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Thread: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

  1. #1

    Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    Hi folks!
    I brought my ball to the field so please feel free to kick it around with me, OK?
    I wanted to present some more food for thought and see what kind of dialog it inspires...
    If I am regurgitating tired, old topics that have already been beaten to death, then I apologize in advance! ops:

    PART I
    So shikantaza is "just sitting" where the "goal" is "no goal", right?
    Seems straightforward enough.
    And yet, I have come across many different "strategies" for shikantaza over the years.
    This seems contradictary; how can you "employ a strategy" and simultaneously "drop all thoughts of achievement"?
    (Of course, contradictions are the stuff of Zen and life, right??!)

    I am curious to find out if others here have encountered these suggestions?
    What is your opinion on them and do you ever employ them?

    Without voicing bias, support or detraction from any of the following "strategies" suggested for zazen, I submit for your approval the following ditties.
    To protect the innocent I will not reveal my sources!

    (a) Employing a sense of "presence": When your thoughts "lean" to the past (memories) or towards the future (planning) simply focus on being "here" and "now" and intensifying your awareness of your immediate surroundings.

    (b) Find the "space" between your thoughts and try to "stay in that place". So when you have a thought and then it passes, try to extend that period before the next one comes up. (Although no follow up advice on how to do this exactly...)

    (c) "Letting go": If you find yourself "following a thought", be mindful of this, let go of the thought and return to just sitting. (Following a thought would be like if you think "I need to give Jane that envelope!" and then you followed that up with "I like Jane; she's so nice!" instead of just letting the first thought float on through...)

    PART II
    I have read many reports of skilled Zen meditators who indicate that while they initially experience thoughts at the start of their meditation, eventually the mind "quiets down" and they have no more thoughts.
    This seems to imply that the more skilled a meditator you are, the more likely you can achieve "mushin" (no-mindedness)
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mushin

    Personally, I can't imagine having "no thoughts" any more than I can imagine having no heartbeat!
    I have sat zazen for upwards of 90 minutes straight and had no cessation in the thoughts that come bubbling up.
    It's simply the way my mind seems to function.
    Perhaps it's because I have not sat sesshin or maybe my kung fu is weak!
    Should a Zen practitioner hold out hope of no-mindedness or simply accept that thoughts are just thoughts?
    Particularly encouraging in this regard was this article with commentary from Zen practitioners with 30 years experience or more:
    http://www.dharma-rain.org/?p=stillpoint06_0706-sitting

    Please let me know what you think of the above topics!
    Again, if I am touching on old material then please accept my apologies.

    Gassho,
    -K2

  2. #2
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    YOU have to find what works for YOU. I used to read all that stuff and it drove me crazy, so I read some of that stuff two or three times, each time telling myself I understood it better, but I was wrong. The only way to do it, or so I have found, is to try them all and see for yourself what works for you. Everyone here might have something different to say about what they do or what works for them, and someday you can add to that list on what works for you.

    As for your multiple options, for me: here and now is good, space between thoughts is not good, and letting go of thoughts is good. So my answer is A and C. For me, once I had been practicing a while I would then go back and read that stuff again, finally going, "Oh, that's what they're talking about." Jundo's talks the other day about putting down the book and jumping into the pool are right on!!

    And comparing yourself to people that have been doing this for lots longer than you is another way to get all tied up. Yeah, they're out there so why not learn about them, right? You may not mean to compare, no intent to compare, yet being human you probably will compare. But it's not about them; it's about you! For me, learning how great other people were at this stuff did absolutely nothing to help my practice! Zip!! Nada!!! Zero!!!!

    One of the most helpful things I ever read was in Buddhadharma or Tricycle by a guy that said he'd been doing zazen for about ten years and it hadn't gotten him anywhere and how he wasn't even sure if he was any good at it. But he was going to keep sitting. Now, for me, that was helpful.

  3. #3

    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    For me the thinking can be a trickle or a geyser. It doesn't matter. What matters is that I am trying to just sit with correct posture and cutting off the thinking over and over and over... There is no success or failure and just being here for a moment usually leads to the correct action.

  4. #4
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    Gosh, I feel like I gave you a Chet scolding :evil: Well, Chet-lite anyway. Sorry if it came off that way. Go back to the book club and read Opening the Hand of Thought by Uchiyama. The "how to" part is small, but the "what" and "why" parts are huge. Finally, just sit.

    OK, my conscience is clearer now...

  5. #5

    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    Al,

    No sweat! I didn't think you were scolding me at all! And thank you for your suggestions.
    (I read Uchiyama ages ago and I can't find my copy so I'm ordering up another one on Amazon today.)

    But I just want to make clear that I wasn't so much asking for advice as I was just putting out there some of the things that I have encountered in my reading and practice.
    I just wondered if other folks had seen the same advice/instructions and if they found them more or less useful.

    I like what you said about the guy from Tricycle magazine. That's pretty much what I got out of that Dharma Rain link I posted.
    There's a blurb there from a fellow who's been at it for 30 years and says the old monkey mind is still swinging in his trees!
    That's encouraging because believing that there's some hypnotic state to aim for that will cure your ills is the fastest way to kill your practice.

    Anyway, like you said: "just sit". Dive in, start swimming!
    And every now and again we'll bump into good-intentioned folks who want to offer suggestions on how to improve your "breast-stroke".
    I was just trying to compare notes with everyone else.

    Warm Regards,
    -K2

  6. #6
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    Yeah, I screwed this up from the get go. It struck a chord and I I strummed for some reason. Carry on...

    Gassho

  7. #7

    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    Part 1

    (a) Employing a sense of "presence": When your thoughts "lean" to the past (memories) or towards the future (planning) simply focus on being "here" and "now" and intensifying your awareness of your immediate surroundings.

    I've considered this. Now, I think accepting the thoughts as here and now is the way to go. My thoughts are part of the surroundings.

    (b) Find the "space" between your thoughts and try to "stay in that place". So when you have a thought and then it passes, try to extend that period before the next one comes up. (Although no follow up advice on how to do this exactly...)

    Tried this too. End up having a battle. Now I only try to make time for zazen. Now I only try to sit properly. The next thought will come up. Thoughts come and go, but we make them stay longer by focusing on them, rejecting them and judging them. Furthermore, the focusing, the rejection, and the judgment are also part of the surroundings. So they should not be focused on, rejected, or judged. But if they are, then that focusing, that rejection, and that judgment should not be focused on, rejected, or judged because they are also part of the surroundings. But if they are, then that focusing, that rejection, and that judgment should not be focused on, rejected, or judged because they are also part of the surroundings. But if they are, then that focusing, that rejection, and that judgment should not be focused on, rejected, or judged because they are also part of the surroundings... somewhere after a string of these "thoughts about thoughts", things tend to clear up for me. It happens more quickly than illustrated. Considering (being aware of) an infinite progression brings calm to me. Not sure I can explain... maybe all of the math I've done in the past? Maybe because there is no end to strive for? I think that might be it! Yes! Thanks for your help! I hope I got the point across.

    (c) "Letting go": If you find yourself "following a thought", be mindful of this, let go of the thought and return to just sitting. (Following a thought would be like if you think "I need to give Jane that envelope!" and then you followed that up with "I like Jane; she's so nice!" instead of just letting the first thought float on through...)

    This is one of the first methods I've come across. I think it sounds OK, but you will become aware of your thought without effort. It will just happen. No need to focus on noticing this. No need to "let go" if you don't hold in the first place. The thought will be gone and you are sitting. No return; never left. If you are constantly looking out for thoughts, you will be like a cat focused on a swinging ball of yarn, unaware of its surroundings. If you feel surprised or let down by a thought and then think, "I must return to sitting", I don't think this is something that is good to try or make an effort towards as some backup plan or what have you. Just let things happen.

    I have an urge to say abandon all strategies, but that is not quite right. I think the best strategy is just to sit (really, I'm not trying to be cute )

    Part 2

    Should a Zen practitioner hold out hope of no-mindedness or simply accept that thoughts are just thoughts?

    I have noticed that I do not have the same frequency of thoughts as I did when I first started sitting. I think it only stands to reason that a continuation of sitting will create a more "still" mind. Not necessarily, I think. This should not be a goal. The practice is the goal.

  8. #8

    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    [quote="Deadbuddha"]Part 1

    (a) Employing a sense of "presence": When your thoughts "lean" to the past (memories) or towards the future (planning) simply focus on being "here" and "now" and intensifying your awareness of your immediate surroundings.

    I've considered this. Now, I think accepting the thoughts as here and now is the way to go. My thoughts are part of the surroundings.

    (b) Find the "space" between your thoughts and try to "stay in that place". So when you have a thought and then it passes, try to extend that period before the next one comes up. (Although no follow up advice on how to do this exactly...)

    Tried this too. End up having a battle. Now I only try to make time for zazen. Now I only try to sit properly. The next thought will come up. Thoughts come and go, but we make them stay longer by focusing on them, rejecting them and judging them. Furthermore, the focusing, the rejection, and the judgment are also part of the surroundings. So they should not be focused on, rejected, or judged. But if they are, then that focusing, that rejection, and that judgment should not be focused on, rejected, or judged because they are also part of the surroundings. But if they are, then that focusing, that rejection, and that judgment should not be focused on, rejected, or judged because they are also part of the surroundings. But if they are, then that focusing, that rejection, and that judgment should not be focused on, rejected, or judged because they are also part of the surroundings... somewhere after a string of these "thoughts about thoughts", things tend to clear up for me. It happens more quickly than illustrated. Considering (being aware of) an infinite progression brings calm to me. Not sure I can explain... maybe all of the math I've done in the past? Maybe because there is no end to strive for? I think that might be it! Yes! Thanks for your help! I hope I got the point across.

    (c) "Letting go": If you find yourself "following a thought", be mindful of this, let go of the thought and return to just sitting. (Following a thought would be like if you think "I need to give Jane that envelope!" and then you followed that up with "I like Jane; she's so nice!" instead of just letting the first thought float on through...)

    This is one of the first methods I've come across. I think it sounds OK, but you will become aware of your thought without effort. It will just happen. No need to focus on noticing this. No need to "let go" if you don't hold in the first place. The thought will be gone and you are sitting. No return; never left. If you are constantly looking out for thoughts, you will be like a cat focused on a swinging ball of yarn, unaware of its surroundings. If you feel surprised or let down by a thought and then think, "I must return to sitting", I don't think this is something that is good to try or make an effort towards as some backup plan or what have you. Just let things happen.

    I have an urge to say abandon all strategies, but that is not quite right. I think the best strategy is just to sit (really, I'm not trying to be cute )

    Part 2

    Should a Zen practitioner hold out hope of no-mindedness or simply accept that thoughts are just thoughts?

    I have noticed that I do not have the same frequency of thoughts as I did when I first started sitting. I think it only stands to reason that a continuation of sitting will create a more "still" mind. Not necessarily, I think. This should not be a goal. The practice is the goal.

  9. #9
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    Thank you Cam, thank you Al, thank you Jundo,

    Strategies? Control? Subtle forms of Spiritual Materialism.

    Zazen as it is, raw. Thoughts, sleep, or whatever, just what comes as part of the scenery of the body-mind.



    Gassho



    Taigu

  10. #10

    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    I'm glad this thread picked up some action again. Thanks to everyone who's joined in!

    Just to re-iterate, I'm not advocating any of the listed strategies; I'm reporting them.
    These are actual suggestions I have encountered in my reading.

    There are vast array of activities which can be labelled "meditation".
    When "trying" to "do shikantaza" it's only natural for the beginning student to want to know "how to do it properly".
    Good intentioned people will then make these sorts of suggestions.
    But are they helpful?
    (This is the reason I posted in the first place!)

    Steve Hagen's book "Meditation; Now or Never" has an interesting passage where he talks about his teacher Katagiri Roshi's attitude towards shikantaza.
    He told Steve that it was "entirely useless"!
    What a kind teacher!

    Of course, that's not how most people would qualify his answer!
    Humans don't like to do something for nothing.
    We go to school to get a degree, we work at our jobs to get money, we exercise to improve our health and appearance. And so on...
    It's even worse if (like me) you are a control junkie.

    But it's only been recently that I finally decided to throw out all thoughts of "getting somewhere" with my meditation.
    To use Jundo's analogy I was wearing water-wings, holding the side of the pool and kicking.
    No more. My sitting is pointless.
    Am I practicing "here and now"? Am I "in between thoughts"? Am I "letting go"?
    Yes and no.
    "Just sit". It's not secret code.

    My time spent with the water wings and kick-board and other "training devices" wasn't a total waste.
    When I finally stripped naked and dove in headfirst, I realized my legs were strong!
    By exploring these other forms of meditation technique I find myself in a unique position.
    I can say with assurance that shikantaza is the only form of meditation that I have been able to take "off the zafu" and into my daily life.

    You can meditate while on the cushion, you can meditate while cutting vegetables, you can meditate while changing diapers, you can meditate while reading a book and I recently discovered you can even meditate while arguing with your wife.

    Maybe you already know this. Maybe you suspect it's true but aren't sure. Maybe you think I'm full of crap.
    Gassho to all. You are all me. We learn together.
    -K2

  11. #11

    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    Seems to me as far as 'strategies' and zazen go, the first issue to take in hand is regular, preferably daily, sitting.

    Strategize that, (getting the tush on the cush) and what follows?

    is what follows.

  12. #12

    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    Quote Originally Posted by kliffkapus

    You can meditate while on the cushion, you can meditate while cutting vegetables, you can meditate while changing diapers, you can meditate while reading a book and I recently discovered you can even meditate while arguing with your wife.
    Well, the part about meditating while "arguing with your wife" should be guided by the Precepts on avoiding anger.

    Our way can seem very amoral from a certain perspective ... cutting vegetable is perfectly cutting vegetable, changing diapers is just the Buddha changing diapers, arguing with one's wife is just arguing ... the one and only place to be in that moment, in all space and time ... each argument, a jewel of an argument..

    Yet ... we avoid anger. Anger is not conducive to Zen practice, a healthy life or a peaceful world.

    Hopefully, a touch of "insta-Zazen" in the midst of a fight will help end the fight. And, hopefully, the Precepts will do whatever remains of the rest of the job.

    Although it is perfectly human to sometimes fight with our loved ones, and to be perfectly human is to be perfectly Buddha ... Buddhas do not fight with their wives.

    Gassho, J

  13. #13

    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    _/_

  14. #14

    Re: Strategies for zazen and Mushin

    came across this translation into English of a talk given in Japanese by Kodo Sawaki on the final chapter of Dogen's Shobogenzo (courtesy Mike Cross blog: nothingbutthelifeblood.blogspot ) This thread seems an apt place to put it out there:

    "Without comparing myself with other people, I am who I am. I have said it so often the phrase is worn out, but it is me by myself realizing myself for my own sake. In other words, just cross the legs and sit. By yourself realize yourself for yourself by sitting as yourself."



    I forget what some long time student/teacher/whatnot said--something to the effect, 'sit for 10 years, sit for 10 more and then sit another 10!'
    In other words, it is just your life; for the rest of your life, just your life.

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