
(3) Both man and circumstances are deprived. 
(4) Neither man nor circumstances are deprived.  

As we have seen, "man," as Sekida defines it, is "that certain self-ruling power (which) dominates the mind. This spiritual power is the ultimate thing we can reach in the innermost part of our existence."  This "man" is what is developed through zazen meditation.  

In the first form of samadhi, "man" is absent (although he is ready to make his appearance when needed), and one is wholly absorbed is outward events.  This state of samadhi is the surgeon immersed in his operation, the basketball player immersed in the game, the pianist immersed in the performance.  As far as I can tell, it is what Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi calls "flow."

In the second form of samadhi, experienced during zen meditation, "man" is present, but circumstances are not.  The picture is of one completely absorbed in inward meditation as practiced in the zen tradition.

In the third form of samadhi, one enters into an even deeper state of meditation in which all self-reflective consciousness (i.e. "I know I'm meditating") ceases.  This is a rare state according to Sekida, and seems to be simply an intensification of the second form of samadhi.

Finally, we come to Sekida's fourth form of samadhi, in which both man and circumstances are present.  Here's how he speaks of this type samadhi:

"This category, 'neither man nor circumstances are deprived,' is the condition attained in the Zen student's maturity.  He goes into the actual world of routine and lets his mind work with no hindrance, never losing the 'man' he has established in his absolute samadhi.  If we accept that there is an object in Zen practice, then it is this freedom of mind in actual living. 

To put it another way: when you are mature in practicing absolute samadhi, returning to ordinary daily life you spontaneously combine in yourself the first and third categories.  You are active in positive samadhi and at the same time you are firmly rooted in jishu-zammai – the self-mastery of absolute samadhi.  This is 'neither man nor circumstances are deprived,' the highest condition of Zen maturity.  True positive samadhi achieved through Zen practice ultimately resolved into this fourth category.  

A man may practice zazen and make certain progress in absolute samadhi and be successful in establishing the 'man' within himself.  Then a new problem will arise, that of how he can exercise this man in his actual life in the busy world.  When sitting on a cushion doing zazen he can attain samadhi and experience the man, and can realize that the man is really his absolute self.  But when he comes out into his daily routine and eats, talks, and is active in his business, he often finds he has lost the inner man.  He wonders how he can manage to maintain the man in himself in his daily life...

In short, the student who is puzzled how to retain the inner man in his daily life – who wonders how he can embody Mu in himself in his actual life – is striving for the condition in which both the inner man and the outward concerns – man and circumstances – are not deprived but are freely in action.  In the first category man was inactive; in the fourth category man has returned to the front line.  One who has attained maturity in Zen can behave freely and does not violate the sacred law: both man and circumstances are in vigorous activity and there is no hindrance.  Only maturity in Zen will secure this condition – the ultimate aim of Zen practice."


This feeling that one is absorbed in the content of daily life, and is, at the same time, being directed by the "inner man" is, according to Sekida, the aim of Zen practice.

The way he describes this form of samadhi is very similar to the language of working with an "Inner Observer" or "doubled awareness" in other traditions.  This reality has been described as being aware of the contents of consciousness and the field of consciousness at the same time.  In Centering Prayer, it might be spoken of as being fully present to God and the present moment circumstance at the same time.  Drawing parallels between traditions is sometimes dangerous and fails to respect the uniqueness of each tradition, but the parallel here jumps out at me.  As I mentioned in the first post of this series, when describing types of samadhi, Sekida almost seems to be describing my own experience of Centering Prayer, just with different terminology.

This will be the last post of this series.  I highly recommend Sekida's Zen Training as an accessible introduction to Zen.  It's important to note that it is an introduction from only one persons's perspective; and different authors from the Zen tradition often describe it in very different ways.