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Thread: Attention on zazen posture?

  1. #1

    Attention on zazen posture?

    Hi,

    I'm sorry to have missed the book club reading of Kosho Uchiyama's Opening the Hand of Thought I'm reading it at the moment and really enjoying it. I've just finished chapter 3 'The Reality of Zazen' and a question has come up that it would be great to get some feedback on. Please read the following quotes from chapter 3:

    ‘Doing correct Zazen means taking the correct posture and entrusting everything to it.’
    ‘Doing Zazen is to be full of life aiming at holding a correct zazen posture.’
    ‘We should be wide awake, aiming at the correct posture with our flesh and bones.’
    ‘In zazen we have to vividly aim at holding the correct posture yet there is no mark to hit!’
    ‘Zazen is the best posture for truly aiming at reality as it is. Aiming at this posture of body and life, as it is, is also referred to as shikantaza – just sitting.’
    ‘Briefly, out attitude in Zazen is aiming at maintaining the posture of Zazen with our flesh and bones, and with our mind letting go of thoughts.’
    ‘So the essential point when doing zazen is to aim, full of life, at the posture of zazen with our flesh and bones while at the same time leaving everything up to the posture and letting go of thoughts. By aiming at the zazen posture and simultaneously opeing the hand of thought, both body and mind do zazen in the proper spirit.’
    ‘”Waking up” means to let go of thoughts – that is, we wake up from sleep or thought and perform the reality of the zazen posture that we are practising with our flesh and bones. In other words, it is with our flesh and bones that we actualize the reality of the self.’
    ‘When we become sleepy during zazen, we have to wake up by vigorously putting our energy into our sitting with our flesh and bones and cease chasing after thoughts.’

    My question is: Is Uchiyama recommending that we have our attention on performing the zazen posture, and when we realise we have chased a thought, drop it, and return our attention/awareness to our posture/body? I have been sitting shikantaza without trying to hold my awareness in any particular place... without any object of concentration. I understand that that is the way that folks practice shikantaza around here, and I like it. Trying to hold my awareness in some place seems to me like adding another activity to 'just sitting'. However, today I was sitting and I started to get confused. I wasn't sure whether to be aware of my posture and kind of aim at experiencing it constantly, by way of letting pass any thought that arose in my mind, OR just (as I usually do) let thoughts arise and pass away without interacting with them without having my awareness in any particular place. I starting swinging between the two which disturbed me. Or is it that if we truly let thoughts arise and pass away without engaging with them, we naturally come to be aware of our posture? But then, what of 'dropping body and mind'?!

    Are there different views on this within the Soto Zen school? Do some practitioners of shikantaza look to maintain awareness of the posture throughout zazen and return to it, and others not? What did Dogen recommended?

    Thank you.

    Gassho,
    David

  2. #2

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Hi, David.

    My take is that Uchiyama is suggesting that zazen is something to do, not something to think about doing. We sit (which is a physical activity), and while doing so, we let everything else go. So, we do something that allows our mind to let go. Why sitting? Because stationary sitting is an activity that requires very little, if any, cognitive monitoring. This leaves the mind free to let go of all the things that the mind generates or is aware of. I think Uchiyama, somehwhat like Nishijima, is teaching us to approach zazen as a physical act precisely to avoid the over-intellectualizing that is so habitual for folks like me. This is one reason we are admonished to "Just Sit!" as opposed to "Just sit there and think about sitting!"

    Jundo or one of the other Sangha members can probably explain it better, but that's my take today.

    Gassho,
    Bill/Eika

    PS--I spent several weeks wondering about the same question last year when we read this book. Eventually the question faded. I'm not sure if that means that I found an answer that I could live with, or if I simply got tired of thinking about it.

  3. #3

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    This is a very important topic. I will get to this (after I get up)

  4. #4

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Thanks Borsu, I wondered about this too as a few months ago I read Uchiyama Roshi's book also, but didn't get around to asking the question.

  5. #5

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Hi,

    I want to point out the very nice chat over at the "any comments" thread. Please look at that. I think it important to really understand.

    viewtopic.php?p=18689#p18689

    So, I want to leave this other very important subject for tomorrow. Also important to really understand, but deserves its own time.

    Gassho, J

  6. #6

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Okay, I keep meaning to get to this, and all these other great topics come up elsewhere. I don't like to babble on too much in one day. But let me try this as succinctly as possible ... maybe too succinctly ...

    My question is: Is Uchiyama recommending that we have our attention on performing the zazen posture, and when we realise we have chased a thought, drop it, and return our attention/awareness to our posture/body? I have been sitting shikantaza without trying to hold my awareness in any particular place... without any object of concentration. I understand that that is the way that folks practice shikantaza around here, and I like it.
    Okay, let's start with the baseline of what Shikantaza is supposed to be, in Master Dogen's vision: "Zazen is Enlightenment Itself", a perfect "non-doing". A moment of "Zazen" is a moment of Buddha.

    Now, remember that Dogen always sat in the Lotus Posture, as had everyone since the time of Buddha. It is a wonderful posture, very stable, and may work to bring balance to the body-mind (for reasons we need not discuss here). Wonderful posture, and the custom for most Buddhist meditators since the Buddha. You have to sit someway, that is how people sit.

    But, the fact of the matter is, in China (and even in the stories of Guatama Buddha), the Lotus Posture was mostly "just how folks sat Zazen", not the central point of Zazen (which was more on the mental/philosophical side).

    Dogen's writings too are more about the mental/philoshophical side of Zazen, not so often about the mechanics of the posture itself. HOWEVER, since he always sat in the Lotus Posture, he would sometimes conflate the two and say "Lotus Posture is Enlightenment Itself" (because for him Lotus Posture is how he sat Zazen), when his ACTUAL point is clearly that "ZAZEN" (not so much the posture) = Enlightenment Itself.

    Got what I am saying?

    Now, many modern Japanese teachers sit in the Full Lotus. So, some also tend to do the same thing as Dogen sometimes, saying instead of "Zazen is Enlightenment Itself" that "Lotus Posture is Enlightenment Itself". Some even take the next step and truly mean that "LOTUS POSTURE = Enlightenment Itself". However, really, most just mean "Zazen is Enlightenment Itself".

    With me so far? Now, what about Uchiyama Roshi?

    Okay, now, in Zazen there are different ways to deal with the mind within Shikantaza. One way is to focus on the breath. One way is to focus on "holding the posture" (a one pointed focus on the posture). One way is to focus on "open, spacious mind" that is focused on "everything and nothing in particular". (Really, it is "non-focusing" because it is goalless). There are some other ways too (a Koan, for example). Now, most Soto folks only recommend breath focus for beginners. But there does seem to be a division between teachers who recommend emphasis on the posture and those who are about "open, spacious mind".

    Maybe it is kind of a division between folks who want to "lose themself" more on the more physical side, and those who "lose themself" more on the more mental side.

    Uchiyama Roshi was kind of about both, if you read his writings. In fact, he really was about "open spacious mind" without judgements etc. MUCH MORE than he was about posture.

    I emphasize "open, specious mind" for several reasons, including that many westerners are sitting on Seiza Benches, in chairs, Half Lotus or Burmese. I also think that that is what Dogen was about (the mental/philosophical side), much more than posture (the physical side). I mean, he was about BOTH (because mind and body are one), But he wrote about posture very rarely, compared to the rest of it.

    By the way, David ...

    I have been sitting shikantaza without trying to hold my awareness in any particular place... without any object of concentration. I understand that that is the way that folks practice shikantaza around here, and I like it.
    Don't "try to hold" rigidly, forcing it. Relax and just slip into it.

    Even when Uchiyama speaks of "returning to the posture", he means to not strain in doing so.

    Is that clear?

    Gassho, J

  7. #7

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Thank you Both! That question had not crossed my mind, that is until you brought it up David - So Thank you! Jundo- that was crystal clear - Many Thank yous.
    Gassho, Shohei

  8. #8
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    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Thanks for the info Jundo...very helpful!

    Gassho,
    Dosho

    P.S. I have never really known you to babble.

  9. #9

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Many thanks, Jundo.

    --Bill

  10. #10

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Thanks Bill and Jundo.

    Bill,

    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow
    We sit (which is a physical activity), and while doing so, we let everything else go. So, we do something that allows our mind to let go. Why sitting? Because stationary sitting is an activity that requires very little, if any, cognitive monitoring. This leaves the mind free to let go of all the things that the mind generates or is aware of.
    Makes sense.

    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow
    over-intellectualizing that is so habitual for folks like me. This is one reason we are admonished to "Just Sit!" as opposed to "Just sit there and think about sitting!"
    I can totally relate...

    Jundo,

    Thanks! That has helped me understand this question a lot more.

    A couple of questions:

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Maybe it is kind of a division between folks who want to "lose themself" more on the more physical side, and those who "lose themself" more on the more mental side.
    Would you mind just expanding a bit on this point, Jundo? I'm not clear on it.

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I emphasize "open, specious mind" for several reasons, including that many westerners are sitting on Seiza Benches, in chairs, Half Lotus or Burmese. I also think that that is what Dogen was about (the mental/philosophical side), much more than posture (the physical side)
    How does not having an object of concentration in zazen help with discovering the mental/philisophical side of Zen?

    For the time being, I think I'm gonna stick with objectless zazen. I counted/followed the breath for about a year so I'm quite enjoying giving 'open-spacious mind' some space! It's still a little strange not to have something to direct my awareness at. Maybe we are just so used to siezing upon whatever comes into our minds, since from a very young age we are tought that the conceptual mind is king.

    When I sit and 'open the hand of thought' without any object of concentration, it seems to me that my awareness roams. Sometimes it's on thoughts, sometimes on the gap in between thoughts, and sometimes when I realise I've gone into a thought and then drop it, in the moment directly after I become very present and that can often involve awareness of the posture and body and simply the act of sitting... Maybe that is what Uchiyama Roshi means wheh he talks about 'waking up to the posture of zazen'?? But I suppose an important part of 'opening the hand...' is to let go of trying to control things, and that includes letting go of where our awareness lies.

    When the 'hand of thought' is open and thoughts are not being grasped or chased, does awareness roam or come to rest? If it comes to rest, where does it rest? On everything? On nothing? Can it rest on nothing? Does it rest on itself? Does awareness become aware of itself?

    I know, I know... should I wash my bowl or sit first? ops:

    I wasn't planning to ask so many questions, I promise.... :?

    Gassho,
    David

  11. #11

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow
    We sit (which is a physical activity), and while doing so, we let everything else go. So, we do something that allows our mind to let go. Why sitting? Because stationary sitting is an activity that requires very little, if any, cognitive monitoring. This leaves the mind free to let go of all the things that the mind generates or is aware of.
    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow
    over-intellectualizing that is so habitual for folks like me. This is one reason we are admonished to "Just Sit!" as opposed to "Just sit there and think about sitting!"
    Bill,

    These are wonderful observations ... and coming from an accomplished Jazz pianist like yourself, who "loses himself" with fingers flying across the ivories, I think you know of what you speak.

    Guys, if you have not seen Bill play the piano, check out the video on his website (link on his postings)

    http://www.billswann.com/

    Man, that cat can swing!

    Quote Originally Posted by Borsuk

    A couple of questions:

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Maybe it is kind of a division between folks who want to "lose themself" more on the more physical side, and those who "lose themself" more on the more mental side.
    Would you mind just expanding a bit on this point, Jundo? I'm not clear on it.
    Just an observation. Some folks are more into the body, some more into the head (now, mind-body are not two, but they are two). For example, I have encountered folks like Nishijima Roshi (who got into Zen as a runner in track in high school), various martial artists, ballet dancers and others who are more into the "losing the self" through the body.

    I do not think that a bad way in the least. In fact, it is a small difference in focus. However, I have a reason to emphasize "open spacious mind", for example ...

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    I emphasize "open, specious mind" for several reasons, including that many westerners are sitting on Seiza Benches, in chairs, Half Lotus or Burmese. I also think that that is what Dogen was about (the mental/philosophical side), much more than posture (the physical side)
    Quote Originally Posted by Borsuk
    How does not having an object of concentration in zazen help with discovering the mental/philisophical side of Zen?
    Both ways are not really that different, just having a slightly varied "place to place the mind". So why do I encourage the way I do?

    Well, I believe that the true fruits of sitting are not merely tasted by "one pointed sitting", be it on a Mantra, Koan, breathing , the 'Hara', or "keeping the mind focused on the posture". Oh, yes, that will certainly bring about "softening and losing the sense of self", but the result can become a little that "one has to be in the posture (or counting breaths, or reciting the Mantra, etc.), on the Zafu, to 'get there'". (CLARIFICATION: That's not Uchiyama Roshi, by the way ... just some folks who emphasize "one pointed Zazen". Uchiyama was not a "one pointed Zazen" guy, but an "open and spacious" guy even in focusing on the posture)

    But the most precious fruits of our Practice are to sit with "what is", life, circumstances "just as they are" which are not apart from us ... and just are us and us them and just are. This aids us in bringing the "lessons" of Zazen off the Zafu into our lives. I find this comes more easily from sitting with "open spacious mind, eyes not closed, fully present with one's surroundings yet focused on everything and nothing, in particular, dropping the judgments, letting thoughts come and go, finding again and again the quiet space between etc." And as well, that ALSO brings about "softening and losing the sense of self". But by not limiting focus to the posture, it is easier to be "at one" with the whole world and all of flowering life, and to bring it off the Zafu ... which I believe was Dogen's and most other Zen teacher's main point.

    Heck, it is why I also emphasize doing "Zazen" standing in the postal line, changing diapers, dealing with problems at work ... because it is "ALL ZAZEN". THAT was Dogen's central point ... NOT that Zazen is "ONLY" when we are sitting cross legged on the Zafu! For new folks who don't know about Jundo's PATENTED 'INSTA-ZAZEN©' please look here ...

    viewtopic.php?p=4029#p4029

    and here

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=705&start=0&st=0&sk=t&sd=a&hil it=insta+zazen

    My reading of Uchiyama was that he really was not about the posture so much, as about holding the posture with "open spacious mind". When he said "return again and again to the posture and let the thoughts go" it is really the same as my emphasizing "return again and again to the still space between the thoughts and let the thoughts go". That open stillness is our "object of concentration".

    Does that make it clear?

    If folks are having problems settling down (and need an anchor to hold them down), I encourage them to count or focus on the breath for awhile ... but eventually get back to open, spacious, non-judgmental sitting.

    Look, I am just the coach and trainer. Different pitching coaches teach subtly different ways, but its all BASEBALL!

    Gassho, Jundo

  12. #12

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Hi.

    LET'S GET READY TO RUUUUUMMMMBBBLLLEE!!!!
    Eh...
    No? ops:

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen

  13. #13

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Quote Originally Posted by Al Coleman
    Sorry for the double post. Do you mean that Uchiyama meant that the posture is the physical manifestation of that open space?
    Well, EVERYTHING is the physical, never ending manifesting of that open space, is it not?

    All teachers influenced by Dogen, Homeless Kodo Samaki and Uchiyama teach that when siting Zazen, there is just sitting Zazen, just Zazen sitting. We sit as if the only act, only place to be, in the whole world in that time and place ... 'tis the universe sitting Zazen in a grain of sand. Zazen is the one and only manifesting of the open space in that instant. Now, that can be the posture, the sitting,, standing in the postal line, the dentist's chair, cooking a meal as Tenzo in the monastery, or anything you choose to make it too.

    G, J

  14. #14

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Thanks very much, Jundo. I think I see it all a bit clearer now. I appreciate it because without having someone to discuss it with I'm sure I would have carried on in quite a state of confusion for a while!

    Gassho,
    David

  15. #15

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    A site that I find useful on this point: http://antaiji.dogen-zen.de/eng/zazen.shtml

    This is the temple that Uchiyama Roshi and Sawaki Roshi used to run. I take correct posture to mean the most balanced stable posture that one can manage. In my case this is the Burmese posture.

  16. #16

    Re: Attention on zazen posture?

    Thanks Jundo - good coaching as ever
    Cheers
    Jools (Shindo)

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