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Thread: What's wrong with Spacing out?

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  1. #1

    What's wrong with Spacing out?

    What I found is that most types of meditation practices (including some styles of shikantaza) teach you to focus on an object giving the reason that without an object you might space out (get lost in thoughts). I have been pondering this question for quite sometime. What’s wrong with spacing out? Who knows that you are not “still progressing” (I understand progress is a banned word but you get what I mean) when you are spaced out during your meditation?

    I find that having an object or any kind of toys goes against the basic principles of shikantaza: Just Sitting. No manipulation. Sitting with whatever arises, however it is, letting it all be. Wanting to be nowhere else other than here. Letting go of the meditator, the one who is trying to do it right, the one who is trying to control the experience. Trust that there is nowhere to go, nothing needs change.

    When I just sit doing nothing, all these aspects can easily be manifested. I’m adding nothing. But when I try to take on an object or add anything else, I feel it is no more shikantaza. The addition can be something as concrete as following breath to something subtle like posture/open awareness/sitting-with-faith etc…

    If I add anything else (my favourite being open awareness to nothing and everything as Jundo suggests) I am definitely more aware, more present. But I no longer feel I am not manipulating anymore. I no longer feel there is nowhere to go or nothing needs change. I no longer can let go of the meditator (the meditator is very active). I no longer feel Zazen is useless. lol. To really feel Zazen is useless, I have to sit doing nothing. Just Sit and add nothing. No toys. Then definitely it feels useless. I’m not doing anything. How can I expect it to add anything to me? A Perfectly hopeless practice.

    Thoughts Welcome

    - Sam

  2. #2
    Senior Member Heion's Avatar
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    As I am not an experienced Zen instructor, I can not say much, but my opinion on spacing out being that it allows your mind to do whatever it wants to do. There is no discipline, and you are simply in a la-la land haze.
    I am young and have not been practicing Zazen for long, I believe you are over thinking this. Let go of the boundaries between right sitting and wrong sitting, and just sit. Zazen doesn't 'have to feel useless'. It is Zazen.

    Gassho,
    Alex

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Clarinetist! View Post
    As I am not an experienced Zen instructor, I can not say much, but my opinion on spacing out being that it allows your mind to do whatever it wants to do. There is no discipline, and you are simply in a la-la land haze.
    I am young and have not been practicing Zazen for long, I believe you are over thinking this. Let go of the boundaries between right sitting and wrong sitting, and just sit. Zazen doesn't 'have to feel useless'. It is Zazen.

    Gassho,
    Alex
    Everyone, if I ever take a vacation I am leaving young Alex in charge.

    Yes, as all the folks here have said, Zazen is not "spacing out" ... nor is it "thinking about things". I once wrote ...

    --------------------------------------

    [O]ur “goalless sitting” in Zazen is –not– merely sitting on our butts, self-satisfied, feeling that we “just have to sit here and we are Buddha“. Far from it. It is, instead, to-the-marrow dropping of all need and lack. That is very different. Someone’s “just sitting around” doing nothing, going no where, complacent or resigned, giving up, killing time, is not in any way the same as “Just Sitting” practice wherein nothing need be done, with no where that we can go or need go ...

    ... So, if someone were to think I am saying, “All you need to do in Zazen is sit down on one’s hindquarters, and that’s enough … just twiddle your thumbs in the ‘Cosmic Mudra’ and you are Buddha” then, respectfully, I believe they do not get my point. But if they understand, “There is absolutely no place to be, where one needs to be or elsewhere where one can be, than on that Zafu in that moment, and that moment itself is all complete, all-encompassing, always at home, the total doing of All Life, Time and Space fully realized” … they are closer to the flavor.
    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...%28Part-XIV%29

    -------------------------------------

    Neither too loose, nor too slack. Neither wallowing in thoughts or stirring them up, neither sitting in a spaced out fog. There may be times for all that too (it is all part of Zazen), but when catching ourselves doing so, we let the thoughts go, return to vibrant "Just Sitting".

    In fact, our Zazen does have an "object of focus" (although, as in all forms of Zazen, it is actually an "objectless object", for as we drop thoughts of this and that the hard barriers between subject and object may soften, sometimes even fully drop away). I have written this too ...

    There are many small variations in Shikantaza, teacher to teacher. One has to place and focus (and simultaneously not place/focus) the mind somewhere!

    So, for example, Uchiyama Roshi was a "bring your attention back to the posture" guy. Nishijima Roshi is a "focus on keeping the spine straight" fellow, and there are others who emphasize focusing on the breath or the Hara (also called the "Tanden", the traditional "center of gravity" of the body, and a center of Qi energy in traditional Chinese medicine) ...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dantian

    Master Dogen sometimes recommending resting the mind in the palm of the upturned left hand in Mudra. I sometimes let it rest there for a time if caught up in thoughts.

    ...

    All are forms of Shikantaza ... so long as the objectless nature of sitting is maintained even if focused on an object.

    In fact, all forms of Shikantaza have an "object of meditation", a place to focus or place the mind to build concentration and quiet the thoughts (hopefully to soften the border and pass through "object" and "subject"), while dropping all effort to attain and releasing all judgments. At Treeleaf, ... as our central "objectless" object of meditation, I recommend open, spacious sitting centered on everything and nothing at all ... sitting with open, spacious awareness ... sitting with the whole world but without being lost in trains of thought (which I also sometimes describe as having the mind focused on "no place and everyplace at once"). That open stillness is our "object of concentration". I believe it makes it a bit easier to take this practice off the Zafu and out into the world.
    Last edited by Jundo; 05-15-2013 at 03:09 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  4. #4
    Senior Member Heion's Avatar
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    Haha. Thanks for the warm words and great advice, Jundo.

    Kind regards,
    Alex

  5. #5
    Senior Member Amelia's Avatar
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    The feeling of shikantaza and the feeling of "spacing out" are much different to me. Trance provides more relaxation, but you're not practicing just sitting that way, and I find just sitting to be more stabilizing in the long run.
    迎 Geika

  6. #6
    Senior Member Nameless's Avatar
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    From what I can gather,
    open awareness to nothing and everything
    is the way to go. Spacing out is definitely different then Zazen though, as Alex said. In spacing out, there is no awareness. You just jump from cloud to cloud without bringing your mind back to the blue sky. I'm sure Jundo will weigh in on this soon enough to clear it all up

    Gassho,
    John

  7. #7
    ive noticed when im spacing out that im lost in thought.
    gassho,
    justin

  8. #8
    I can space out a lot. Lol. Isnt zazen more like spacing in?

  9. #9

    No Toys

    Sorry for the confusion guys. My primary point is not that spacing out is okay. The title of the thread should instead have been "No Toys". My primary point is that "adding toys" (adding objects) to shikantaza just to achieve less spacing out is totally missing the point of Shikantaza.

    For me alert sitting with whatever arises is good enough and just enough. True Shikantaza is something that all of us have to figure out within ourselves. But I have a feeling that the essential points of "No manipulation. Non-Judgmental Sitting and Trust that nothing needs change" get compromised by adding any toys/crutches to the practice.

    This practice is also known as a practice of great faith (just like Koans are a practice of great doubt). This faith is not just a belief that we are already enlightened and nothing needs change but also a belief that our practice needs no crutches. If you lose the trust on your practice because of a little spacing out and add those crutches, then I feel it deviates from the basic tenets mentioned above. Not that you cannot get results by following your breath or training your awareness or doing something else but I feel those cannot be called Shikantaza.

    I feel the heart of Dogen's message is to trust our practice and add nothing to it.

    P.S. Of course this doesn't mean I don't use any crutches in my practice. Practically speaking complete trust may not be possible. My main point (for discussion) is that true Shikantaza is about this trust and not adding anything to the practice
    Last edited by shikantazen; 05-15-2013 at 03:35 AM.

  10. #10
    Hi there - this is a question for Jundo.

    I've been reading Thich Nhat Hahn's commentry on the 'sutra on the four establishments of mindfulness' - a translation of the Chinese title Nian Chu - Nian is 'to be mindful of' - Chu means the 'act of dwelling'.


    The commentary is quite detailed and what is required very disciplined - a total focusing on the body within the body, the feelings within the feelings, the mind within the mind, the objects of the mind within the mind - then an awareness of the 5 hindrances and the 5 aggregates of clinging - and a whole lot more that I can't easily summarize.

    I've got two questions really:

    Is Dogen's shikantaza based on the sutra - or does 'dropping off body and mind' preclude what's laid out?

    The second question is - the Mindfulness movement is often dismissed as 'self-help' - relaxation. stress relief. I felt this book was far removed from the self-help literature because it works with the words of buddhist scripture and goes into it in great detail. Is this sutra the basis of all meditation?

    And lastly (a third question ) does the concentration on breath mean that this is a Vipassana practice and therefore different to what is taught here?

    I'm a bit confused by this because after a while the breath concentration becomes natural (no need to 'think' about it) - so is that the point vipassana flows into shikantaza?


    Gassho

    Willow
    Last edited by willow; 05-15-2013 at 09:21 AM.

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by willow View Post
    Hi there - this is a question for Jundo.

    I've been reading Thich Nhat Hahn's commentry on the 'sutra on the four establishments of mindfulness' - a translation of the Chinese title Nian Chu - Nian is 'to be mindful of' - Chu means the 'act of dwelling'.


    The commentary is quite detailed and what is required very disciplined - a total focusing on the body within the body, the feelings within the feelings, the mind within the mind, the objects of the mind within the mind - then an awareness of the 5 hindrances and the 5 aggregates of clinging - and a whole lot more that I can't easily summarize.

    I've got two questions really:

    Is Dogen's shikantaza based on the sutra - or does 'dropping off body and mind' preclude what's laid out?

    The second question is - the Mindfulness movement is often dismissed as 'self-help' - relaxation. stress relief. I felt this book was far removed from the self-help literature because it works with the words of buddhist scripture and goes into it in great detail. Is this sutra the basis of all meditation?

    And lastly (a third question ) does the concentration on breath mean that this is a Vipassana practice and therefore different to what is taught here?

    I'm a bit confused by this because after a while the breath concentration becomes natural (no need to 'think' about it) - so is that the point vipassana flows into shikantaza?


    Gassho

    Willow
    Hi Willow,

    There are many flavors of meditation, including Buddhist meditation. So, asking me is a bit like asking a baseball coach to comment on cricket! However ...

    In my understanding, the original purpose of this kind of meditation ... observing all the parts of the body, kinds of sensations, kinds of feelings and thoughts, one by one ... was to profoundly realize and get past that your "self" is a false composite of all those pieces, and to see through them and, thus, see through the experience of "self" and the theatre of the mind. It is a bit like saying that one will "deconstruct" the reality of a car by noticing and removing the tires, the windows, the pistons, the gas tank, the gears ... until noticing that there is really no "car" there.

    An interesting (but only to Buddhist history buffs) book I just read (The Making of Buddhist Modernism) explores how Thich Nhat Hahn and some of the teachers in the American "Insight Meditation" movement have moved a bit away from the original purpose (of realizing, for example, that the body is a pretty yucky and stinky thing made of all kinds of grossness, not to be attached to) into using the practice as a way of being "aware" and "in the moment" with all these small parts of life. And even beyond the "Insight Meditation" folks, some people like John Kabat Zinn have stripped it down even more into a general relaxation and stress relief technique (although with a good dose of "allowing what is" like us). That is all fine ... to each their own, and Buddhism has many paths.

    Now, Shikantaza is also about seeing through-and-through the games of the "self" ... and we also recognize the sacredness of "just this" and "just this moment" and every thing under heaven. However, the approach is different, like baseball and cricket. Dogen's way was not based on the Sutta, which is very instrumental, very mechanical, very goal oriented. As you know, we are rather the very reflection of that ... total, to the marrow Just Sitting not "examining" any parts of the body etc.

    Yes, we do not undertake breath practice generally here. That topic has come up a few times recently ...

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...l=1#post100105

    Again, cricket is a lovely sport, baseball is a lovely sport ... but here at Yankee Stadium, we practice baseball, not cricket (sorry Myozan! )

    Gassho, J

    PS - If you search the words "prosaic" and "profound" and find page 233 here, it talks a little about the original intent of the Satipatthana Sutta.

    http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/019...d_i=0199720290
    Last edited by Jundo; 05-16-2013 at 11:08 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  12. #12
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Sam,

    Try sitting more and drop the questions. In time you'll get your answers and the over thinking will slow down.

    But that's just a opinion of someone who knows nothing, really.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  13. #13
    Try sitting more and drop the questions. In time you'll get your answers and the over thinking will slow down.
    With reference to that I just read the following poem by Ryōkan and thought it was apposite:

    When the moon comes out I read Buddhist poems.
    I have nothing to report, my friends.
    If you want to find the meaning, stop chasing after
    so many things.



    Gassho
    Andy

  14. #14
    Hi Sam,

    It is a bit like riding a bike. Neither surpress thoughts from coming up nor cling to them.
    If there are no thoughts, fine. If there are thoughts and you eventually let them go - that's fine and Zazen, too.

    Gassho,

    Timo
    no thing needs to be added

  15. #15
    Willow,

    I wanted to wait until Jundo had replied and agree with him that the anapanasati (breath mindfulness) and satipatthana (four foundations of mindfulness) suttas are both the underpinning of vipassana practice rather than shikantaza. As he says, each stage involves seeing the impermanence and lack of self in the body, feeling tone, emotions and thoughts in turn using the breath as a mental anchor. Larry Rosenberg has an excellent presentation of this in 'Breath by Breath'. From personal experience there are definitely moments when vipassana (and anapanasati) can turn into shikantaza but the use of the breath to anchor the mind is a definite vipassana practice.

    Gassho
    Andy

  16. #16
    There are schools in Soto Zen that follow the anapanasati sutta without making it obvious and calling it shikantaza. I think Suzuki Roshi, Katagiri Roshi school is the main one. Nonin studied under Katagiri and he teaches the same. I don't feel this is true shikantaza though

  17. #17
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Add the Deshimaru school, Shikantazen...

    I will take the time to answer your question in a video and thank you for your patience with the not so good old Taigu.

    gassho


    T.
    Taigu, teacher at Treeleaf Sangha, was born in 1964, started Zazen early and received Shukke Tokudo in 1983 at age 18 from Rev. Mokusho Zeisler of the Deshimaru Lineage. Received Dharma Transmission from Chodo Cross in 2002. Now resides in Osaka, Japan.

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by shikantazen View Post
    There are schools in Soto Zen that follow the anapanasati sutta without making it obvious and calling it shikantaza. I think Suzuki Roshi, Katagiri Roshi school is the main one. Nonin studied under Katagiri and he teaches the same....
    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu View Post
    Add the Deshimaru school, Shikantazen...

    Interesting. But are they truly following the way of the Anapanasati Sutta ...

    "[1] Breathing in long, he discerns that he is breathing in long; or breathing out long, he discerns that he is breathing out long. [2] Or breathing in short, he discerns that he is breathing in short; or breathing out short, he discerns that he is breathing out short. [3] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the entire body, and to breathe out sensitive to the entire body. [4] He trains himself to breathe in calming the bodily processes, and to breathe out calming the bodily processes.

    "[5] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to rapture, and to breathe out sensitive to rapture. [6] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to pleasure, and to breathe out sensitive to pleasure. [7] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to mental processes, and to breathe out sensitive to mental processes. [8] He trains himself to breathe in calming mental processes, and to breathe out calming mental processes.

    "[9] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the mind, and to breathe out sensitive to the mind. [10] He trains himself to breathe in satisfying the mind, and to breathe out satisfying the mind. [11] He trains himself to breathe in steadying the mind, and to breathe out steadying the mind. [12] He trains himself to breathe in releasing the mind, and to breathe out releasing the mind.

    "[13] He trains himself to breathe in focusing on inconstancy, and to breathe out focusing on inconstancy. [14] He trains himself to breathe in focusing on dispassion [literally, fading], and to breathe out focusing on dispassion. [15] He trains himself to breathe in focusing on cessation, and to breathe out focusing on cessation. [16] He trains himself to breathe in focusing on relinquishment, and to breathe out focusing on relinquishment.

    etc. etc.
    ... or are they just following the breath while sitting Shikantaza, which is not really like the above?


    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  19. #19
    Thanks Taigu. I thought you were pissed off on me for asking too many questions.

    May be you are. Who cant be with my questions. lol.

    Jundo already wagged his finger at me with his video.

  20. #20
    Thank you Jundo for the detailed answer (and for your thoughts Andy).

    I have ordered the book you mention Jundo because it looks interesting and I think it will help me to unravel some of the snags in my mind.

    Back to your explanation - I feel a lot clearer now that breath mindfulness and the four foundations of mindfulness have a different emphasis to shikantaza as taught by Dogen. Hahn's book 'transformation and healing' is quite different to most of his writing. As you say - based on the sutra - it is very technical/goal orientated and I can really see now how John Kabat Zinn has stripped it all down so that it can be presented to a secular audience seeking stress relief. This is not a criticism of the literature - it's just I prefer to know where a method/practice is rooted historically.

    I think the above has a lot of good application - and maybe it's a road to travel in order to embrace emptiness - but there's a sort of cerebral aspect (paradoxically a lot of thinking/mental effort involved in coming to an understanding of what is being presented) which (I feel) doesn't help in just 'sitting' as taught here.

    I don't know enough about Katagiri, Nonin, or Deshimaru to comment - but what you say about their maybe 'just following the breath while sitting Shikantaza' feels intuitively right.

    I do like to read about these other approaches - there's a lot of value in it - but when it comes to practice I definitely gravitate towards Shikantaza and the Soto school.

    Wherever the heart takes us,



    Willow
    Last edited by willow; 05-16-2013 at 10:39 PM.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally Posted by willow View Post
    Thank you Jundo for the detailed answer (and for your thoughts Andy).

    I have ordered the book you mention Jundo because it looks interesting and I think it will help me to unravel some of the snags in my mind.
    Hi Willow,

    I was not really recommending the book except to real "Buddhism Comes West" history buffs. The author has a way of saying in 50 pages what he might say in 5, so perhaps skim it. It is interesting in emphasizing how certain aspects of modern Buddhism in the West might be a change, or a new emphasis, from traditional Zen and Buddhism teachings ... such as the "self help" aspect, the "Zen is about walking one's own way free of authority" aspect, the "be present in the moment" emphasis and some other things.

    These things are present back in Asian Buddhism and Zen, but not nearly as much as in Western Buddhism/Zen.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

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