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Thread: When Does Zazen Become Not-Zazen ?

  1. #1

    When Does Zazen Become Not-Zazen ?

    Hi,

    I suspect my question is another variation on the question that all beginners ask, basically "Am I Doing It Right?" :-) If this particular
    version has been covered elsewhere, feel free to point me at it.

    The standard metaphor for Zazen is the image of the mountain and the clouds; the clouds arrive, you neither chase them away nor indulge them, but observe them and let them pass. I see lots of beginner's saying how hard it is and how often thoughts arise, but my problem seems to be slightly different to this. For me, it seemslike the clouds arrive and I do not notice them. I sit there indulging these thoughts for what must be a number of minutes, before I become aware of them and let them pass. This seems "wrong" to me, as if I'm not paying enough attention or am not approaching Zazen with enough rigour. Presumably if one were to not notice one's thoughts for the whole period of Zazen and you spent the whole period feeding them till you got of the cushion, then this would be indistiguishable from just sitting (as distinct from "Just Sitting" and as I've already done million times in my life)

    Thoughts and comments welcome.

    Many thanks guys,

    Matt

  2. #2

    Re: When Does Zazen Become Not-Zazen ?

    Quote Originally Posted by glue_factory
    Hi,

    I suspect my question is another variation on the question that all beginners ask, basically "Am I Doing It Right?" :-) If this particular
    version has been covered elsewhere, feel free to point me at it.

    The standard metaphor for Zazen is the image of the mountain and the clouds; the clouds arrive, you neither chase them away nor indulge them, but observe them and let them pass. I see lots of beginner's saying how hard it is and how often thoughts arise, but my problem seems to be slightly different to this. For me, it seemslike the clouds arrive and I do not notice them. I sit there indulging these thoughts for what must be a number of minutes, before I become aware of them and let them pass. This seems "wrong" to me, as if I'm not paying enough attention or am not approaching Zazen with enough rigour. Presumably if one were to not notice one's thoughts for the whole period of Zazen and you spent the whole period feeding them till you got of the cushion, then this would be indistiguishable from just sitting (as distinct from "Just Sitting" and as I've already done million times in my life)

    Thoughts and comments welcome.

    Many thanks guys,

    Matt
    Hi Matt,

    First off, you cannot do Zazen "wrong" ... as the heart of Zazen is dropping "right" and "wrong" from mind in Zazen.

    Yet we try to do it a certain way ...

    So, thoughts will always arise is our style of Zazen. We are not trying to obtain some state of "no thought". And you will often find yourself caught up in them, even after years and years of Zazen. Perhaps you will not notice for a time, many minutes as you say. No problem! When that happens, just return to the open, cloudless sky between the thoughts. Just let the thoughts go, and return to sitting with that spacious illumination. Do so 10,000 times and 10,000 times again.

    If it happens again, then 10,000 times more!

    You will taste a state sometimes with no clouds and only wide spacious illuminated sky, and sometimes you will taste with clouds and blue present at once without the least conflict and the clouds just drifting through. That is "good": Shikantaza Zazen. But it is important to remember that clouds and blue are all the sky, do not try to break up the sky. Even those days which are all cloudy, when are heads are so filled with thoughts that not an inch of blue sky is present, we do not refer to as "bad" or "wrong" Zazen (the blue is there even when not clearly seen).

    If your thoughts are very very agitated on a particular day, you might try counting your breath for a time until things settle down, or focus on holding your posture. But usually, just clouds and sky are enough.

    Please review this post on "wrong" and "right" Zazen and see if that helps a bit. Also, please post any comments, and other sitters here might have some pointers to add.

    viewtopic.php?p=22966#p22966

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3

    Re: When Does Zazen Become Not-Zazen ?

    Quote Originally Posted by glue_factory
    For me, it seemslike the clouds arrive and I do not notice them. I sit there indulging these thoughts for what must be a number of minutes, before I become aware of them and let them pass.
    It's the same for me. Thoughts arise and instead of becoming aware of them I seem to recognize the thoughts some moments later. It's not that I linger in them for minutes though.
    And I think it is ok. Maybe you (and me) will become faster or better at this, but I think the main point is to recognize the thought as a thought. It's not really about the exact timing.

    Pretty interested in what the more-experienced sitters' viewpoint in this is.

    ---

    Edit: Ok, been a little slow at typing. Started when Jundo's answer has not been there.

  4. #4

    Re: When Does Zazen Become Not-Zazen ?

    Hi, Matt.

    Here's a bit from Bonnie Myotai Treace that helped me:

    I remember an old friend catching me in the middle of an attempt to be "better" -- he just winked at me and said, "Hey, don't be enlightened; just practice." Letting go of the idea can be such hard and subtle work.

    So, just practice as best you know how. Some teachers will not even answer questions about "right" or "wrong" zazen and take the long-view that these sorts of problems will go away after a few months or years of sitting. And that's the only other thing I'd throw in here is that this is a practice for a lifetime, not a short-term solution to some problem. Our practice is getting over the idea that we can accomplish something. Zazen is good for nothing, and therein lies its brilliance.

    Gassho,
    Bill

  5. #5

    Re: When Does Zazen Become Not-Zazen ?

    We keep sitting, and we keep sitting.
    When the mountains open up and swallow us whole, we keep sitting.

    There's nothing to figure out.

    W

  6. #6

    Re: When Does Zazen Become Not-Zazen ?

    Many thanks for all the helpful replies. I've grappled with the idea of their not being "good" and "bad" zazen for a while now, and think I'm beginning to appreciate it more.

    I still worry, though, that there is a difference between 'Zazen' and 'not Zazen'. For the sake of argument, If I sit on the couch, listening to the radio, not particularly aware of the present moment, I would say that is not Zazen. If I sit on my zafu, but still listening to the radio, not returning to the present moment, I would say that is still not Zazen. If I sat on my zafu, but the moment the bell rings, I start to think about what I will make for dinner and don't stop thinking till the bell rings at the end, surely that is still not 'just sitting'. If I break my dinner thoughts for one moment, to return to the present, does that make it Zazen ?

    Apologies for the slightly laboured point, but I wonder, at what point does 'just sitting' become 'just sitting' ?

    I realise my argument here is more than a little 'dualistic' :-) which is probably the problem.

    Jundo, feel free to move this to the other thread, if it's more appropriate.

  7. #7

    Re: When Does Zazen Become Not-Zazen ?

    Quote Originally Posted by glue_factory
    Many thanks for all the helpful replies. I've grappled with the idea of their not being "good" and "bad" zazen for a while now, and think I'm beginning to appreciate it more.

    I still worry, though, that there is a difference between 'Zazen' and 'not Zazen'. For the sake of argument, If I sit on the couch, listening to the radio, not particularly aware of the present moment, I would say that is not Zazen. If I sit on my zafu, but still listening to the radio, not returning to the present moment, I would say that is still not Zazen. If I sat on my zafu, but the moment the bell rings, I start to think about what I will make for dinner and don't stop thinking till the bell rings at the end, surely that is still not 'just sitting'. If I break my dinner thoughts for one moment, to return to the present, does that make it Zazen ?

    Apologies for the slightly laboured point, but I wonder, at what point does 'just sitting' become 'just sitting' ?

    I realise my argument here is more than a little 'dualistic' :-) which is probably the problem.

    Jundo, feel free to move this to the other thread, if it's more appropriate.
    Of course, it is all "Zazen" in the "All of Life is Zazen" meaning ...

    But you are correct ... if you are sitting, lost in thoughts about the radio or dinner, then that is not Zazen.

    If you are sitting, a thought of dinner drifts into mind ... you do not stir it up or latch on to it, and simply let the thought drift out ... that is Zazen. Return to the sky between cloud thoughts of dinner.

    If you are sitting, listening fixedly to the radio, then that is not Zazen.

    If you are sitting, and your neighbor's radio can be heard through the wall ... and you just sit with that sound, just letting that be ... that is Zazen.

    Sitting with just the blue sky alone, or with cloud thoughts just drifting though (not latched on to, not stirred up) ... or seeing the blue sky even through the small clouds ... is Just Sitting Zazen.

    'Tis the blue sky and clouds together in such way which is what I believe Dogen meant by "Thinking Not Thinking = Non Thinking"

    Gassho, Jundo

  8. #8

    Re: When Does Zazen Become Not-Zazen ?

    Thanks very much for the replies - I think that they have helped. I suspect that worrying about "doing it right" (with it's attendant ideas of progress, achievement, etc) is more detrimental to practice than a certain amount of "getting it wrong"

    Cheers,

    Matt

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