Our core practice is always Zazen ... "Just Sitting" Shikantaza Zazen.
But I wish to introduce a touch of "Metta (Loving Kindness) Practice" as well (many Zen teachers have done so), and I recommend it once a day at least. It can also be done at any time when, for example, some feelings of anger, resentment, jealousy or the like start to well up in us directed at a fellow sentient being. A bit of Metta can be good medicine for that.
While I do not intend this to replace our core practice of Shikantaza by any means, I have taught at various Zen Sangha that have well introduced a bit of Metta Practice. I think it adds a little something vital to our practice on the "Compassion" side of the equation.
For those not familiar with the term ...
I might suggest a few minutes of Metta practice as a nice way to end the day before bed (or, for example, at the closing of your evening Zazen). Perhaps just before turning into bed for the night, or right after finishing your evening Zazen (and before rising from the Zafu), you might recite or chant the following ... (and, as stated, it is also good during your day when encountering folks who "just plain get your goat"!Metta (a word in the ancient Buddhist Pali language) has been translated as "loving-kindness," "benevolence," "good will," "love" and "sympathy." It is one of the ten Paramitas (Virtues) of Buddhism. The metta bhavana ("cultivation of metta") is a popular form of meditation in Buddhism. The object of metta meditation is loving kindness (but, of course, without demands or attachment). Traditionally, the practice begins with the meditator cultivating loving kindness towards themselves, then their loved ones, friends, strangers, enemies (perhaps the most difficult part of the practice) and finally towards all sentient beings.
(Note that, for reasons of our Soto Practice, I have modified some phrasing common to other traditions to be more embracing of conditions 'as they are'. For example, we should aspire for people to be healthy as well as "at ease in all their ills", not merely the former.)
It can be said to oneself, out loud or inwardly. It can be spoken, and need not be sung or chanted. It need not be considered a "prayer" to some force outside us (we will leave that to silence), and can be thought of as simply our aspiration for a better world for all living beings. Truly, 'inside' and 'outside' are not two, and one can effect and greatly change the other.To begin, take a moment to quiet your mind, and focus your attention on recalling the experience and sensation of loving kindness. Try to summon such feelings within, and hold them throughout your sincere reciting of the following. Try smiling gently, and mean it. That simple step really does something to put us in the right frame of mind.
You will then begin by offering Metta to yourself. If distracting thoughts arise, acknowledge them, let them pass, and return to your Metta practice from there, again and again, just as in Shikantaza. While reciting, try to maintain the experience and sensation of loving kindness to the beings mentioned. Note that the word "suffering" in the following refers to the Buddhist idea of Dukkha (see this talk on the Four Noble Truths for an explanation: http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...y-Dooby-Dukkha)
1. May I be free of suffering; may I feel safe and still.
2. May I be free of enmity; may I be loving, grateful and kind.
3. May I be healthy and at ease in all my ills.
4. May I be at peace, embracing all conditions of life.
Next, repeat the chant with a specific close loved one in mind ...
1. May he(she) be free of suffering; may he(she) feel safe and still.
2. May he(she) be free of enmity; may he(she) be loving, grateful and kind.
3. May he(she) be healthy and at ease in all his(her) ills.
4. May he(she) be at peace, embracing all conditions of life
Then, repeat the above in succession for a specific close friend, a specific neutral person (someone you neither like nor dislike), and then a difficult person (no need to start with the most difficult person, but someone whom you have a distaste for ... However, it is a good practice to focus on true enemies or hateful individuals. That is perhaps the most valuable and difficult practice of all).
Close with all beings:
1. May we be free of suffering; may we feel safe and still.
2. May we be free of enmity; may we be loving, grateful and kind.
3. May we be healthy and at ease in all our ills.
4. May we be at peace, embracing all conditions of life
We practiced this as a regular part of our monthly Zazenkai.
May there be much Metta for all of you in our Sangha.