I wanted to get back to a topic I promised to discuss before my travels.
Here at Treeleaf, a Sangha in the Soto Zen style, we practice just sitting, "Shikantaza". That is what I teach. It is a practice with its own very very special flavor, I believe, among most types of Eastern or Western religion or philosophy, and even among paths of Buddhist meditation: That's because Shikantaza forsakes all goals, all attainments, all search for special states of mind, esoteric or mystical experiences, escape from this mundane world by reaching some other "realm", supernatural powers or other-worldly insights and the like. If folks have dabbled in so-called "Eastern Beliefs" for any length of time, they will discover that most schools (even within Buddhism or some other sects of Zen Buddhism) are aiming for such attainments in one way or another.
But there is a subtle twist involved, a very definite method to our "goalless" madness:
Not searching does not mean that nothing is found. Quite the contrary! We might say that what is found is something always here, only encountered when we give up the pursuit. I sometimes compare it to the eye glasses perched right on top of one's head all along, though we have hunted for them high and low.
Attaining radical non-attainment is a very great attainment! The need for nothing else, to be no where else, is a treasure right in hand, the completion of a long journey.
Forsaking all need for special states of mind is perhaps --THE-- most special state of mind of all. By dropping (maybe for the first time in our lives) all judgments and demands on life, we truly learn to take life 'just-as-it-is', without resistance. There is no lack, nothing missing from the world ... everything is as it is.
We learn that, even as me make our choices, hold 'likes' and 'dislikes' as a natural part of being human, that is not the only way to be. Hand in hand with that, we learn that there is nothing to choose. Even as we select our path, we know that we are always just where we are.
Furthermore, by quieting the mind and stilling so many thoughts and emotions that bubble through our heads, we learn to see through many beliefs and experiences we take for granted, to see them as something of a dream and an illusion (the sense of all things having a separate "self" is but one example, as are so many of our ideas of "birth" "death" and "time", many more). Yet we also learn, in our neck of the Buddhist woods, that we must continue to live in a world of "selfs" "birth" "death" and "time" if we are to be human. It is almost as if we know it is a dream, but willingly dream away ... It is absolutely real, for it is our dream.
We also experience some very "deep" states. We also experience some very "shallow"states. We experience times of great peace or bliss, we experience times of mental agitation and sadness. There are moments when the barriers between self and not-self drop away, there are moments when we are bored silly. Unlike many schools of meditation, we run toward none ... run from none. In fact, we drop all thought of "deep" "shallow" "peaceful" or "agitated", "happy" "sad", one or many.
In doing so, we experience a presence beyond measure, a Peace that contains peace or agitation, self and not-self dropped away - yet fully present.
In following this Way, we find that the most trying or ordinary things in life are more wondrous than any storybook magic and miracles. The most difficult or mundane event of life is life itself! Far from needing to escape from this sometimes beautiful, sometimes horrible world ... we find ourselves right at home, going along for the ride. We look out through our eyes, see right through this ordinary world as if looking through glass ... yet see all that we need to see.
It is a very subtle practice.
So, sometimes, when folks introduce books or teachings by other schools of thought that are "goal" oriented, or emphasize some attainment of a mystical state, or "higher" wisdom or power or such ... well, I will always jump in real fast to contrast that with what we practice here. I have to do that. It's my job, and what I collect my paycheck for. :wink:
You cannot play baseball with a tennis racket, and you cannot practice 'non-seeking' Shikantaza if you are seeking any other thing on top of "Shikantaza. To put it in clear terms, we play baseball here ... and if folks show up to play tennis, I need to tell them to not play on our baseball diamond, and to take their rackets over to the tennis court. (Tennis may even be a better game than baseball, and even more fun or fruitful, but that is not the point. It is just that the two games cannot be played at the same time).
This came up a day or so before my trip, on the "Yoga and zazen" thread, when some folks thought I meant to squash discussion or silence certain topics. That wasn't my intent. I am a fan of engaging in some yoga, and I see nothing wrong with engaging in a bit of yogic stretching and such. In fact, Zazen is a form of yoga.
But the subject had come up of certain aspects of yoga emphasizing such attainments as the following ...
That may be a really wonderful experience for someone pursuing "Nirvikalpa Samadhi", but it is not the way for someone practicing Shikantaza. It is tennis to our baseball. For that reason, I am happy to discuss it, to debate the relative merits and demerits compared to Shikantaza, and even to admit that the other Practice might be better than our practice (of course, I will almost always come down on the side of Shikantaza just as I am doing in this very post right now. Even if maybe tennis --IS-- a better game than baseball, I do not really care because baseball is the game I know and love, and that has changed my life. So they can keep their tennis!). If anyone has any questions about the other practice, I will either try to answer them or, if I can't, point them to some teacher of the other style. In fact, the internet is full of folks discussing about everything under the sun, so no way that I am stopping the free flow of information. I do not mean to silence anyone. But we can't really teach or play that other game here. We can chat about other styles and teachings a bit during the coffee breaks, but then we must get back to batting and pitching practice.Nirvikalpa samadhi is the highest experience that can result from such action. It is preceded by an intense effort. In the relative level, this effort may well be considered to be the cause and nirvikalpa samadhi its legitimate effect. So nirvikalpa samadhi is limited by causality. The yogin admits that he goes into nirvikalpa samadhi and comes out of it. Therefore it is also limited by time. In order to get into nirvikalpa samadhi, the body is necessary for the yogin to start with. Therefore nirvikalpa samadhi is also limited by space.
It is for this same reason that I am also sometimes critical of the book "Three Pillars of Zen", mentioned on another thread this week. Kapleau Roshi, a very great teacher, was also teaching a very unique style of Zen Practice even considered unusual in Japan. I once wrote this:
It is just a very different approach from Shikantaza. Furthermore, I believe that the perspective presented in "Three Pillars" and some other early English books on Zen like some by D.T.Suzuki (that once you have a "kensh˘", all is resolved at once and the process is instantaneously "done") is very misleading. So, I think that "Three Pillars" has done more harm than good.The Sanb˘ky˘dan (Three Treasures Association [the Sangha from which Kapleau Roshi and Maezumi Roshi emerged]) is... noteworthy for its single-minded emphasis on the experience of kensh˘, [and] diverges markedly from more traditional models found in S˘t˘, Rinzai, or Oobaku training halls. ...
The only acceptable "solution" to the mu k˘an in the Sanb˘ky˘dan is a credible report of a kensh˘ experience, and beginning students are subject to intense pressure during sesshin -- including the generous application of the "warning stick" (ky˘saku or keisaku) -- in order to expedite this experience. The unrelenting emphasis on kensh˘ and the vigorous tactics used to bring it about constitute the single most distinctive (and controversial) feature of the Sanb˘ky˘dan method. Eido Shimano, recalling Yasutani's first sesshin in Hawaii in 1962, writes:
The night before sesshin started, Yasutani Roshi said to the participants, "To experience kensho is crucial, but we are so lazy. Therefore, during sesshin we have to set up a special atmosphere so that all participants can go straight ahead toward the goal. First, absolute silence should be observed. Second, you must not look around. Third, forget about the usual courtesies and etiquette" . . . He also told the participants, and later told me privately as well, of the need for frequent use of the keisaku. That five-day sesshin was as hysterical as it was historical. It ended with what Yasutani Roshi considered five kensh˘ experiences.
(Nyogen et al. 1976, pp. 184-85)
While Yasutani's successors are considerably more reserved in their use of the ky˘saku, the emphasis on kensh˘ has not diminished, prompting one student of Yamada to refer to the San'un Zend˘ as a "kensh˘ machine" (Levine 1992, p. 72).
Following the teacher's authentication of kensh˘, Sanb˘ky˘dan students move through a program of 600 to 700 k˘ans following a format set by Harada based in part on traditional Rinzai models. The practitioner first tackles the "miscellaneous k˘ans," which consist of approximately twenty-two k˘ans in fifty-seven parts. He or she then moves through the Mumonkan, Hekiganroku, Sh˘y˘roku, and Denk˘roku [?MĂ] k˘ans, followed by T˘zan's five ranks (T˘zan goi), and three sets of precepts.
In any event, it is not our way of non-seeking.