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Thread: Shikantaza Question

  1. #1

    Shikantaza Question

    I understand the method of meditation that is perferred is shikantaza, so I went out and purchased a copy of John Daido Loori's "the art of just sitting" and I have been reading through it trying to grasp how to do this style of meditation. I am only in the first few chapters and there is a lot being said about "thinking about non-thinking" and this confuses me. Do we try not to have thoughts, keep a clear mind, or do we simply let thoughts just go by, don't acknowlege them. Or is the point to at all time be consentrating on not thinking at all. Like keeping a very quiet note to your self, "don't think" actively trying to remove thoughts as they arise? I am used to insight mediation where everything is labeled, (ie:"thinking" "tingling") so that will be a hard habit to break, but I am confused by the no thinking issue and how that plays out in the process of meditation.

    Thanks!
    Gassho!

  2. #2

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    Quote Originally Posted by ezzirah
    I understand the method of meditation that is perferred is shikantaza, so I went out and purchased a copy of John Daido Loori's "the art of just sitting" and I have been reading through it trying to grasp how to do this style of meditation. I am only in the first few chapters and there is a lot being said about "thinking about non-thinking" and this confuses me. Do we try not to have thoughts, keep a clear mind, or do we simply let thoughts just go by, don't acknowlege them. Or is the point to at all time be consentrating on not thinking at all. Like keeping a very quiet note to your self, "don't think" actively trying to remove thoughts as they arise? I am used to insight mediation where everything is labeled, (ie:"thinking" "tingling") so that will be a hard habit to break, but I am confused by the no thinking issue and how that plays out in the process of meditation.

    Thanks!
    Gassho!
    Hi Ezzirah,

    Welcome again.

    Well, you have asked one of the most fundamental "How To" questions. My first advice is to review the beginner's serier (we are always all 'beginners'), which should address that ...

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=447

    I think there are about 14 talks in the series, not always on consecutive days. I may redo some or all in the new year ... also an ever new 'beginning'.

    Please also review this little post, which is the image I offer of "good Shikantaza beyond 'good' or 'bad'" ...

    viewtopic.php?p=22966#p22966

    Finally, on that book "The Art of Just Sitting", compiled by Daido Roshi (who, by the way, left this little world this year) ... I offer some cautions. It is a compilation of folks with somewhat different styles (flavors), ranging from old Chinese style "Silent Illumination" to a couple of very aggressive descriptions of Shikantaza from the Yasutani-Harada lineage (which is Soto with a hard, "Kensho or Bust" Rinzai bent in its approach. Yasutani Roshi, for example, describes Shikantaza with the sweat pouring off one's brow, which is over the top).

    After you review those materials, write again if anything fails to become clear.

    Gassho, Jundo

  3. #3

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    Jundo and Taigu will give you the best answer. Personally, I have always liked the analogy of the "seeing" the blue sky while the clouds come and go and come and....

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ShgmSafKuxk[/video]]Clouds and Sky

  4. #4
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    Our practice is an odd thing to describe, but I'll try.

    First, you can't 'stop' thinking. Trying to stop thinking is just more thinking.

    Secondly, there really is no 'progress' to speak of. The whole idea of 'progress' is anathema to Shikantaza. There is 'effortless effort' - but that is an 'in each moment thing'. You will not get 'better' at Shikantaza because it's hard to qualify or quantify 'better'. Is having fewer thoughts an indicator of 'progress'? Not really. I can't speak for Taigu or Jundo, but I suspect there are many times when their practice is constantly beset by thought. Mine certainly is! All ideas of 'better' or 'worse' simply make no sense in a practice confined to each moment as it happens.

    When you sit, your mind will likely begin taking you on a 'ride' somewhere. At first, this is usually a 'mental' ride - a 'grocery list' of things your discursive mind helpfully tries to bring to your attention. I call it a 'ride' because you are invested in these little trips. You may find them important or tiresome or worrisome - but in some way, your attention is drawn into them to the inevitable exclusion of immediate experience. You are involved in these trips. As soon as you realize that you are involved in a trip - that your identity is invested in a trip, you bring your awareness back to 'right here' (which is really 'nowhere in particular'). You 'get off the ride'. When you begin Shikantaza, you'll find that your helpful mind almost immediately begins to take you on another little 'trip'. Your attention and identity become drawn to another discursive thought pattern. This is actually a good thing in a way, because only by having your mind take these little trips can you realize how your attention and identity are getting sucked into them! The dropping can only happen when there is something to drop, and the activity of 'dropping and coming back' can really only be cultivated in a delusive and confused mind. The important thing is to realize you are being taken for a ride. Truly, simply noticing it typically causes your identity to dissolve. It's very important that you don't make the 'activity of dropping' yet ANOTHER ride.. There is no 'dropper'.

    Once you begin to do this 'dropping', something very tricky will begin to happen. Typically, your mind will choose more and more 'rides' that have an emotional quality to them. Fear, greed, lust, outright terror, etc. The egoic mind adds more 'firepower' to the trick, but it is essentially the same trick. Try to keep some compassion for your egoic mind! It really does think it is trying to help! It can be a bit more difficult to 'drop' emotionally charged 'rides'. Sometimes, you may have to take some 'off cushion' time to truly investigate these emotionally charged thought patterns. My favorite thing for this is Byron Katie's 'Work' - because it actively shows the egoic mind the errors in its assumptions - that is, it shows you how much you really don't know - but this is not done in interruption of your practice. If you are sitting and fear comes, notice the 'stickiness' of the emotion/thought, and drop it to the best of your ability. If it does not 'drop', then sit with it with awareness. You may discover some true strength in being able to sit in the face of absolute terror! Doing just this helped me overcome a rapidly developing Panic Disorder.

    Lastly, if your dropping reflex becomes very quick - if you become aware of the 'rides' before they even start and drop them immediately, you may experience thoughts nonetheless - floating, sideways, etherial....but they are disidentified and they are part of the now - they do not form an identity and pull you from 'right here, right now' - they become PART of 'right here, right now' (they always were, but your mind screened out the now in favor of a particular thought pattern). At this point, the thoughts actually may become less frequent. Without the energy of identification, there is much less energy for thought creation. Nonetheless, an unidentified awareness begins to become known to you. It has always been there. It is not 'developed' by sitting Shikantaza. As a matter of fact, identification is a FUNCTION of the thought trips - there is no identity aside from them.

    I hope that helped more than it confused. Shikantaza really is much different from 'mindfulness' practice as I know it.

    Jundo or Taigu will be along to correct me shortly (I hope).

    Chet

  5. #5

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    Yes, Chet, thank you, that helped.

  6. #6

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    Thank you, Chet, for this illuminating post.

    Gassho, Jean

  7. #7

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    A nice present Chet
    Thank you Ezzirah for your post and helping deliver such a nice gift this christmas eve!!

    Gassho
    Shohei

  8. #8
    Blue Mountain White Clouds Hermitage Priest Taigu's Avatar
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    Re: Shikantaza Question

    Chet, I have nothing to correct really and would like to thank you for this clear and honnest post. I am deeply touched by the clarity of your voice. My only tiny observation would be about what you call egoic mind (and I am sure you meant something like egoic clinging, or mind had the meaning of activity taking place). At the end, this is all good. At the begining too. Actually, no egoic mind whatsoever but, as you describe, only the clinging activity. In the big vast scenery of as-it-isness, flowers and weeds come and go.

    Thank you again
    Merry Christmas and all sorts of goodies in your slippers


    gassho


    Taigu

  9. #9

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    thank you very much for this post. it is very helpfull. i have had similar questions myself!

  10. #10

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    Some great stuff. My own little modest contribution here: I found the book "Meditation: Now or Never" by Steve Hagen to be helpful.

  11. #11
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Shikantaza Question

    I have read the art of just sitting twice. It is not an easy book, especially for a beginner, which is why I felt the need to read it twice. I wish I had read opening the hand of thought first, as that was so clear I felt the need to read it only once, for now anyway.

  12. #12

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    Thank you, Chet. A very clear and helpful explanation, I believe. Among the many very fine descriptions, a couple of sections particularly stood out.

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    First, you can't 'stop' thinking. Trying to stop thinking is just more thinking.

    Secondly, there really is no 'progress' to speak of. The whole idea of 'progress' is anathema to Shikantaza. There is 'effortless effort' - but that is an 'in each moment thing'. You will not get 'better' at Shikantaza because it's hard to qualify or quantify 'better'. Is having fewer thoughts an indicator of 'progress'? Not really. I can't speak for Taigu or Jundo, but I suspect there are many times when their practice is constantly beset by thought. Mine certainly is! All ideas of 'better' or 'worse' simply make no sense in a practice confined to each moment as it happens.
    We can never be completely free, so long as we are human, of thoughts and emotions (not for more than short periods anyway ... absent remaining in some form of extra-ordinary trance or coma or deep sleep) ... because thoughts and emotions are a vital part of what makes us human and are necessary to getting on with life (we should learn from the "stones and trees", learn to live like them in some ways, allowing what is to just be what is ... but not necessarily want to live like stones and trees in all ways and at most times.). There are times in our practice when the heart-mind may become as still and unmoving as a stone buddha in the garden (allowing whatever comes to come ... allowing the rain or the snow or the wind to fall upon us with total embracing, no resistance, no separation in the least), but we do not wish to stay there. Life needs to be lived, and that requires more than a stone. So, we cannot do without thoughts and emotions.



    But, over time, this practice will simplify, illuminate, inform the thoughts and emotions we need, and free us from many thoughts and emotions which we do not need, which do harm, trap us in excess or drag us around as their prisoners. We can find the stillness and unmovingness of the stones and trees even as/in/through our complex human live's moving and action ... stillness in the motion. Then, we know our inner "rock buddha in the garden" (allowing whatever comes to come) ... even as... the stone buddha gets up to dance, to live, to put food on the table and deal with life's 'stuff'.

    Even so, so long as we are human (and until we each become perfect Buddhas) there will be times when we are a bit trapped, harmed and dragged around nonetheless. We all have "those days" (and even though our practice is about sitting with the clear, open sky ... and not stirring up or getting tangled in the clouds of thoughts and emotions ... stormy days and hurricanes will sometimes come on their own). We will not be able to access and see our "inner" stones, trees, sky and buddhas. Fortunately, as we move forward in this practice (moving forward in this practice of "no where to get"!), those times hopefully will become less and less.

    Now, it is easier to allow the thoughts to settle "on the cushion" during Zazen than when we arise from the cushion and head back into the work-a-day world of ties, obligations, other people and events (the stone Buddha has mouths to feed and bills to pay) ... but more and more we learn how to bring the simplicity, dropping, wisdom and compassion into our other activities.

    And we accomplish all this while constantly tasting that there is "nothing to achieve", "no other place to be". These changes occur even as we realize that "there is nothing to change" (like someone running a race who arrives with each step).


    When you sit, your mind will likely begin taking you on a 'ride' somewhere. At first, this is usually a 'mental' ride - a 'grocery list' of things your discursive mind helpfully tries to bring to your attention. I call it a 'ride' because you are invested in these little trips. You may find them important or tiresome or worrisome - but in some way, your attention is drawn into them to the inevitable exclusion of immediate experience. You are involved in these trips. As soon as you realize that you are involved in a trip - that your identity is invested in a trip, you bring your awareness back to 'right here' (which is really 'nowhere in particular'). You 'get off the ride'. When you begin Shikantaza, you'll find that your helpful mind almost immediately begins to take you on another little 'trip'. Your attention and identity become drawn to another discursive thought pattern. This is actually a good thing in a way, because only by having your mind take these little trips can you realize how your attention and identity are getting sucked into them!
    Yes, this last point is very important, and is part of the "insight" that naturally arises through sitting. We become more and more aware of the bits of mental "theatre" and "games" that the mind pulls us into again and again ... and we become better and better at recognizing the start of each drama, then not getting "sucked in" and dragged around by these trains of thought and emotion.


    If you are sitting and fear comes, notice the 'stickiness' of the emotion/thought, and drop it to the best of your ability. If it does not 'drop', then sit with it with awareness. You may discover some true strength in being able to sit in the face of absolute terror! Doing just this helped me overcome a rapidly developing Panic Disorder.
    Yes, this very much connects to Alans excellent comment today on "sitting with":

    viewtopic.php?p=31236#p31236

    Lastly, if your dropping reflex becomes very quick - if you become aware of the 'rides' before they even start and drop them immediately, you may experience thoughts nonetheless - floating, sideways, etherial....but they are disidentified and they are part of the now - they do not form an identity and pull you from 'right here, right now' - they become PART of 'right here, right now' (they always were, but your mind screened out the now in favor of a particular thought pattern). At this point, the thoughts actually may become less frequent. Without the energy of identification, there is much less energy for thought creation. Nonetheless, an unidentified awareness begins to become known to you. It has always been there. It is not 'developed' by sitting Shikantaza. As a matter of fact, identification is a FUNCTION of the thought trips - there is no identity aside from them.
    Your words are a little tangled for me here. Let me say what I think you mean.

    Clouds of thought and emotion will still appear, during Zazen and in all of life (all of life is "Zazen" in its wider meaning, by the way). But we are less likely to stir up storms, get lost in the clouds of wild thoughts and emotions. What is more, the clear, blue clarity of the sky will have an effect even on the clouds that remain ... shining through them, informing them, illuminating, simplifying, showing us how not to be lost and stirred up. Thoughts and emotions will remain, but are somehow not the same as before.

    We see that sky and clouds are just one all along, and thus we do not seek to break up the sky (by living in a sky free of clouds). At the same time, we do not get lost in the clouds, so dark and stormy that the sky is lost from sight (although there may still be those days and times! :cry: ) The sky and clouds are not two.

    As well, we think too that we are somehow apart from the sky, from the clouds. We realize that we are the sky, the clouds.

    Something like that.

    Gassho, J

  13. #13
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    It does sound upon a reread that I was setting up a dichotomy between discursive mind and unidentified awareness. That's not my intention, as the two are not different fundamentally. Discursive thought is not even really a problem - it is the solidity and forgetful way in which we invest it with identity. That identity can be wirhdrawn in practice but I do not see this as an ideal state. Sometimes we MUST invest some identity into our discursive thought in order to act in the world. The point is that we should do it with awareness and not become 'stuck' in an identity that does not exist from its own side.

    IMHO.

    Chet

  14. #14

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    It does sound upon a reread that I was setting up a dichotomy between discursive mind and unidentified awareness. That's not my intention, as the two are not different fundamentally. Discursive thought is not even really a problem - it is the solidity and forgetful way in which we invest it with identity. That identity can be wirhdrawn in practice but I do not see this as an ideal state. Sometimes we MUST invest some identity into our discursive thought in order to act in the world. The point is that we should do it with awareness and not become 'stuck' in an identity that does not exist from its own side.

    IMHO.

    Chet
    Hi Chet,

    You lost me a little, but I think we are still on the same page. I like to say things in simpler ways these days.

    Find your inner "stone buddha in the garden" (at one with whatever comes as it comes) even as you live in the world, with all the complex thoughts and emotions that that requires, and amid all the things you need to do and achieve in this workaday world. Then, you and the world and the thoughts and emotions will not be seen the same as they were before, and you will "do" and "achieve" what needs to get done even as there is nothing your stone buddha needs to do and achieve.

    Do not be a prisoner or stir up excess thoughts and emotions, especially of the kind that do harm. And let your inner stone buddha inform and illuminate the thoughts and emotions that remain. In this way, there is no "inner" or "outer", and all is the dancing stone buddha, going about his business and getting done what needs to be done.

    That's enough for my tired head to work around today.

    Gassho, J

  15. #15
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    The main thing is I was mostly talking about shikantaza, so I was aiming more at that.

    Usually I hate metaphor, but a dancing stone Buddha is a cute image. Perhaps it can avoid the birdshit from Ikkyu's poem?

    Chet

  16. #16

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    The main thing is I was mostly talking about shikantaza, so I was aiming more at that.

    Usually I hate metaphor, but a dancing stone Buddha is a cute image. Perhaps it can avoid the birdshit from Ikkyu's poem?

    Chet
    From Ikkyu's Crow With No Mouth, translated by Stephen Berg. ...

    that stone Buddha deserves all the birdshit it gets
    I wave my skinny arms like a tall flower in the wind

  17. #17

    Re: Shikantaza Question

    Thank you everyone for your wonderful, thoughtful replies, comments and advice. I tried my first time yesterday to meditate in this new way and I have to admit, it is going to take some time to get used it. It is so very different than all the other meditation techniques I have tried, yet somehow very freeing at the same time.

    Once again, thank you!
    Gassho!
    Ezz

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