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Thread: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

  1. #1
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Hello all,

    I've been slowly getting back into sitting. The feedback I received on the "Temptation" thread helped me realize that some major issues for me are turning something into a "duty" and having an attitude of perfectionism about it. I have this idea in my head of what my life should look like when I'm sitting and what my sitting practice should look like. I realize I need to throw all that out the window. It's a way of denying life, denying reality.

    I've been sitting with the controlling mind that wants to have everything "just so" and watching it. I notice when "I" start trying to control something, which is pretty often! And I just let it go. I notice that I don't want to sit with sleepiness, or headache, or distractability. The controlling part of my mind seems to be waiting for all of this "stuff" to go away so "the real zazen can begin." The zazen that's smooth, focused, concentrated, peaceful...

    It becomes clearer and clearer to me that this is a delusion. This is the very tendency that keeps me resisting and pushing away reality and life as it is. I keep waiting for things to get clearer, more settled; I keep waiting to have more energy, more discipline; keep waiting for certain transitions to pass so I can settle into my life; keep waiting, waiting for Godot...

    I've noticed that my mind sometimes wants to go back to some form of concentration practice: counting the breaths, or watching the breath. But I can see that, at least for me, where I'm at in my practice right now, this is just the ego looking to hijack zazen and turn it into another exercise in control. To forcibly press my mind into the shape it thinks it should be in. I experience freedom when I let go of this tendency, note the desire to control, and just let go of it. And this is how I learn to relate to my life off the cushion as well: to accept that each moment I find myself in needs nothing extra; it does not need me to hack away at it until it is, or at least looks, "perfect." How the hell would I have any clue what "perfect" was anyway?

    Which makes me wonder: why do so many Soto teachers encourage some kind of concentration practice or "mind settling practice" to beginners? It seems this only gives power and energy to the controlling ego that keeps us mired in delusion 24/7. It turns sitting practice into another arena of "control and conquer." "I will conquer my mind!" Isn't all of that nonsense?

    I guess I can see how some might have the idea we need to be able to settle the mind first to prevent ourselves from "spacing out" and drifting the entire time we're on the cushion. But I notice for me that if I have enough awareness to notice I've drifted off, at that point any form of counting or concentration practice becomes superfluous. Awareness has already returned.

    So it seems to me that to cultivate a concentration practice goes against the freedom and realization offered by shikantaza. We see the futility and delusion of our efforts to control through just watching the mind without trying to control it. So how can a practice that's about trying to control the mind fit into the Soto / shikantaza approach at all?

    Any thoughts and feedback are much welcomed.

    Stephanie

  2. #2

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Stephanie,

    I was having some of the same issues lately with sitting with "distractions". Oddly enough, when I try to apply any concentration techniques, it just leads to a panic attack.

    I always seem to forget that just letting go is where I'm going. Then when it happens, it's somehow always a surprise.

    I was having major writer's block on a writing assignment today, and then remembered I hadn't sat zazen in a few days somehow. It's like--- "oh yeah! How could I forget about that?" Just sitting really helped me let go, even let go of the writer's block.

    Then lately, at the nature preserve where I live, sometimes the scenery is so beautiful that it almost makes zazen seem "too easy", ha ha. But I just have to somehow level out that it's the same as all the other times--- everything/nothing. The same as if I were in a gas station bathroom--- except different.

    Zazen has also been teaching me when to let go of complications in my life--- when something gets "too concentrated" or overly complicated and feels like a never-ending circuit of wrong way turns--- instead of continuing to analyze it-- I just bow out if possible. It's been very helpful to myself and those around me.

    Anyway, those are some "sort-of-on-topic" thoughts

    Glad to hear your keester is on the zafu again

    Manatee

  3. #3

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    I've been sitting with the controlling mind that wants to have everything "just so" and watching it. I notice when "I" start trying to control something, which is pretty often! And I just let it go. I notice that I don't want to sit with sleepiness, or headache, or distractability. The controlling part of my mind seems to be waiting for all of this "stuff" to go away so "the real zazen can begin." The zazen that's smooth, focused, concentrated, peaceful...

    It becomes clearer and clearer to me that this is a delusion. This is the very tendency that keeps me resisting and pushing away reality and life as it is. I keep waiting for things to get clearer, more settled; I keep waiting to have more energy, more discipline; keep waiting for certain transitions to pass so I can settle into my life; keep waiting, waiting for Godot...
    One of the clearest expositions of "letting the real Zazen of Shikantaza begin" that I've met. Thank you.

    To cease from "pushing away life and reality as it is" is a true finding ... and union, being with and moving through ...

    I've noticed that my mind sometimes wants to go back to some form of concentration practice: counting the breaths, or watching the breath. But I can see that, at least for me, where I'm at in my practice right now, this is just the ego looking to hijack zazen and turn it into another exercise in control. To forcibly press my mind into the shape it thinks it should be in. I experience freedom when I let go of this tendency, note the desire to control, and just let go of it.
    Many traditional methods of Buddhist meditation, including some forms of Zazen in some schools, emphasize attaining concentration states of various intensity, and focusing "one pointedly" on an object in order to attain such intense concentration. While there is a certain concentration inherent in any form of meditation, including Shikantaza, our way is more an open, spacious, non-resisting, focus on 'everything and no one point in particular' (that is also a kind of gentle 'one point' however ... the one point is that all points without resistance).

    As Dogen wrote in Fukanzazengi ...

    The zazen I speak of is not meditation practice. It is simply the dharma gate of joyful ease, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment.

    (in another translation)

    What I call zazen is not developing concentration by stages and so on. It is simply the Awakened One's own easy and joyful practice, it is realized-practice within already manifest enlightenment. It is the display of complete reality.

    And this is how I learn to relate to my life off the cushion as well: to accept that each moment I find myself in needs nothing extra; it does not need me to hack away at it until it is, or at least looks, "perfect." How the hell would I have any clue what "perfect" was anyway?
    And finding that there is not a thing about us or life (not two, by the way) in need of change can start to work a revolutionary change in our experience of us-life ... and we begin to change in how we relate to ourself, how we live.

    Which makes me wonder: why do so many Soto teachers encourage some kind of concentration practice or "mind settling practice" to beginners? It seems this only gives power and energy to the controlling ego that keeps us mired in delusion 24/7. It turns sitting practice into another arena of "control and conquer." "I will conquer my mind!" Isn't all of that nonsense?
    A certain degree of settling the mind, and calming run-a-way thoughts and emotions, is necessary. Not an "intense state of concentration", but neither having one's thoughts and emotions stampeding like wild horses. One must see the silence and space between a bit. So, if someone is truly having no ability to have the mind settle, or is a true beginner with no sense at all of having the mind quiet down ... then some breath practice is a good thing. Training wheels on the bike.

    I am very content if you can just take those off and ride, ride, ride that easy, balanced, natural ride.

    As to what others practice ... different paths seeking (and non-seeking) for different goals.

    So how can a practice that's about trying to control the mind fit into the Soto / shikantaza approach at all?
    In my reading of Buddhist history, forms of Buddhist Practice aimed at developing intense concentration, special states, and the like were focused on removing the self from this reality to find Truth. Nirvana found only when Samsara is dropped away nearly completely from view (although many of those schools then emphasized a 'return' to Samsara with new insight).In our Shikantaza practice, we discover the very same Truth flowering, manifesting, alive in this very world. Nirvana blooming in the garden of Samsara, here all along.

    Actually, this was a divergence of views on the "purpose" of meditation going back to the time of the Buddha, which some feel the Buddha rejected (in his Middle Way, after years of physical and mental extreme practices seeking various states which he rejected for something clear and simple), but which later kept creeping back into Buddhist practice in various guises.

    Anyway, I wonder off the subject ...

    Gassho, J

  4. #4

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Right concentration is part of the Eightfold Path, so it should be there in our practice, right?

    Shikantaza seems to have a different approach to concentration, maybe the open awareness and concentration co-exist when praticed correctly, they are not one and also not two.

  5. #5

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by Janne H
    Right concentration is part of the Eightfold Path, so it should be there in our practice, right?

    Shikantaza seems to have a different approach to concentration, maybe the open awareness and concentration co-exist when praticed correctly, they are not one and also not two.
    This may run a bit long, for which I apologize ...

    Well, a funny thing about the "concentration" in "Right Concentration" (samyak-sam?dhi in Pali, samm?-sam?dhi, in Sanskrit) ... the meaning and content of what constitutes "Samadhi" can be very wide, very varied throughout history, depending on the school of meditation and the perspective. The etymological root (thank you to translator Greg Wonderwheel) of samadhi means "“putting together,” “to join,” and “to combine.” He offers translations of samadhi as “union”, “unification”, and “absorbtion” in which all discriminations are joined or combined into a realization of the great non-dual harmony of true suchness." An important section of the Platform Sutra (Greg's translation) states the following, and notice the emphasis on being "unperturbed" "unstuck" "unattached" to circumstances, dropping thoughts about conditions ...

    Learned and virtuous ones, what is called zen-samadhi (dhyana-samadhi)? Outwardly, to be free from characteristics is doing zen. Inwardly, to not be perturbed is doing samadhi. Outwardly, if one attaches to characteristics, inwardly, the heart-mind is immediately perturbed. Outwardly, if one is free from characteristics, the heart-mind is immediately not perturbed. The root nature by itself is pure, by itself is samadhi. Only by seeing conditions and thinking about conditions is one immediately perturbed. If someone sees various conditions and the heart-mind is not perturbed, this is real samadhi. Learned and virtuous ones, outwardly, to be free from characteristics is immediately zen. Inwardly, to not be perturbed is immediately samadhi. Outwardly, zen, inwardly, samadhi, this is doing zen-samadhi.
    So, Zen practice tended to take a view of Samadhi very different from those schools of meditation which held to to be a deep state of one pointed concentration leading to "Jhana" (which leads to another story ... the "Jhana" story)

    A book that should be mentioned is the recent "The Experience of Samadhi" by Richard Skankman, a survey of historical and modern Theravadan interpretations of Samadhi and Jhana. What is particularly interesting in reading the book is the extent of disagreement and widely varied interpretations from teacher to teacher, Sri Lankan vs. Burmese vs. Thai vs. Westerners, Lineage to Lineage even in that neck of the Buddhist world. Here is a Buddhistgeeks interview the author gave ... and as he discusses, there is little agreement, either currently or in centuries past, among the South Asian traditions either about "what the Buddha taught", or at least, how to interpret "what the Buddha taught" on the subject of Jhana. In the book, he interviews about two dozen teachers in South Asian traditions, and gets about two dozen, often very dissimilar interpretations.

    We continue our discussion with insight meditation teacher and author, Richard Shankman. In this episode we continue to dissect the different kinds of samadhi and their respective fruits--what in the Theravada tradition are called jhana (or "meditative absorption"). According to Shankman there are two ways of approaching the attainment of jhana, one as was taught in the original canonical texts of the Theravada, the Pali Suttas, and the other from the later commentaries on the Buddha's teachings, the Vishudimagga. As a result we get two different forms of jhana--one called Sutta jhana and the other called Vishudimagga jhana. ...

    http://personallifemedia.com/podcast...a-vishudimagga
    Richard Skankman's book makes one very interesting point that, perhaps, can be interpreted to mean that practices such as Shikantaza and the like actually cut right to the summit of Jhana practice. You see, it might perhaps possibly be argued (from some interpretations presented in the book) that Shikantaza practice is very close to what is referred to as the "Fourth Jhana in the Suttas" ... as opposed to the highly concentrated, hyper-absorbed Visuddhimagga commentary version. The Fourth Jhana in the Pali Suttas was considered the 'summit' of Jhana practice (as the higher Jhana, No. 5 to 8, were not encouraged as a kind of 'dead end') and appears to manifest (quoting the sutta descriptions in the book) "an abandoning of pleasure.pain, attractions/aversions, a dropping of both joy and grief", a dropping away of both rapture and bliss states, resulting in a "purity of mindfulness" and "equanimity". Combine this with the fact that, more than a "one pointed mind absorbed into a particular object", there is a "unification of mind" (described as a broader awareness around the object of meditation ... whereby the "mind itself becomes collected and unmoving, but not the objects of awareness, as mindfulness becomes lucid, effortless and unbroken" (See, for examples. pages 82-83 here))

    http://books.google.com/books?id=lQ_...age&q=&f=false

    A bit of the discussion of the highest (in Buddhist Practice) "Fourth Jhana", and its emphasis on equanimity while present amid circumstances (and a dropping of bliss states), can be found on page 49 there.

    This is very close to a description of Shikantaza, for example, as dropping all aversions and attractions, finding unification of mind, collected and unmoving, effortless and unbroken, in/as/through/not removed from the life, circumstances, complexities which surround us and are us, sitting still with what is just as it is.

    There has always been the tendency in meditation (including, but not limited to, Buddhist meditation schools of many flavors) to seek for special, extraordinary states of mind. Such states can be attained too with sufficient effort and concentration. It is possible and even highly likely that the Buddha himself taught forms of meditation emphasizing various Jhana states, although perhaps just to certain kinds of people needing it, as skillful means perhaps. Many paths, One Vehicle.

    In any event, there are always those who are seeking to escape from this world, attain various bliss or unusual mental states. And (coming at it from another approach) there have been those (such as in my own tradition of Shikantaza Zazen) who have instead found that this very world, and this ordinary life-mind is the most special, miraculous and extra-ordinary state when realized as such (and even when, in our delusion, not).

    SO, IN ANSWER TO YOUR QUESTION ... ops:

    maybe the open awareness and concentration co-exist when praticed correctly, they are not one and also not two.
    Shikantaza and intense concentration practices can certainly "co-exist". Yet (for the reasons stated), when practiced correctly ... as the complete and whole-some path to 'at one-ness with/as/realizing just this' which it is ... there is no other meditation path needed for/as/realizing Realization than Shikantaza. (And to do more may be like hitting the gas pedal and the brakes on the car at once ... counter-productive at best.)

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 12-10-2012 at 02:58 PM.

  6. #6
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Thank you, Jundo, for your encouraging and clear response.

    I don't know if my mind is "settled enough"; I don't even know what that means. But I do know that my attempts to "get my mind settled" go in the completely opposite direction of letting go of the controlling ego that always wants to "fix" experience. As long as I am waiting/trying to settle my mind, I am still trying to control and change, to achieve and conquer.

    This is why I have trouble understanding the value of establishing a concentration practice first. It has useful, pleasant effects, but it seems to go in the opposite direction of freedom and awakening. If our lucidity and calm comes from our ability to control our minds and make them smooth, what then when we can't control our minds? Concentration practice fed my neurosis.

    And I was good at it, too. I don't know if I entered a certain jhana or not, but I experienced bliss, feelings like light was flooding my entire body. But it didn't make me any more awake. Isn't that what the Buddha experienced as well? That he developed these amazing concentration states with the teachers he studied with, but found that his deep questions and troubles were still not resolved? The Buddha certainly taught jhanas as a way to get deeper into the mind, but only as a way to make it easier to see. I'm not sure that's necessary, and I think a lot of people probably get lost in cultivating those states and never wake up.

    All this said: Janne, it really doesn't matter what is in what sutra or sutta, at the end of the day. It's whether you're awake or not. There's a lot of dogmas, even in Buddhism, that have nothing to do with awakening. You can't trust it just because it's in a holy text. You have to trust yourself, and your own honesty and ability to reflect on whether what you're doing is waking you up or not.

  7. #7

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie

    All this said: Janne, it really doesn't matter what is in what sutra or sutta, at the end of the day. It's whether you're awake or not. There's a lot of dogmas, even in Buddhism, that have nothing to do with awakening. You can't trust it just because it's in a holy text. You have to trust yourself, and your own honesty and ability to reflect on whether what you're doing is waking you up or not.
    “Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is found written in your religious books. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of your teachers and elders. Do not believe in traditions because they have been handed down for many generations. But after observation and analysis, when you find that anything agrees with reason and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all, then accept it and live up to it.” - Shakyamuni Buddha
    Gassho, Stephanie

  8. #8

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    If we look at this a little differently:

    Therevada practice is pragmatic. They aim to relieve all suffering by a two step process (for simplicity)

    1) To transform all relative world bad into good
    2) To use the relative world good to achieve the conditions necessary for the jumping off into "nirvana".

    The first is any of the practices designed to temporarily suppress the hindrances, to foster better living for ourselves, to promote better treatment of others and the second is using the peace and temporary suppression to create the jump off to the "unconditioned".

    Of course all of this is the eightfold path itself. Wholesome concentration is one part of that. It is claimed to lead to the states of joy and happiness that allow one to be peaceful enough to begin the insight process proper. We all know that things are impermanent but to experience this in a deeper way that it changes us for good seems to be the goal of this insight, along with the other insights like non-self etc etc.

    Concentration practice is therefore a pragmatic tool like "replacing negative states with positive ones" (which I was pleased to see was borrowed and is being used here).

    On one hand we have very focussed concentration and on the other the open-awareness of shikantanza. These can be seen not as opposites but as gradations on a scale- like when I am driving my concentration is on the road just ahead but I still maintain some awareness of the periphery. When walking I may be open to everything but there is still some awareness of the path ahead. One doesn't preclude the other. In fact both are necessary, or at least "useful".

    If we use the sense of the word bhavana as mental development then it enables us not to be so caught up with right and wrong meditation methods but to look at what fosters the end of suffering.

    I have been spending half of my meditation time with metta and concentration practice and then the second half of each session with open awareness practice. The focussing on the breathing at the tip of the nose is a gentle but forced experience, whereas the Theravada mindfulness approach of still focussing on that area but allowing anything strong enough that pulls you away to be focussed on fully until that passes. But they are not two-we can start with one and move seemlessly into the other if conditions demand- and then taking the mindfulness one step further to 'no object as object' we get open-awareness. All on a scale..not three.

    I guess for religious folks, or those that have some attachment to one system, it is natural to say that one method is superior to the other practice..for those of us that aren't, and really "just" want a way to end suffering for all of us, then we will use expedient means, or at least test the assertions of the authors and teachers to our own satisfaction.

    This also touches on the subject of looking for "perfection" in a teacher/role model. I am impressed by Bhante Gunaratana, both his writings and my failed searches to find anything bad about him. Of course there may be things about him I don't know but thats the risk. However, until I see them, he is the guy that embodies a lot of the things about Buddhism that brought me to it. His teachings are also logical and methodical and very clear. Incidentally he says that the Zen path of meditation is equally valid but very difficult for many people- in his writings he is only interested in the increased happiness of people and seeks to extol what he sees as the easiest and most direct path- at least that's my reading of him. To contrast I have read a lot recently about various Roshis in Zen who have been the same fallible people as the rest of us, and commiting acts of aggression, bad speech, sexual misbehaviour etc etc. These people supposedly had kensho experiences which weren't "strong" enough to change them...perhaps some single pointed concentration and the "conditioned" happiness and peace it leaves one with would have helped them to avoid those problems? Of course there may be many zen folks who do embody a 'holy' life, and other Theravadins who don't. My suspicion is that those that use the concentration practices to maintain temporary joy and happiness whie working on rooting out the roots of dukkha are probably, on the whole, the ones who lead the most wholesome lives in general. Of course, thats a hypothesis and not fact..my research will continue!

    I have on purposely opened myself up for some strong disagreement here. I have advanced some ideas for testing and I welcome feedback both positive and negative. Of course I don't know anything except I'm thirsty now and am going to drink tea.

    Regards to all

    Rich

  9. #9

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    I have been spending half of my meditation time with metta and concentration practice and then the second half of each session with open awareness practice. The focussing on the breathing at the tip of the nose is a gentle but forced experience, whereas the Theravada mindfulness approach of still focussing on that area but allowing anything strong enough that pulls you away to be focussed on fully until that passes. But they are not two-we can start with one and move seemlessly into the other if conditions demand- and then taking the mindfulness one step further to 'no object as object' we get open-awareness. All on a scale..not three.
    Simply sit a moment of Shikantaza, whole and complete, and all is whole and complete. An instant of Zazen is Buddha realized, Nirvana realized, life realized immediately, the destination attained from the start ... if known as such, if simply allowed to be suchness.

    The "open awareness" of Shikantaza is not some artificial mental state to be attained, and is just the natural way of being open to and opened by all circumstances.

    We sit, not to attain, but to abandon mental confusion and self-created mucking about ... judgments, resistance, thoughts of future and past, aversions and attractions. We sit and are sat, and then only sitting sits sitting.

    That, and do as one can not to harm self and others (not two, by the way), and one has a sound and whole-some Practice. (If a Roshi or Bikkhu or anyone falls down in living so from time to time ... simply get back up and begin from there).

    When Shikantaza is properly experienced as whole and complete, all of reality sitting in this instant, nothing to add or take away ... then there is no other practice necessary (perhaps a touch of Metta on the Compassion side to aid us in being kind to each other, and in not doing harm). When life is properly experienced as whole and complete, all of reality alive in that instant, nothing to add or take away ... then there is not a drop more necessary to make things "right" (though we should all live together with kindness, and seek not to harm self-&-others))

    Keep it simple, keep it clear ... and then it is simple and clear. Complicate things, and all is a muddle of complication. Force it, and it is a "forced experience". Do not stir up the naturally crystal water, and allow all to settle on its own ... and one can see right through without trouble. Most of us run after the "goals" of Buddhist practice like a dog chasing its tail. Do not think of Buddhist Practice as a spiritual department store of things to attain, or a basketball game with a target to shoot at and hit and points to gain.

    Keep trying to attain some this, and get to some that ... and one will always be apart from this and that. Realizing that there was never a thing from the start in need of change is a revolutionary change ... and works real and revolutionary life changing changes in the living of this life.

    Gassho, Jundo

  10. #10
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Jundo wrote:
    It is possible and even highly likely that the Buddha himself taught forms of meditation emphasizing various Jhana states, although perhaps just to certain kinds of people needing it, as skillful means perhaps.
    I really like this idea, and it seems to make sense, but where did he leave the instruction on who was to do what? For example, I am pretty much settled into shikantaza now, but I like to think about things and there was a time where I thought that maybe koans was the way for a thinker such as me to go. The rationale was that it would make me realize that thinking was not the be-all and end-all I "thought" it was. So anyway, where did the Buddha leave the instruction book that says x-type people need to do it this way, and y-type people need to do it that way, and so on? And if he did leave such instructions, then why aren't people following them?

  11. #11

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by AlanLa
    Jundo wrote:
    It is possible and even highly likely that the Buddha himself taught forms of meditation emphasizing various Jhana states, although perhaps just to certain kinds of people needing it, as skillful means perhaps.
    I really like this idea, and it seems to make sense, but where did he leave the instruction on who was to do what?... So anyway, where did the Buddha leave the instruction book that says x-type people need to do it this way, and y-type people need to do it that way, and so on? And if he did leave such instructions, then why aren't people following them?
    Yes, well, hmmm .... GOOD QUESTION! ops:

    Well, the Buddha didn't! Or, better said, almost every Sutta or Sutra or Commentator thereon, Rinpoche or Roshi since the Buddha's time has claimed that the Buddha recommended the particular way which happened to be favored by that Sutta or Sutra or Commentator, Rinpoche or Roshi. Most of the great teachers of the past or present (not all) have said the Buddha recommended this or the Buddha taught that, and such-and-such is the best (or only) way. So, there are about as many answers to your question as there have been Buddhist teachers recommending Buddhist teachings! (The Lotus Sutra, as one example, in an attempt to give Mahayana Buddhism a footing in the "reformation" from South Asian "Hinayana" Buddhism, describes the Buddha as telling the assembly that all his earlier teachings were provisional, as earlier Buddhists were not yet then ready for his highest teaching. Chan/Zen then appeared within the Mahayana and claimed it was the "real deal", whereupon the different schools of Zen took flower tussling about which of them is the "real deal" of Zen and all Buddhism!).

    Everyone is always debating and arguing over which is the "real deal".

    I believe that each sentient being must be the final judge for him/herself, and there is no "rule book" any more than there are surefire tests in life for choosing someone to love and marry. If, upon choosing a spiritual practice or life partner one finds, as the months and years pass, that it still feels right .... it probably was right! :shock:

    I would never say that Shikantaza is the best way for all people, or the only path up the mountain. . There are many Buddhist paths, many kinds of meditation, and many religions and other philosophies ... each might be right for different kinds of people. One size need not fit all, any more than we all need to dress the same and eat the same meals.

    HOWEVER, I do say this about Shikantaza, for this particular path has a special "nothing special" face:

    Shikantaza must be followed as a complete path, ever total arriving in each timeless-second passing, the goal wholly attained in each instant of sitting ... not one thing to add, not one thing to take away, nothing more needed or desired ... all targets, all aversions and attractions let go ... nothing to judge, the Buddha perfectly realized and alive right in this beautiful, sacred, perfect action of Body-Mind "Just Sitting". In this way, the little self (which is ever desiring something more, ever thinking about progress and "finally getting to the place it can be happy forever", never satisfied, always judging "incompleteness" and "something needed" or "something to be pushed away") is put out of a job ... body-mind drop away ... and all of life is encountered as a complete path, ever total arriving, the goal wholly attained in each instant of living, a Joy-of-life sweeping in joy and sadness ... not one thing to add, not one thing to take away, nothing more needed or desired, nothing to judge, the Buddha realized right in this beautiful, sacred, perfect action of LIFE.

    This attaining of a state of 'no state to attain and nothing to change' is the attaining of a most wondrous life changing state. Deluded beings begin to live with the eyes of Bodhisattvas, of Buddhas, right amid/as/through this muddy world.

    By definition, seek for something to add to Shikantaza, judge that there is some state to attain, something lacking, something right or wrong with one's Zazen at a given moment ... and one kills the thing, and you are doing it wrong!
    But drop all though of attainment or of "right and wrong" Zazen, and one may begin to taste the attaining of "Zazen done right"
    (a Zenny Catch-22).

    Most folks seek to clean the human mind, or improve life, as if cleaning a dirty window. They are never satisfied with the dirty window, and so set out to make it clean. Our Shikantaza way is to savor the "just as it is" perfection of that window and each grain of dirt, beyond all thought of grime or its absence ... even as, all hand in hand ... we can fetch water to give it a good scrub. In that way, one may first truly see right through the "crystal clear glass".

    How often in life do we truly experience that there is nothing that need be done, nothing that need be added to life ... even as, hand in hand, ... we go on with its gentle living? Truly, there are "many paths up and down the mountain", but few which teach that there is no mountain, no place in need of going, each step by step of the hike a perfect arriving ... even as, all hand in hand, ... we keep moving forward (seeking to avoid, as we can, the poison ivy, snakes and little harms). This is the unique perspective(s) of the Shikantaza way.

    I have met many folks who have tried Shikantaza for a time, then ran away (wholly or partly) seeking "something more" because Shikantaza was "not enough". By definition, such folks never understood "Shikantaza", and may go on for lifetimes trying to find the "real deal" always here all along.

    I believe that so many people in this world could benefit from such a teaching ... for they are all trying to get somewhere to make their life complete. If only more people might taste that life is ever completely life, even as they get on with life's living ... and seek to live it with a dose of wisdom, compassion and grace.

    For such reasons, I recommend this particular path up and down the imaginary mountain.

    Gassho, J

  12. #12

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Jundo
    Thanks for this perfect pearl, " Shikantaza is sitting still with what is just as it is." What else needs to be said? Gassho, Zak

  13. #13

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by zak
    Jundo
    Thanks for this perfect pearl, " Shikantaza is sitting still with what is just as it is." What else needs to be said? Gassho, Zak
    Hi Zak,

    It is "sitting still with what is just as it is" whether sitting still or moving around ... whether at rest or being knocked around by life ... whether perfectly balanced on one's bike or momentarily thrown in a ditch ...

    Now, that's "STILL"!

  14. #14
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Loved the answer, Jundo, this part in particular...
    I believe that each sentient being must be the final judge for him/herself, and there is no "rule book" any more than there are surefire tests in life for choosing someone to love and marry. If, upon choosing a spiritual practice or life partner one finds, as the months and years pass, that it still feels right .... it probably was right!
    I totally agree, but there is just NO political advantage to this view, and so we end up with "religious beliefs that must be adhered to," and people don't/can't/are unable to make serious judgments, and that's where I jumped ship/drifted. Faith is blind in this worst case scenario, but not quite so blind in Buddhism, and once you get a glimpse of enlightenment you just Go! on that path. Many ways to "see" enlightenment there are, might say Yoda.

    I very much appreciate your "many paths up the mountain" view. But in reviewing the literature I all too often see that authors advocate THIS way up the mountain. I understand the issues of publication and profit, but that brings me back to that political view; follow THIS view. My point is this: where is the wisdom? I find it here more than elsewhere.

    Choice is a bitch, especially when it's existential..................................and yet you can..........................*&%#@

  15. #15

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Quote Originally Posted by zak
    Jundo
    Thanks for this perfect pearl, " Shikantaza is sitting still with what is just as it is." What else needs to be said? Gassho, Zak
    Hi Zak,

    It is "sitting still with what is just as it is" whether sitting still or moving around ... whether at rest or being knocked around by life ... whether perfectly balanced on one's bike or momentarily thrown in a ditch ...

    Now, that's "STILL"!
    YES!
    When we sit we learn the dance. When we arise from the zafu we dance the dance and take the stillness with us. Gassho Zak

  16. #16

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Hi again,

    just wanted to express my gratitude for this thread and for all the great words of advice and guidance! This question has for some time been troubling me and my practice, going on and off trying to find the right way of doing it, to concentrate or not to concentrate, looking or not looking for that state of "enlightenment", when the mind is completly still and perfect. But one can really not expect anything, life is more dynamic than that, there´s both stillness and some chaos, and I guess that Shikantaza is really about dropping it all and being able to just sit with whatever is, not excluding anything. And thats what I really like about it, the simplicity of it.

    A sidenote:

    At the moment I´m reading the book The Method of No-Method by Sheng Yen, about Silent Illumination, and he´s talking about the view of stages in the practice, and I quote:

    "Although we talk about stages in Silent Illumination, please do not expect to experience distinct and separate stages. We use the term "stages" as points of reference for instructing you. Therefore, do not imagine having to work your way systematically up to the highest stage. You can realize Silent Illumination even with the foundation practice of sitting in awareness."
    "Since it is more natural for most people to understand practice as occurring in stages, I have described Silent Illumination as occurring in stages. It is possible to contemplate emptiness and selflessness at any stage in Silent Illumination; it is also possible to experience enlightenment at any stage of this practice."
    Same, different to Shikantaza? The only real difference that I can find is that he/they choose to point out different stages that might or will occur in the practice, not prefaring one over the other, as in Shikantaza one probably may experience the same "stages" or depts, so there doesn´t seem to be any real difference to the actual practice of sitting in comparison to Shikantaza, if done correctly. But off course there are probably many differences to other aspects around the practice, like other practices and the words of the teachers etc. Any thoughts on that?

    If you have previously discussed this book, then maybe you could redirect me to that thread?

    And thanks again!

    Janne

  17. #17

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Hi Janne,

    My reading of the late, wonderful Master Sheng Yen is that he mixed and matched several styles, as is very common in Chinese Buddhism in general ... but even more so with Sheng Yen, who was a little bit Rinzai (he taught Koan centered Zazen), a little bit Soto (he had some training in Japan and held a Soto Lineage), and some other things too.

    To answer your question, yes, I have read some things by Master Sheng Yen in which he speaks of meditation as a means to the attaining of various highly concentrated states and world-removing attainments of Samadhi. I have in the past year re-read his "Hoofprint of the Ox" book, for example, and there he presents a quite instrumentalist, goal oriented view of what he calls "Silent Illumination" ... as a means to attain very deep states of "one pointed" mind. Search the phrase "Seven Phases" here, and read from page 45 to 49 here. He draws some diagrams to represent this, and it is an excellent description of the types of "one pointed" meditation aimed at special states that we have been talking about on this thread ...

    http://books.google.co.jp/books?id=myQN ... es&f=false

    While that may be a wonderful path, it is not the exclusive way "Silent Illumination" has been described over the centuries and others (such as me) interpret "Silent Illumination" as more "open, spacious, unified, illuminated mind". It is not "one pointed", so much as unified and found "neither inside, nor outside, nor in between" wholly with one's environment and circumstances. What Sheng Yen presents is of a rather different flavor from that view of "Silent Illumination", and is also different, I believe, from "Just Sitting" in Dogen's meaning (I do not see anywhere in Dogen's writings an emphasis on attaining deep Samadhi states, and Dogen is more about "sitting with all phenomena in the universe as sacred, whole, and each the universe's 'total exertion' of Buddha in each grain of sand).

    I hope that helps.

    Gassho, J

  18. #18

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    I don´t feel that there really is any reason for me to try to ponder on that issue, there´s too much that I don´t have a clue about, and it would probably only get me distracted from doing Shikantaza, witch buy the way I feel is all I need at the moment. So I will drop that question.

    Janne

  19. #19
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    While that may be a wonderful path, it is not the exclusive way "Silent Illumination" has been described over the centuries and others (such as me) interpret "Silent Illumination" as more "open, spacious, unified, illuminated mind". It is not "one pointed", so much as unified and found "neither inside, nor outside, nor in between" wholly with one's environment and circumstances.
    This is the best description I've heard, and Shen Yeng does emphasize this more in 'Method of No-Method'. Part of the main reason I dig Treeleaf so much is because Jundo and Taigu are so much more in line with my personal experiences over the years about Shikantaza and Soto zazen. It was only after experiencing Shikantaza that I ended up getting more involved with various concentration practices, and they became a real distraction and source of wrong-headedness in my practice.

    YMMV, however.

    Chet

    *Edited to add*

    I should add that I'm only now starting to 'empty my cup' so that I can learn more from Jundo and Taigu about deeper understanding on the Soto path. So far, they've only been a help, even if/when I opposed them at the beginning. Jundo keeps reminding me about the 'form' aspect so I don't get lost in emptiness and Taigu calls me on my shit. I have definitely found my Dharma home.

    *gassho*

  20. #20
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    I just got 'Method of No Method' as this "no-method" of shikantaza is what seems to be most in accord with my recent practice and experience... it would be unfortunate indeed of Sheng Yen's "method of no method" was really just a concentration method!

    Dogen arises again and again for me as the most profound explicator of the path of Zen... Soto Zen or otherwise. I love the Rinzai koans too (which seem to me perfectly compatible with Soto practice also, just not as something to carry into zazen), which also come up like refrains from old songs in my head from time to time, but it's really Dogen that seems burned into the heart. I keep meaning to buy and start to read the entire Shobogenzo but I don't yet feel "ready." So far I've only read from it here and there at leisure. But I can say it, like koans, makes more sense the more I sit and practice. Finally understanding something Dogen wrote, years after first reading it, has been a helpful guide in the deepening of my practice/understanding!

    Anyway, all that said, it helps to find explications of the "method (of no method)" also. Though you could have bounced as many off my head in the beginning and I would have never "gotten it." Shikantaza baffled me when I first read descriptions of it. I couldn't comprehend anything that didn't involve some sort of "conquering effort." I've always been more of a "warrior type" personality. I like intensity, challenge, and learning through adversity. But even with that disposition, I find that any practices that are about "conquering" rather than "letting go" just lead to more delusion.

    One thing I can say about concentration states, from my personal experience of jhana (I assume I hit at least the first one, but who knows), though, is the paradox is that even though concentration practice requires some effort, concentration states arise from letting go. The deeper you let go, the more the bliss.

    So all this stuff isn't so unrelated as it may seem at first.

    The problem though is that the bliss and the feeling of accomplishment from concentration practice can just further entrench the ego once one gets off the cushion. All that led to a spiritual dead-end for me.

  21. #21

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    [

    This is the best description I've heard, and Sheng Yeng does emphasize this more in 'Method of No-Method'.
    I should mention that, after having read Method of No-Method (which I almost was going to recommend for our book club here) and some other later writings by Rev. Sheng Yen ... it seems that he softened his views in later years, and came closer to a Just Sitting approach. It seems Master Sheng yen did change some of his ways of presentation as he came more and more in contact with Western lay students as the decades passed, and adjusted some of his attitudes as the years passed. His later writings seem rather softer in tone, more "open spacious mind" and less "one pointy concentration states".

    Gassho, J

  22. #22

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Thank you for putting it so well. "Just as it is."

    Jamie

  23. #23

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Looks like I am on my own on this one but I really don't think the two are incompatible. The digital distinction between focussing on one thing ie the breath and then focussing on anything that comes up as it arises, in open awareness, I see as an illusion- or perhaps more accurately just a view. The other view is they are part of a spectrum.
    Given that, so far, searches on Western Theravada teachers and Western Zen teachers have revealed to that the Zen side has some serious problems then I hypothesise something is lacking in practice. I may be wrong and have just not found the Theravada issues in which case I would withdraw this theory.
    A cursory view of Zen in the West reveals far too many teacher level people who indulge in poor behaviour (to put it mildly) and while the "pick yourself up and carry on" view has merit, if we don't live better lives and act more comapssionately and be less harming than the ordinary person then Zen is just an indulgence.
    1) Allegations from within the zen community with evidence for them:
    2) Sexual predation on vunerable women by one teacher (possibly rape), with the organisation knowing and disagreeing but taking no action.
    3) Inappropriate sexual behaviour detailed in a book on one centre- over many years.
    4) Alcoholism in a supposedly enlightened teacher.
    5) A teacher revoking transmission to students, leading their heir to say that this wasn't the same person they had learnt under- and by the looks of it losing their inheritance through that.
    6) The situation with that has been detailed on here- which at the very least included speech designed to provoke, violence and someone lying afterwards, if I read the thread right and the post on the other site. These behaviours are ones I could find in a lot of pubs here on a Saturday night amongst people who have never had an interest in anything remotely "spiritual".
    [Given I wasn't present for any of these events and even though they seem well documented in the public arena I should say for legal reasons these are allegations and personally I have no proof one way or another, and so haven't posted names]
    The trouble is that these scenarios show that if indeed these people have some experience of "absolute truth" they have not done too well in practice dealing with "relative truth" issues, and ultimately the oneness of absolute and relative.
    I personally would never put on robes nor seek to teach until I lived the eightfold path to a very high degree. That is a long way away....
    If concentration practice and jhanas produce states of happiness/equanimity that, even though conditioned, allow us to behave peacefully and in a moral way, while we continue to work on non-attainment then they are useful and a vital part of Buddhism in my opinion.
    In this sense they are no different than the replacing of unwholesome states with wholesome states- a Theravada practice borrowed, quite rightly in my opinion, by Jundo and Taigu here on Treeleaf.
    My practice at the moment, with relation to this post, involves "just sitting" with the anger/sadness this has evoked for me but also using metta to love these folks from the above examples. This seems contradictory, much like the concentration and shikantaza, but isn't. If I can live a decent caring life, helping others and doing no-harm but never achieving the perfection of just sitting I would chose that rather than the other way around.
    All the best
    Rich

  24. #24
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grizzly
    My practice at the moment, with relation to this post, involves "just sitting" with the anger/sadness this has evoked for me but also using metta to love these folks from the above examples. This seems contradictory, much like the concentration and shikantaza, but isn't. If I can live a decent caring life, helping others and doing no-harm but never achieving the perfection of just sitting I would chose that rather than the other way around.
    All the best
    Rich
    Although it's admirable for you to chose the one over the other, it's foolish. Not so much to choose the perfection of sitting, but the perfection of wisdom, would be best. In fact, it is only though awareness directed at your 'harmful' actions that you can even begin to approach wisdom. Without harmful actions from which to learn the nature of suffering and the destructiveness of clinging consciousness, there can be no wisdom.

    Personally, I'm glad you have been disappointed! Your hopes were pinned on a false belief and a conditioned situation. The ethical choices of another are not my 'business' - they aren't your business either. If we wait until people are 'perfect beings' before we allow them to be teachers, there will be very, very few teachers.

    It's mistaken to rest your faith on the teachings of the Buddha or on the path of Zen entirely on your teachers. The path of the Buddha begins and ends with you.

    Chet

  25. #25

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Although it's admirable for you to chose the one over the other, it's foolish
    I am guessing you missed the IF in the sentence.

    In fact, it is only though awareness directed at your 'harmful' actions that you can even begin to approach wisdom
    I think I demonstrated in my last post that Zen training doesn't lead to this necessarily. If you aware of a harmful action and then don't repeat it then you may have been said to develop wisdom, but you don't have to try everything that's harmful to know that is so. In fact that was implicit in my post. If you know that using concentration practice can lead to happiness for an hour or a day or so after sitting and that happiness allows you to be kinder and constructive, then not to do so is foolish. It is the practical application of the path. Of course from that place of happiness you can sit and be aware and get insight into impermance, non-self and dukkha which is ultimately the transformative process. If just sitting with anger leads one to see through it and not repeat it then all well and good but if after some time it is still there then it is practical to change it by any skilful means possible. You can do both. At the end of the day if the practice doesn't lead to a better life for each of us collectively then its just a kind of mental masturbation.

    If we wait until people are 'perfect beings' before we allow them to be teachers, there will be very, very few teachers
    And that is bad because? One good teacher who lives entirely by the eightfold path could well be worth a thousand others, don't you think?

    The path of the Buddha begins and ends with you
    No disagreement there. That's why I'm going against the grain of the group here and discussing this point. The Buddha said to prove this to ourselves. What can we prove? We can't prove anything but our behaviour towards others and the way we live.
    If someone wants to sit for an hour per day and a month per year and in 20 years they are still misusing alchohol and saying things just to get a reaction from someone else (or similar) then yes, you are right, its not my business, but it is my sadness.

    Your hopes were pinned on a false belief and a conditioned situation
    I'm certainly not saying I'm right about all of this, but its not a false belief. Its a choice to say that unless we have a practice that makes better people we are wasting our time. Talking of conditioned situations is a belief- because you are implying the unconditioned as an absolute- which is common in some forms of Buddhism although there is no evidence for anything unconditioned. The suttas in fact speak of being unconditioned by greed, hatred and delusion- again a practical aim- not a metaphysical postulate.

    Best wishes

    Rich

  26. #26
    Stephanie
    Guest

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Hi Grizzly.

    You're circling around what has been one of the central "koans" of my practice: what good is this practice, if it cannot make us perfect? What does it mean that someone can be realized and yet still behave so badly, and seem to still be so deluded?

    Well, the first approach to this question is to posit that it is possible to either achieve or approximate perfection, and that realized teachers never make mistakes or have bad vices. My practice and experience has shown me that this is definitely not the case. Of course, you are going to have to realize this for yourself if you have not already.

    I can tell you if you dig hard enough, you will find the "dirt" on any spiritual teacher, no matter what style or tradition. Some people are just scam artists, but even the greatest teachers will have some sort of "dark side" or "character flaw." It's just that some keep it better hidden than others. In Zen, there is less emphasis on ideals of purity and more acceptance of "as it is," so these things are more in the open and dealt with more fearlessly and publicly. Therevada is more about purity, so a lot more effort will be put in by the teacher and community to give off an impression of purity. That doesn't mean that "the ugly stuff" isn't there, it's just more hidden.

    Zen is a practice, not a state. One will "fall off" again and again, and will need to get back up, dust oneself off, and return to clarity, again and again. Again and again, "for ten thousand years nonstop" as Seung Sahn would say. Are you ready for that?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grizzly
    The trouble is that these scenarios show that if indeed these people have some experience of "absolute truth" they have not done too well in practice dealing with "relative truth" issues, and ultimately the oneness of absolute and relative.
    You're absolutely correct. And I wouldn't recommend Buddhism as necessarily the first place to go to deal with "relative truths" of the marketplace. For that we've got economics, sociology, psychology, law... Buddhism is a monastic tradition about tools for waking up to Reality. It's not a way to realize worldly "success," no matter how many "Zen and the art of..." manuals say otherwise.

    I just finished reading Steve Hagen's Buddhism Plain and Simple. A wonderfully clear presentation of the directness of Zen practice. Zen practice allows us to not to waste our time spending years chasing after pie-in-the-sky idealist visions, giving us the chance instead to see right here and now that these are just ideas that have nothing to do with Reality itself. Hagen says that our one and only intention needs to be to be awake. That doesn't mean we don't care about right action, but rather that we realize that our conceptions of what "right action" is are hopelessly confused until we wake up and see the insubstantiality of our thoughts.

    Do you want to wake up? Do you want to face Reality? If your answers to these questions are "Yes," then you must be ready to set aside your ideals, your hopes and opinions about how things "ought to be." I'm not saying you have to set them aside now--you're just going to have to be willing to drop them when you come to the fork in the road and the sign on one fork says "Reality" and the other says "My Ideas." If you like your ideas more, you can certainly choose to go that route, but you're going to be heading away from Reality.

    Trust me, I know--I've been stubbornly heading in the opposite direction from Reality for years :lol: I've basically had to run into walls, fall a thousand feet and go "splat," get hit with bricks, blown up... all the usual Wile E. Coyote stuff, to even start to be open to the fact that maybe my brilliant and clever ideas, about how things should be and actually are, aren't getting me very far... :shock:

  27. #27

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grizzly
    Given that, so far, searches on Western Theravada teachers and Western Zen teachers have revealed to that the Zen side has some serious problems then I hypothesise something is lacking in practice. I may be wrong and have just not found the Theravada issues in which case I would withdraw this theory.
    A cursory view of Zen in the West reveals far too many teacher level people who indulge in poor behaviour (to put it mildly) and while the "pick yourself up and carry on" view has merit, if we don't live better lives and act more comapssionately and be less harming than the ordinary person then Zen is just an indulgence.
    Hi Griz,

    Well, I cannot accept many of your premises or conclusions.

    It is way past my bedtime, and Stephanie said it with more elegance than I can right now, but let me say this. I want to bring right up to the start here what I say at the end of this posting ...

    One would be perhaps foolish to argue that a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch. One would be perhaps foolish to assert that someone who, perhaps, had an affair while married is to be lumped into the same category as rapist or a child molester. One would be perhaps foolish to assert that a teacher with a family propensity to alcoholism is thus to be completely written off as a teacher (and would be perhaps foolish to discount the possibility the the weakness will strengthen his or her ability to speak to fellow human beings dealing with addiction issues).

    In fact, the vast number of Zen and other Buddhist teachers I know are kind, gentle, non-violent, honest folks who are genuinely decent people who live what they preach (same for the vast majority of Catholic and Christian clergy, despite the bad ones).

    One would be wrong both to throw out "all the babies with the bath water", and one would be foolish to demand saints of 100% of the clergy 100% of the time. (The only reason, I believe, that old religious books ... Buddhist, Christian and any other ... contain images of "Perfect Saints" is that they have been scrubbed of any hint of human failing after the "religious hero" died in a process of hagiography. That is not to say that there were not truly saintly, truly moral people in all religions throughout history ... but that few people are not without some imperfections.). I would rather study Buddhism's teachings on managing human imperfections with someone who has managed his or her imperfections well, then with someone who had never any at all or denies them artificially.
    I wrote an essay addressing many of these issues awhile back, and ask you to have a look if you have time.

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=29575#p29575
    The central theme is as follows:

    All human beings, from 'Great Bodhisattvas' right on down to the rest of us, are human beings ... and that means rough edges, cracks and ugly spots, flesh, fallings down and flaws. (At least, of course, until we eventually become Perfect Golden Buddhas ... assuming that even those ideals reside anywhere beyond our flawed human imaginations) Human beings are human. That includes Zen and other Buddhist teachers, no less.

    What matters most is what we do with those flaws in life, how we live as human beings ... with a bit of grace, ease, non-attachment, wholeness, peace, at-oneness and sincerity, great Compassion and Loving Kindness toward our fellow flawed beings. Practice does not remove all our human rough spots, but it allows a wild and imperfect stone to be imperfect (perfectly imperfect) yet simultaneously material to be polished into a jewel ... so many rough edges made soft and round. The Precepts are a guide for constant moment-to-moment practice in "not falling down". One cannot polish a tile into a Buddha ... but the constant polishing is Buddha.

    Yet, despite the roundness and polishing, some rough edges may remain. All human beings have the tendency to fall down from time to time, some more than others.

    It is a fallacy to think that Zen or other Buddhist priests are ever completely free, during this life, from being human. In any large group of people ... whether Zen priests, other Buddhist, Christian or Jewish priests and clergy of all kinds ... there will always be examples of greed, anger and ignorance. Furthermore, in the lifetime of any one individual ... even among the best of us ... there are sure to be moments of greed, anger and ignorance.

    But our Practice does, more often than not, free us from the worst. It makes us better people. (In fact, most clergy I have met ... not just Buddhist clergy, but of all religions ... are good, caring, ethical people, the bad apples aside). Most of the Zen teachers I have met ... especially those with a few years and some maturity under their belt ... tend to be lovely, gentle, well rounded, self-actuated, moderate, compassionate, healthy people - balanced, living life with fullness and well.

    What is more, a teacher can be 95% good, wise and decent, a caring and profound minister ... yet have a proclivity in the remaining 5% that is an inner devil. The fact is that being a Buddhist teacher has not allowed many to avoid getting led around by the "little Buddha" in their pants sometimes, getting involved in sex scandals. There have been several modern Buddhist masters with addiction issues. I do not know of any case of child abuse involving a modern Zen or other Buddhist teacher ... but I would not be shocked if there ever was such a scandal. I know of Zen teachers who have punched other Zen teachers, or momentarily "lost it" and taken to an instant of violence.

    The question is whether the 95% that embodies Wisdom and Compassion is completely canceled and nullified by the 5% which is an ass and a human fool. Certainly, if the 5% is serious enough (child abuse as seen among some rabbis and priests is certainly an example, as are other acts of violence or truly malicious conduct), I say it does, certainly. (In fact, while recognizing that even the victimizer is too a victim of beginingless greed, anger, ignorance ... toss the worst of them in a cell, and throw away the key!). On the other hand, if what is seen is a relatively minor human weakness or failing ... I say it does not. What is more, it may make the teacher an even greater teacher because of his/her humanity.

    In other words, I would rather learn about some things from a fellow weak and fragile human being wrestling, right now, with Mara than from a stone Buddha statue, a Dharma machine, a Flawless Saint (although how many of those long dead saints and ancestors in religious hagiographic story books, their lives cleaned up and dipped in gold and set on a pedestal after their deaths, were truly so flawless during their flesh and blood lives?).
    I reject the premise that this is an issue limited to any one branch or branches of this or any religion. A 5 minute search through Google will reveal similar abuses and "fallings down" by members of the Theravada Sangha, human beings too ...

    http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/429961.stm

    http://www.metro.co.uk/news/35809-thai- ... rape-claim

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldne ... n-war.html

    In fact, if one reads the Vinaya Rules established by the Buddha himself back with his original students 2500 years, one sees each rule established in reaction to a real situation (or one that was felt to be likely). For just about every form of human falling down one can imagine ... there was a case of it happening and a rule against it had to be made.

    I could find like stories about Jewish Rabbis, Mullahs, Christian Ministers and Catholic Priests.

    One would be perhaps foolish to argue that a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch. One would be perhaps foolish to assert that someone who, perhaps, had an affair while married is to be lumped into the same category as rapist or a child molester. One would be perhaps foolish to assert that a teacher with a family propensity to alcoholism is thus to be completely written off as a teacher (and would be perhaps foolish to discount the possibility the the weakness will strengthen his or her ability to speak to fellow human beings dealing with addiction issues).

    In fact, the vast number of Zen and other Buddhist teachers I know are kind, gentle, non-violent, honest folks who are genuinely decent people who live what they preach (same for the vast majority of Catholic and Christian clergy, despite the bad ones).

    One would be wrong both to throw out "all the babies with the bath water", and one would be foolish to demand saints of 100% of the clergy 100% of the time. (The only reason, I believe, that old religious books ... Buddhist, Christian and any other ... contain images of "Perfect Saints" is that they have been scrubbed of any hint of human failing after the "religious hero" died in a process of hagiography. That is not to say that there were not truly saintly, truly moral people in all religions throughout history ... but that few people are not without some imperfections.). I would rather study Buddhism's teachings on managing human imperfections with someone who has managed his or her imperfections well, then with someone who had never any at all or denies them artificially.

    Finally, you state ...

    If concentration practice and jhanas produce states of happiness/equanimity that, even though conditioned, allow us to behave peacefully and in a moral way, while we continue to work on non-attainment then they are useful and a vital part of Buddhism in my opinion.
    Yes, but I see little evidence that they lead to particularly better human behavior. I could list the dozens of "scandals" among the Tibetans too on that issue.

    Listen, the Precepts are arrows which point toward behavior generally avoiding harm to self and others (not two, by the way). They are standards we wrestle with all though life, and which will sometimes be broken by human beings.

    Gassho, Jundo

  28. #28

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Thank you Jundo for those examples...I retract the hypothesis on just affecting Zen. That apart the rest I am happy with.

    With regards to the percentages, I agree that a 95% is very good. As long as the other 5% is relatively minor stuff then that's good overall. I am certainly not having ago at anyone who is practicing to improve themselves. The "relative world" stuff is a part of the whole..and, using these terms- which I am far from accepting as accurate- the absolute and relative are not two. A lot of Buddhism from the Pali Canon is psychotherapeutic, and "relative world" stuff, and with the tools we are developing today many of these things can be helped for most people. This was the crux behind my argument for the use of the concentration practice- if indeed it does "what it says on the tin" then its a useful tool albeit not liberation itself. (Stephanie- the Pali texts show the Buddha advising on rulership, society, finances and lay life generally- it couldn't be otherwise as Buddhism is the whole of life)

    Apart from complete removal of harmful traits there is the transformation of those parts that stay. I think Ram Dass summed it particularly well when he said that he still has the same neuroses he always had but now they are like friends he invites round to tea. Both these approaches I have seen to produce nothing short of life changing results in clients

    This means that for a complete Buddhist practice we deal with both sides- we use psychotherapeutic (and other) methods to eliminate what we can, we accept and transform those things that stay into harmless old friends and we accept the liberation of just sitting. The person that does this will not harm themselves or others.

    It might be a lofty aspiration but we can hold an aspiration, and work towards it, with acceptance of the now as it is. That I would tentatively posit as wise.

    Having just listened to the very interesting Stephen Batchelor talk, where he suggests some parts of Buddhism have been widely misunderstood and/or the texts have been tampered with, I think we all have to maintain "don't know" even as we discuss these things. I am completely uncertain of anything- and have mentioned this before- but I get the impression of certainty from some other posters.

    I don't care if ultimately I am right or wrong. If I pursue this track for the rest of my life and fail then OK, if I change my mind from practice later then OK, but maybe the turtle appearing at the right moment in the vast ocean to put its head through the ring may occur and my propositions may turn out to be true. So I'll stick with the "relative" world values of working towards being a Boddhisatva- non-harming and making the world a better place- I have a long way to go but also I'll sit and be with "just this" as best I can.

    Rich

  29. #29
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grizzly
    I'm certainly not saying I'm right about all of this, but its not a false belief. Its a choice to say that unless we have a practice that makes better people we are wasting our time.
    'Better' is based on belief - not the choice. It's the particular way of looking at things which pretty much forces the decision and the action in a certain direction, don't you think? Your decision would be totally common-sense and hard to argue with if the basic a priori assumption (that spiritual practice exists to make us 'better' - whatever that means) - people.

    Quote Originally Posted by Grizzly
    Talking of conditioned situations is a belief- because you are implying the unconditioned as an absolute- which is common in some forms of Buddhism although there is no evidence for anything unconditioned.
    Have you not tasted the unconditioned? In fact, you are soaking in it! The conditioned are expressions of the unconditioned, the unconditioned is the essence of the conditioned. Re-read the Heart Sutra in light of earnest practice if you have not already.

    Quote Originally Posted by Grizzly
    The suttas in fact speak of being unconditioned by greed, hatred and delusion- again a practical aim- not a metaphysical postulate.
    A subjective and inter-subjective experience is not a metaphysical postulate. Quite the contrary. When the Diamond or Heart Sutras try to get to the 'heart' of this (

  30. #30

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grizzly
    I think we all have to maintain "don't know" even as we discuss these things. I am completely uncertain of anything- and have mentioned this before- but I get the impression of certainty from some other posters.

    I don't care if ultimately I am right or wrong. If I pursue this track for the rest of my life and fail then OK, if I change my mind from practice later then OK, but maybe the turtle appearing at the right moment in the vast ocean to put its head through the ring may occur and my propositions may turn out to be true. So I'll stick with the "relative" world values of working towards being a Boddhisatva- non-harming and making the world a better place- I have a long way to go but also I'll sit and be with "just this" as best I can.

    Rich
    If you maintain this "don't know" which cuts off all your opinions then you will be a 'Boddhisatva- non-harming and making the world a better place- '
    In your everyday life you are the teacher. Even though I didn't agree with all your opinions, you raised some good points and held my attention. I'm sorry if sometimes I give the impression of certainty
    /Rich

  31. #31

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Hi Chet and Rich

    'Better' is based on belief - not the choice
    My bad..as one of my American friends would say. You are quite right. I was being lazy in my writing. The a priori assumption that practice is to make us "better" people is an assumption I choose to take, and yes that is conditioned by previous things of course. However, we all have assumptions that are based on the conditioned. My defintion of better would be any action that doesn't produce harm, or produces the least harm in a given situation, or produces the most happiness for the most people in a given situation. That's a minefield I know, but to simplify it I would say its living the eightfold path. The alchoholic teacher would be taking steps to address the drinking as this is part of the that path. At the very least they would be open and up front about their problem. Perhaps some are I don't know. The same goes for all the other issues, both in the Zen and Theravadan schools (and others). Unless we are working to create peace in this world, more friendliness/love and more happiness for each of us then I think that any form of practice is redundant.

    Have you not tasted the unconditioned? In fact, you are soaking in it! The conditioned are expressions of the unconditioned, the unconditioned is the essence of the conditioned. Re-read the Heart Sutra in light of earnest practice if you have not already.
    An experience that seems like the unconditoned doesn't have to be anything of the sort. This statement is a belief. It is the same as a Christian who experiences something and says it is definitely God. Batchelor suggest that the original "unconditoned by greed, hatred and delusion"- which refers to something more concrete- was misunderstood (If I recall him correctly). It is an article of faith, or perhaps more accurately a description of an experience that is not necessarily an accurate description.

    A subjective and inter-subjective experience is not a metaphysical postulate
    No, the experience itself isn't a postulate, but as all of our understanding of the world is based on conditioned phenomena anything postulated as unconditioned is meta- to the -physical.

    I'm sorry if sometimes I give the impression of certainty
    me too- that's why I mention it every now and then. I come from a universty debating background where we take any point of view and argue it for different reasons. Sometimes we did it to challenge our own beliefs, sometimes just for fun and sometimes to develop our own mental flexibility to "go against the grain"- mostly all mixed in. However, the passion we put into that sometimes giave the impression to outsiders that we really held that point of view and were being dogmatic.

    Also it is very easy to join a group and cover over doubts about the group beliefs or accept them without challenging them. This is part of my practice to be authentic and transparent (I have a loooong way to go) and risk being wrong as well as being right- or neither. At the end of the day my position so far is that we can't rely on our minds- just check out the self delusion work in psychology and philosophy (which we all suffer from)- and my experience as a scientist shows that all of our descriptions are just that. Reality is unknowable and we as human beings are "modellers" of that reality, but we forget the model is not the thing. Any model. This leaves us only with the practical and our values- hence my answer to the koan of "nansen and the cat" and my position on taking a life in that thread. Everything else is uncertain in a sense.

    It all comes back to the fact I should've kept my mouth shut at the beginning What the hell do I know?

    Best wishes to you all (and thanks Chet for your wishes ).

    Rich

  32. #32
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    Quote Originally Posted by Grizzly
    Hi Chet and Rich

    'Better' is based on belief - not the choice
    My bad..as one of my American friends would say. You are quite right. I was being lazy in my writing. The a priori assumption that practice is to make us "better" people is an assumption I choose to take, and yes that is conditioned by previous things of course. However, we all have assumptions that are based on the conditioned. My defintion of better would be any action that doesn't produce harm, or produces the least harm in a given situation, or produces the most happiness for the most people in a given situation. That's a minefield I know, but to simplify it I would say its living the eightfold path. The alchoholic teacher would be taking steps to address the drinking as this is part of the that path. At the very least they would be open and up front about their problem. Perhaps some are I don't know. The same goes for all the other issues, both in the Zen and Theravadan schools (and others). Unless we are working to create peace in this world, more friendliness/love and more happiness for each of us then I think that any form of practice is redundant.
    I think it was Barry Magid who brought this up, either in his book 'Ending the Pursuit of Happiness' or the talk he gave at SFZC - that Buddhism in general has very much acknowledged the contributions it can make to psychotherapy, but has not until recently accepted that it has things to learn from psychotherapy. I think that some stumbling blocks are best addressed with psychotherapy with Buddhist practice as a helpful adjunct. So, I definitely see your critique as valid. It should be noted that Jundo himself also accepts that Buddhist practice does not 'cure' all that ails us.

    Quote Originally Posted by Grizzly
    An experience that seems like the unconditoned doesn't have to be anything of the sort. This statement is a belief. It is the same as a Christian who experiences something and says it is definitely God. Batchelor suggest that the original "unconditoned by greed, hatred and delusion"- which refers to something more concrete- was misunderstood (If I recall him correctly). It is an article of faith, or perhaps more accurately a description of an experience that is not necessarily an accurate description.
    Now you fall into the trap of invalidating all subjective and inter-subjective experiences as essentially 'unreal'. This is a common modern problem - but realize that a 'community of the adequate' has repeated these internal experiences/experiments, and 'Dharma Transmission' can in fact be seen, in its ideal, as a sort of intersubjective 'falsifiability model'. As Ken Wilber would say, although interpretations of Hamlet may vary and are subjective/intersubjective, they are still subject to a 'community of the adequate' and that all interpretations are not of equal quality. The normative process of the repeatability of the 'subjective experiment' is very much in motion here, and cannot be brushed aside without falling into 'Scientific Materialism' - a particularly modern version of the sort of nihilism that Siddhartha Gautama quite definitely rejected. In short, subjective experiences are not immune from a sort of falsifiability that scientism holds only to its own methods - methods that inherently, and unjustly, disqualify subjective experience.

    Quote Originally Posted by Grizzly
    No, the experience itself isn't a postulate, but as all of our understanding of the world is based on conditioned phenomena anything postulated as unconditioned is meta- to the -physical.
    Are you saying that you are not right now experiencing the unconditioned? A realization of the unconditioned is specifically not an explanation. We run into the 'Magic Eye' problem stated by Hank in the other thread here. Enlightenment is not an understanding - it's more like an undertaking.

    Chet

  33. #33

    Re: Concentration practice incompatible with shikantaza?

    I think it was Barry Magid who brought this up, either in his book 'Ending the Pursuit of Happiness' or the talk he gave at SFZC - that Buddhism in general has very much acknowledged the contributions it can make to psychotherapy, but has not until recently accepted that it has things to learn from psychotherapy. I think that some stumbling blocks are best addressed with psychotherapy with Buddhist practice as a helpful adjunct. So, I definitely see your critique as valid. It should be noted that Jundo himself also accepts that Buddhist practice does not 'cure' all that ails us.
    Hi Chet. I would go further and say that Buddhism and psychotherapy are not two. The work I do with clients, while very rarely mentioning Buddhism, is relative world Buddhism in that a) its designed to ease suffering, b) is based on the supposition that beliefs, thoughts etc are just that and need to be transformed into skilful beliefs and thoughts, to enable the individual to have a more peaceful and productive life. Of course, I don't go as far as instilling my values upon them and working covertly to get them to follow the eightfold path. I have to jump into their reality and work with their goals, which is of course getting into the relational reality of non-self, as I understand it. That's a clumsy sentence but I don't want to be typing all night! There's a lot more to this but I'm very tired and feeling quite sick at the moment so please forgive me for the inadequacy of my reply. However, I'm in agreement with what you have said.

    Now you fall into the trap of invalidating all subjective and inter-subjective experiences as essentially 'unreal'. This is a common modern problem - but realize that a 'community of the adequate' has repeated these internal experiences/experiments, and 'Dharma Transmission' can in fact be seen, in its ideal, as a sort of intersubjective 'falsifiability model'. As Ken Wilber would say, although interpretations of Hamlet may vary and are subjective/intersubjective, they are still subject to a 'community of the adequate' and that all interpretations are not of equal quality. The normative process of the repeatability of the 'subjective experiment' is very much in motion here, and cannot be brushed aside without falling into 'Scientific Materialism' - a particularly modern version of the sort of nihilism that Siddhartha Gautama quite definitely rejected. In short, subjective experiences are not immune from a sort of falsifiability that scientism holds only to its own methods - methods that inherently, and unjustly, disqualify subjective experience.
    I am not denying that subjective experience is "real", just that it is not real outside of subjective experience as far as we know. As for scientific materialism, then no (http://www.knowledgerush.com/kr/encyclo ... terialism/) I am not in agreement with this, because as the defintion says science is agnostic to the supernatural and I am a scientist and thus not a scientific materialist. It goes back to the only true honesty of "dont know" I mentioned at the beginning of my time here. I do have a tendency to support the view, within that ultimate "don't know", that experience is the correlate of physical processes- and not coming from a 'level beyond' for want of a better term. Purely and simply because there is no evidence to support that idea. If we believe in 'that for which there is no objective evidence' then we can believe in God and fairies. A fundamentalist once told me I was going to hell and I said, "Well if you are right (which although highly unlikely is possible) then that's OK as there are plenty of people suffering down there and maybe I can help". It didn't come from best motives I have to admit but was still true in that Buddhism is nothing if it is not a practical way to help sentient beings. Anything else I personally find no use for. In one sense I'm validating counter points from others- if we cannot transcend samsara because there is nowhere to transcend to then samsara has to be able to be nirvana bringing the two seamlessly together and rejecting all defintions/conceptualisations including this whole argument/thread- but that still leaves us with what is practical to help. I just read an article by some non-Buddhist that said there are differences between faiths/views that are important issues and many that seem important issues but are not. With some people who seem to be moving in a different direction to us we later find that actually we were moving towards each other the whole time but with others where it appears we are moving closer it turns out we are getting further apart on future reflection.

    This brings me back to the title of the whole thread. Some Zen people would seem to reject Jundo's borrowing of the Theravadan replacing unskilful states with skilful ones (which I applaud) as being a practice that goes in a different direction to just sitting. Likewise here we have the rejection of concentration practice as being something that goes in a different direction to Shikantanza. Is that so, or is this just another "view" like rejecting the "state replacement" practice? I tend to think it might be. A seeming contradiction is not necessarily a true one if one looks beyond the surface. Of course if I find that one truly "perfect" being and they say categorically "no" then I'll follow that advice (did I make a funny, Chet, in an English way? ) Until then, in this great experiment called life, I'll test that assumption until I'm saitsfied one way or another. And the acid test will be the way I live and act, because what else is important?

    All the best

    Rich

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