A Chan teacher described Shikantaza as being too advanced for beginner students of Buddhism and compared it to lucid dreaming or other advanced tantric practices within Tibetan Buddhism. He said for beginner students there was a risk of falling apart in their practice and they needed to have a better foundation in the basics of Buddhism and more experience in meditation beforehand.
I am not sure if I agree with him in general, but I think in my case this was true. I know that Shikantaza is a practice beyond difficult or easy, beginner or advanced. In my case I joined TreeLeaf within weeks of starting my Buddhist practice and found it very transformative and helpful. Over time though I noticed that I became overly content and no longer felt a push or drive to sit in zazen. I became an armchair Buddhist in that I embraced the philosophy of nothing to attain yet no longer practiced meditation. I fooled myself into thinking that because I still practiced mindfulness and still had moments of kensho that I didn’t really need to sit and it was there if I ever needed it. Like the plunger that stays in the basement till needed. It didn’t take long for my whole practice to fall apart and I realized that aside from my new philosophy pretty much everything else in my life was as if I didn’t have a practice.
So what the teacher said was true, for my own practice at least. I needed to step back and return to what first drew me to Buddhism, a more Rinzai/koan approach and the basics of the four noble truths, the precepts, and three refuges. Yet I was reflecting how before TreeLeaf I had been erring too far on the other side of becoming obsessive and even anxious about my practice. I’m not mixing practices but I think Shikantaza has given a vital perspective that will hopefully keep me grounded. Also I don’t plan to pack my bags and go, there is a wonderful sangha community here and I am sure there is plenty more to learn.
So what do you think about Shikantaza and beginning Buddhists? Should you have an established practice already or is it beyond prerequisites or being advanced or a novice?
And again I mean no offense or contention.