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Thread: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

  1. #1

    cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    much of the reading i have done about buddhist meditation methods seem to boil down to a couple of things. this is my take, anyway. first, one must develop a capacity for attention. this is usually done through breath work (coming back to the breath, resting in the breath, counting the breath, rise and fall (maybe even chanting!) etc.) when one attains some capacity in attention then one can move on to more awareness-based practice (shikantaza, contemplating impermanence, insight etc.) from what i can discern, these seem to be the basics of all the schools and there really aren't huge differences between zazen and vipassina etc. correct?
    now, my main question is...how can we just jump into shikantaza without initally developing a capacity for attention? also, i know there is no goal in zazen, but there is. the goal is to experience one mind, emptiness, etc.? right?

    peace
    craig

  2. #2

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    also, zen seems to be lacking in some sort of direct 'loving kindness' practice, no?

    peace
    craig

  3. #3

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Hi, Craig.

    I'll defer to Jundo on the subtle distinctions between the various practices. I'll only say that I think shikantaza is unique in that it seems to hit many nails with a single hammer.

    There is some recognition of the need for developing concentration in Zen, that's why breath counting is often recommended before shikantaza. Apparently different Zen teachers view the amount of time needed in breath counting differently. Some recommend a lot, some not so much. I think Jundo is a not so much guy.

    Lastly, we have been incorporating metta practice into our daily practice for a while here at treeleaf. Just search for metta on the forum and you'll find a lot of info.

    Gassho,
    Bill

  4. #4

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Hello Craig,

    In our "Just Sitting" Shikantaza practice, we are certainly developing a "capacity for attention" (I prefer to say a capacity for a "still, balanced, settled mind") by having as our object of attention "all things and no single thing in particular". We are also practicing how to let thoughts go, how to sit while dropping judgments, likes and dislikes and such. If one can do so, then one is certainly "paying attention"! We might say that our "attention" is focused on "just sitting" here and now, and allowing thoughts to go.

    If one does so with sufficient time, one will certainly experience "at oneness", emptiness, insights great and small. One will also sometimes experience an itchy nose, boredom, sore knees (as well as a not-itchy nose, peace and comfort). Then, hopefully, one will also come to taste the "at oneness" and emptiness of itchy noses, forgotten noses, boredom, peace, sore knees and comfort. You will find that the ordinary is sacred, and that the ordinary is anything but ordinary!

    I have recommended "focusing on the breath" and the like only for beginners, or for those other times when the mind is really running wild and needs to settle. But I compare that to "training wheels", and soon they must come off (As Bill says, some teachers recommend more breath focusing ... such as Daido at ZMC, although his lineage via Maezumi Roshi, is actually a Soto-Rinzai mix favoring Koan Focused Zazen, which could explain that). Our way is a gentle sitting (I sometimes compare it to the gentle wind, which wears away the mountain and penetrates every crack). Other forms of meditation, more concerned with developing extreme states of mind or inducing extreme forms of concentration, are more prone to use various "one pointed" focusing on various objects such as a Koan or Mantra. Shohaku Okumura, Suzuki Shunryu and Taitaku Pat Phelan, three of the great Shikantaza teachers, are all quoted here ...

    Shikantaza has been defined as abiding in a state of brightly alert attention which is characterized by being free of thoughts, directed to no object, and attached to no particular content. This state of brightly alert attention is considered the purest form of zazen. ...

    Dogen referred to shikantaza or zazen as total engagement in immobile sitting. This is not a passive state of meditation where we let ourselves be spaced out or half-asleep, but it’s also not controlling thoughts or holding them at bay, nor is it being absorbed in one object to the exclusion of everything else, such as being absorbed in a mantra, being absorbed in staring at something like a candle flame, or even being absorbed in the breath. One-pointed concentration on the breath which blocks thoughts and feelings is not Dogen’s zazen. The field of awareness in zazen is wide, open and inclusive – it includes awareness of sound, awareness of posture, of our muscles and any tension, and so on. Non-thinking is an active, dynamic engagement with our being, just as it is.

    In the book Soto Zen, Shohaku Okumura compared non-thinking to a car engine that’s idling in neutral. Even though the engine is working, the gears aren’t engaged so the car doesn’t move. He said when we are thinking non-thinking, "We cannot say that there is no thinking. And we cannot say that we are thinking....Thoughts are simply idling." In zazen, the mind is alive and functioning but it isn’t actively, intentionally producing thoughts. When thoughts arise, if the mind is bright and alert, it is much easier to let them flow through without grabbing onto and developing them. Okumura said, "...by keeping an upright posture, without either rejecting or chasing after anything, we aren’t controlled by delusive thoughts." Non-thinking can only be understood by experiencing it through a non-discursive state such as zazen – so talking about it misses the point.

    In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Suzuki Roshi taught that when we’re practicing zazen, we shouldn’t try to stop our thinking, rather, we should let it stop by itself. He said, "If something comes into your mind, let it come in, and let it go out....When you try to stop your thinking, it means you're are bothered by it. Do not be bothered by anything. It appears as if something comes from outside your mind, but actually it is only the waves of your mind, and if you are not bothered by the waves, gradually they will be come calmer and calmer."

    The idea that enlightenment is not separate from our everyday activity is a characteristic of the Zen School. This doesn’t mean that whatever we happen to be doing or thinking is enlightened activity. It means that when we are able to collect our attention and bring our presence to what we are doing, we can experience our innate completeness, our wholeness of being. When we are awake to our present activity, then it is Buddha’s activity. Even if we are feeling angry or depressed, bored or uncomfortable, when we can surrender our resistance to it and completely accept our experience just as it is, without trying to change it or improve it, this undivided acceptance is undivided presence or Buddha-mind.
    http://www.intrex.net/chzg/pat39.htm
    As to "Loving Kindness", this is an interesting topic. Traditionally, it was felt that Zazen, combined with the Precepts, would bring about a natural arising of "Loving Kindness" and Compassion. And they can and do. But recently many teachers have added a bit of Metta Practice or the like to supplement that. (I do here):

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=1199

    Having lived in Japan for about 20 years, I will say that the Japanese are rather emotionally reserved, as a cultural trait. So that Japanese style Zen can come across as a bit "cold" on the surface (rather "Samurai"?). It really is not below the surface, but it can appear that way. However, I think that the addition of "Metta" and such is an excellent addition!

    Gassho, Jundo

  5. #5

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    okay, gonna have to digest your post Jundo. thanks. concerning metta, i see the precepts pointing to this. not to mention the fact that compassion would ultimately be the result of zen practice. if your not being caught up in you own 'stuff' then you're able to 'be' present with others.
    peace
    craig

  6. #6

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Shikantaza has been defined as abiding in a state of brightly alert attention which is characterized by being free of thoughts, directed to no object, and attached to no particular content. This state of brightly alert attention is considered the purest form of zazen. ...

    in response to the above, i'm never 'brightly alert' in zazen. i'm usually going nuts with feelings and thoughts. with nothing to 'come back too' i'm just left working really really hard not to 'follow' thoughts. this doesn't seem like what that quote was saying is zazen. it just seems that one must build up some capacity for attention by doing some focused work before just being able to pay attention to everything. also, from what i understand, resting in the breath or doing a mantra is not attempting to escape or block thoughts/feelings. it seems to be more of a point of return when one gets caught up in such thoughts/feelings.

    craig

  7. #7

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Quote Originally Posted by Craig
    Shikantaza has been defined as abiding in a state of brightly alert attention which is characterized by being free of thoughts, directed to no object, and attached to no particular content. This state of brightly alert attention is considered the purest form of zazen. ...

    in response to the above, i'm never 'brightly alert' in zazen. i'm usually going nuts with feelings and thoughts. with nothing to 'come back too' i'm just left working really really hard not to 'follow' thoughts. this doesn't seem like what that quote was saying is zazen. it just seems that one must build up some capacity for attention by doing some focused work before just being able to pay attention to everything. also, from what i understand, resting in the breath or doing a mantra is not attempting to escape or block thoughts/feelings. it seems to be more of a point of return when one gets caught up in such thoughts/feelings.

    craig
    Hi Craig,

    Well, I get a feeling from how you write about this that you sometimes overflow a bit with feelings and thoughts, judgments, likes and dislikes (i.e., all the "stuff" we allow to drop away in Zazen) ... yes, I can imagine that you head is "going nuts with feelings and thoughts" during Zazen.

    Would you try an experiment with me? It has worked with some folks before who could not allow thoughts to settle.

    Please go, back and forth, again and again, from counting the breaths to "wide, open, boundless, objectless" sitting. If your head is flooded with thoughts, emotions, judgments ... come back to the breath. As soon as things start to feel still and at ease ... return to "wide, open, boundless ..." Please do that again and again until you can ride you bike. 10,000 times and 10,000 times again. Maybe see if the intervals until you need to count breaths again will become a little longer and longer.

    I just want to emphasize again that we are not hoping for some state in which thoughts are absent (although there will be those perhaps). It is more a state where the mind is calm and still. Think of the wind (air = consciousness, breeze or wind = thinking). We are not looking for a state in which the air vanishes completely. We are looking for a state in which the wind sometimes calms to a breeze, sometimes calms to still, at rest air. (In any case, we don't want mental hurricanes like you describe!)

    Or, Jundo's patented "Blue Sky & Clouds" Analogy:

    We sit looking at the clear, open blue sky without clouds (clouds represent thoughts, the blue sky represents the mind clear of thoughts). Clouds drift in and out, while some days are very blue and some days completely cloudy without any blue sky visible. It is just the weather, which changes.....

    We do not try to "silence the thoughts before they arise" in Skikantaza. It is more that we allow the thoughts that naturally drift into mind to naturally drift out of mind, much as clouds naturally drift in and out of a clear blue sky. In this way, return again and again to the open, clear blue sky.
    So, Craig, when things get to cloudy or stormy, return 10,000 times and 10,000 times again to watching or counting your breath. Do so until a bit of blue sky appears. Then, just sit with that until you need to count the breaths again.

    See if that helps and report back!

    Gassho, Jundo

  8. #8

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Jundo-

    okay, i your heed your guidance. thanks so much for it. you're right, i do get totally overwhelmed with thoughts/feelings/etc. usually it gets focused on a certain thing, such as buddhism . ironically, it's buddhism i got into to help me with this suffering...the hammer i keep hitting myself with :wink: so, i am eternally grateful for your specific advise to me and my specific issue. so thank you again and i will report back.

    peace
    craig

  9. #9

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Thanks so much for your posts Jundo. I keep reading and re-reading this again and again.

  10. #10

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Quote Originally Posted by padre
    Until several weeks ago, I lived on a lake, and when sitting at home, I tended to face the lake instead of the wall.

    I observed over time that the water would be disturbed by any number of things, and would become cloudy & active. But if nothing continued to upset the water, it would settle down. The surface disturbance would reduce and the churned up stuff from the bottom of the lake would drop away in a natural way.

    This left impressions on how I view still sitting practice. When I sit, some times I'm churned up and my attention is bobbing around in the waves or wobbling about in the sandy water below the surface. But if I did not continue to disturb myself, it would settle down over time (minutes, hours, whatever).

    The very act of just sitting can be the first step of reducing the disturbance you place on the water. Then stop kicking your mental arms & legs so much & just work on floating.

    You'll bob up to the surface, and back down deeper, both of which are fine. You'll be bumped into by all manner of other things (a TV show funny moment you haven't thought of in 20 years, a fear that something you said earlier may have gone poorly, someone's phone conversation...), but just keep floating and bobbing instead of kicking and struggling.

    Yes, it's perfectly healthy and normal to do a little treading of water if it's needed. But persistence and a relaxed attitude do pay off over time.
    Hi Padre,

    I believe that a lovely image of Shikantaza. I hope everyone will read it a few times.

    Yes, if we do not stir up the lake ... kick and flail and throw big stones ... the lake will settle naturally.

    Most times, anyway. Sometimes a big wind or storm will come and stir up that lake no matter what we do.

    Some days or moments the lake will be sparkling clear and still, visible right to the bottom ... clear, as if no water at all.

    Other days and moments will just be muck and mud.

    The only thing special I wish to emphasize is that it is all the lake, reject none of that.

    Even while allowing the lake to still by being still ... do not think of the lake's conditions as "good" or "bad".

    Allow the lake to still ... yet embrace, merge into the lake even when anything but still and clear.

    If you wonder about our attitude in Zazen, imagine a fisherman ... sitting on the lake's bank with a fishing rod in hand. He is thinking nothing in particular, just present and allowing events to take their course. He is thinking nothing in particular, not latching onto any thought, allowing thoughts to drift from mind ... not stirring up the waters, merely observing the ripples and at home in nature. In fact, in our Zen way of fishing ... he is not even trying to catch a fish, and has placed no bate or hook on the end of his line! Yet he is diligent, focused and keeps his line in the water ... never giving up (one might say that all the lake is his catch, right from the start). He is just sitting, time forgotten, observing and allowing the moment. The lake is constantly changing, the wind and waters ever moving ... storms come and go too. Sun or rain, fish or no fish, he accepts it all in equanimity, without regret or worry or thwarted expectations.

    What is more, our fisherman tastes that lake and life and line and fisherman are just the lake ... never separate, all reflected in the water as images upon its mirrored surface.

    Something like that.

    Gassho, J

  11. #11
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    I went fishing with my friend Jim once. All day we tried but never caught a fish. We went home disappointed. When we got there my other friend Roscoe asked, "Did you catch anything?"
    "No," I grumbled.
    "Well, did you you use any bait?"
    "Hell yeah!" I snapped at him. "What kind of stupid question is that?"
    Oh, ok, it's just that when I go fishing I never use any bait. I don't want to be disturbed."
    I've never thought of Roscoe as a buddha, but I did admit he had a point.

    On another note, I sat outside tonight and just watched my monkey mind ramble. It was nice, kind of fun. It was not zazen, no dropping, but no holding on either. Zazen-ish maybe :wink: Going back to this lake analogy, it was watching the waves and just being content to watch the waves be waves. No stilling of the waves. No stirring of the waves. Just waves. Good mind scenery.

  12. #12

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    On the Craig's problem, I also have ever experienced it.

    But, I think Jundo sugestion is really useful. It works for me.

    Some time, when my mind going so wild, I also counting the breath, but I just want to give addition, that when your mind is going wild, just remind your self,
    "every thing is just like a dream or illusion, and not real."

    "why so serious?"



    "Why so serious?"



    "Why so serious?"


    "Take it easy, guys ". "Relax"

    And then continue to count your breath.

    And then back to the shikantaza.

    That's all my sugestion.

    Be well...

    Gassho, mujo

  13. #13

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Hi all,

    Such lovely posts!

    A small thing. I find that if I haven't taken my vitamins, my mind is very frenetic and scattered, so I check on this (when did I last take then). This is not everything (it is like being very sad and remembering you haven't eaten) but itmay be something.

    gassho,
    rowan/jinho

  14. #14

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    If one does so with sufficient time, one will certainly experience "at oneness", emptiness, insights great and small.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Gassho, Jundo,

    It is a (shock and) relief to hear this. I had come to believe that Soto zen firmly believed that "insights" were delusions and very evil.

    gassho,
    JInho

  15. #15

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Quote Originally Posted by Jinho
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    If one does so with sufficient time, one will certainly experience "at oneness", emptiness, insights great and small.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Gassho, Jundo,

    It is a (shock and) relief to hear this. I had come to believe that Soto zen firmly believed that "insights" were delusions and very evil.

    gassho,
    JInho
    Hi Jinho,

    You were not actually believing that? :?:

    I am guessing that what you are referring to is what is being touched on in our Book Club readings these past two weeks.

    viewtopic.php?f=2&t=1704

    viewtopic.php?f=2&t=1729

    I think what you are confusing is the fact that, in modern Soto practice, we do not tend to think of any one experience as either a destination or a place to linger. I often compare this practice to a hike in the mountains (a step by step hike to no where, ever arriving with each step), with scenery constantly changing along the way. Sometimes, wide vistas can be encountered ... sometimes all will drop away as if on a summit seeing clearly in every direction the valley below, and this swallows us.

    But we do not linger there, take the scene for what it is ... keep moving. It is the whole hike that is important.

    Our Soto way tends to value ALL the scenery, every part of the hike. In other words, we consider the ordinary as sacred. For that reason, you might think that we devalue some things. It is not true. We just raise up other things until there is no "up" or "down"

    Gassho, Jundo

    Ps - We are also careful about some usually visual and auditory hallucinatory experiences, often mystical in nature, called Makyo, which actually means "evil reflections".

    http://books.google.com/books?id=8ywrjD ... &resnum=10

  16. #16

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    (Jundo wrote)
    You were not actually believing that? :?:

    Dear Jundo, please believe that I would not waste your very valuable time here writing things just to watch myself type, or play "devil's advocate" or make casual fatuous or facitious remarks. And I do always type from my own personal experiences.

    Actually I have many, many times heard soto people denigrate any understanding beyond "smelling the flowers". Really. As for makyo, one part of the first "how to sit zazen" half-hour class at ZCLA (low those three decades ago) was mentioning the visual effects that happen (clouds of light, the floor undulating, even more graphic "visions" and it being explained that these are merely optical illusions or psychological fantasies, not signs of enlightenment, but not to worry, just let them pass. Personally I have problems with the clouds of light phenomenon, makes me dizzy).

    thank you for your time,
    jinho

  17. #17

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Jundo said:
    "But we do not linger there, take the scene for what it is ... keep moving. It is the whole hike that is important. "

    Kind of like only go straight and keep trying?

    Jinho said:
    Really. As for makyo, one part of the first "how to sit zazen" half-hour class at ZCLA (low those three decades ago) was mentioning the visual effects that happen (clouds of light, the floor undulating, even more graphic "visions" and it being explained that these are merely optical illusions or psychological fantasies, not signs of enlightenment, but not to worry, just let them pass

    I never had this experience (at least not while doing zazen) but I do dream a lot.


    Jinho said:
    "It is a (shock and) relief to hear this. I had come to believe that Soto zen firmly believed that "insights" were delusions and very evil."

    Isn't insight just knowing what to do? I can understand how a great insight could become a great delusion.

    /Rich

  18. #18

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Quote Originally Posted by Rich
    I never had this experience (at least not while doing zazen) but I do dream a lot.

    Jinho said:
    "It is a (shock and) relief to hear this. I had come to believe that Soto zen firmly believed that "insights" were delusions and very evil."

    Isn't insight just knowing what to do? I can understand how a great insight could become a great delusion.

    /Rich
    Greetings,

    My insights have not been about "what do to", but rather about how things are (not great words but....). Most zen texts state that insights become delusion when the person believes that one particular insight is all there is to understand (especially the first big one), and when the person believes they have complete understanding after one or a few insights; or if the person clings to one particular understanding in a way that blocks further understanding. Dogen spoke of being enlightened by ALL phenomena, no stopping at one or two.

    Are you dreaming alot when doing zazen? Just curious..... Are they useful dreams?

    gassho,
    rowan/jinho

  19. #19

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Most zen texts state that insights become delusion when the person believes that one particular insight is all there is to understand (especially the first big one), and when the person believes they have complete understanding after one or a few insights; or if the person clings to one particular understanding in a way that blocks further understanding. Dogen spoke of being enlightened by ALL phenomena, no stopping at one or two.
    Good post.

    Gassho _/_

  20. #20

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    I'll add to that Jinho.

    Even when we do have an understanding, it will change. We might hold on to it for a long time, but it will change.

    G,W

  21. #21

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo

    I think what you are confusing is the fact that, in modern Soto practice, we do not tend to think of any one experience as either a destination or a place to linger.

    Our Soto way tends to value ALL the scenery, every part of the hike. In other words, we consider the ordinary as sacred. For that reason, you might think that we devalue some things. It is not true. We just raise up other things until there is no "up" or "down"
    Gassho, Jundo
    Hi Jundo

    I note that you say "in modern Soto practice" as if it was not so in ancient/medieval Soto (or indeed Rinzai or Hua Yen or other zen/chan practice). Having read much of what is available (in english) of mediaval or earlier zen/chan writings, they all say that it is a mistake to think of one destination as a place to linger. As for "our Soto way tends to value ALL the scenery" that is certainly true, but it is true of all other zen/chan ways, certainly from Boddhidharma onwards (before then I haven't read so I can't say). So I am not sure why you say "our Soto way...." But perhaps I am being too legalistic? :wink:

    as always, yours,
    rowan/jinho

  22. #22

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Quote Originally Posted by Jinho
    Hi Jundo

    I note that you say "in modern Soto practice" as if it was not so in ancient/medieval Soto (or indeed Rinzai or Hua Yen or other zen/chan practice). Having read much of what is available (in english) of mediaval or earlier zen/chan writings, they all say that it is a mistake to think of one destination as a place to linger. As for "our Soto way tends to value ALL the scenery" that is certainly true, but it is true of all other zen/chan ways, certainly from Boddhidharma onwards (before then I haven't read so I can't say). So I am not sure why you say "our Soto way...." But perhaps I am being too legalistic? :wink:

    as always, yours,
    rowan/jinho
    Hi Jinho ,

    You might take for reference this week's 'Treeleaf Book Club' reading on the 'Eight Kinds of Enlightenment' as imagined during Buddhism's long history (there are actually many more than 'Eight kinds'), and the readings of the previous weeks too.

    viewtopic.php?f=2&t=1757

    I would say that the answer is on something of a 'sliding scale', depending on where (and no where) the particular flavor of Buddhism, Zen Buddhism in particular, and teacher tended to place emphasis as the "ultimate goal" of this Practice, the importance of such revelations as the keystone and "final destination" of the Buddhist teachings, and the need to escape this world/see it as a dream. In other words, some teachers have placed greater or lesser emphasis on a "final coming-to-rest place", its intimacy with (vs. leaving behind of) this world of Samsara, and the degree that we should leave behind/return to the 'day-to-day' grind of this world.

    As you point out, almost all Zen teachers over the centuries (Soto, Rinzai, makes no difference) have been on the "nirvana intimate with Samsara, so let's taste that in the 'day-to-day' and get back to chopping wood'" side of the mix, but it has been a sliding scale even there. Monastics of all stripes tended to be more heavily on the "leaving the demands of this deluded world behind" (I mean, that is the meaning and purpose of the monastic lifestyle!) Certainly current Western Zen teachers are, as a group (and with the greater return to emphasis on lay practice), heavily on the "return to the marketplace" side of the scale, although there are exceptions too. Outside the rigid set routines of the monastery lifestyle, enlightenment is seen as reflected (not only in a particular experience or group of experiences) but in a never ending kaleidoscope of revelations and illuminations.

    In a nutshell.

    Gassho, Jundo

  23. #23

    Re: cultivating attention, then going to shikantaza

    Jinho said: "Are you dreaming alot when doing zazen? Just curious..... Are they useful dreams?"

    No not alot. I'm trying to pay attention but getting lost in thinking or dreaming happens and I accept that. Maybe enlightenment is just the time in the present moment that is not a dream. Whatever, the important thing for me is to keep trying to be attentive to what I'm doing right now and most of my dreaming will have to wait until sleeptime. Are dreams useful? Yes, I think they have a function but i don't know enough to explain it.

    Jundo, I have started the enlightenment reading and hope to learn and comment later.

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