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Thread: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

  1. #1

    Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    Hi,

    Iīve just begun reading Zen Mind, Beginners Mind and Shunryu Suzuki is describing the practice of zazen and he seems to emphasize that one should always follow the breath. I donīt understand, I thought he was in to shikantaza, just sitting with no object, as a Soto priest?

    Or maybe Iīm wrong about there not being any points of focus in this practice, as we are using the open awareness as an "objectless object" in our way of practice. So too there can be other objects to use in this practice?

    Janne

  2. #2

    Re: Zen MInd, Beginners Mind

    Those who are in his lineage will have a lot more to say, but I was surprised by that too when I first encountered it. He seems to "focus on the breath" :-) in a later book of his talks too. Maybe that was for the general public, and he was was more toward shikantaza in private. On the other hand personally I like noticing breath. Lately I've come back to it from a stance of shikantaza. That is, noticing breath as something going on in the vast space of shikantaza.

  3. #3

    Re: Zen MInd, Beginners Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by Janne H
    Hi,

    Iīve just begun reading Zen Mind, Beginners Mind and Shunryu Suzuki is describing the practice of zazen and he seems to emphasize that one should always follow the breath. I donīt understand, I thought he was in to shikantaza, just sitting with no object, as a Soto priest?

    Or maybe Iīm wrong about there not being any points of focus in this practice, as we are using the open awareness as an "objectless object" in our way of practice. So too there can be other objects to use in this practice?

    Janne
    Hi Janne,

    There are many small variations in Shikantaza, teacher to teacher. One has to place and focus (and simultaneously not place/focus) the mind somewhere!

    So, for example, Uchiyama Roshi was a "bring your attention back to the posture" guy. Nishijima Roshi is a "focus on keeping the spine straight" fellow, and there are others who emphasize focusing on the breath or the Hara (also called the "Tanden", the traditional "center of gravity" of the body, and a center of Qi energy in traditional Chinese medicine) ...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dantian

    Some recommend following the breath for a lifetime, others for just a time.

    All are forms of Shikantaza ... so long as the objectless nature of sitting is maintained even if focused on an object.

    In fact, all forms of Shikantaza have an "object of meditation", a place to focus or place the mind to build concentration and quiet the thoughts (hopefully to soften the border and pass through "object" and "subject"), while dropping all effort to attain and releasing all judgments. At Treeleaf, I teach counting the breaths, or observing the breath, merely as a way to settle the mind for beginners or to settle down on particularly cloudy, stormy days. As our central "objectless" object of meditation, I recommend open, spacious sitting centered on everything and nothing at all ... sitting with open, spacious awareness ... sitting with the whole world but without being lost in trains of thought (which I also sometimes describe as having the mind focused on "no place and everyplace at once"). That open stillness is our "object of concentration". My reason for that is simply that I believe it makes it a bit easier to take this practice off the Zafu and out into the world.

    If you need a place to feel you are "placing the mind", I recommend on the top of the palm in the left hand while in the Mudra (another traditional place for the focus in Shikantaza). Yet, keep that "spacious, unobstructed, everywhere and no one place" emphasis.

    If you have not read it before (or even if you have), Uchiyama has one of the most elegant "diagrams" of Shikantaza's way in his book "Openning the Hand of Thought". Lovely.

    Please go here, search the word "line", find page 52, entitled "Waking Up To Life", and read to page 60 (about the diagram drawing on page 54) ... notice especially the part where he says "Zazen is not being glued to line ZZ'" (what I might call "returning to the clear, open, blue sky 10,00 times and 10,000 times again")

    http://books.google.com/books?id=fOU_1v ... ne&f=false

    Whether you focus on the posture, the breath, the top of the left hand, the Hara, or the sensation of clear, open blue sky (with clouds drifting out) that I recommend ... one should eventually sometimes attain to an open, unobstructed, holding everything without discrimination or division feeling ... What Uchiyama calls "line ZZ" in his essay, and what I call clear open sky.

    However, I say "sometimes" (and Uchiyama says "don't stay glued to ZZ") because the whole thing is the trip, reject nothing ... not the thoughts and emotions that drag you away from ZZ", not the clouds which sometimes block the clear blue sky. It is all life, all perfectly what it is. Sometimes it will be "bare awareness", sometimes awareness of this or that. Drop all judgments, drop all goals and need to get someplace else or to be any other way.

    Yet, nonetheless, return again and again to ZZ, to the clear blue sky (allowing the thoughts and emotion clouds to drift away). If you notice you are engaged in trains of thought, release them, drop them, and return to ZZ. Repeat endlessly.

    All that, at once, is "Shikantaza".

    Gassho, J

  4. #4

    Re: Zen MInd, Beginners Mind

    Thanks Scott and Jundo for clearing things up.

    I have a copy of Opening the hand of thought, so Iīve read the chapter once and will read it again soon!

    About a year ago I was arguing in the swedish buddhist forum (that was before I was familiar with shikantaza) that I was sitting with my breath and that I didnīt really feel the need of doing anything more that that, that "it was all there" just sitting still with the breath (only as a point of referens when lost in thought) and keeping an open awareness. The respons I got was that sitting in stillness is not enough, that I also need to do insight practice, like samatha and vipassana. My argument was that the awareness of "it all being there", life in the midst of sitting, was all practice needed for "gaining" insight, but of course I was told different...

    And Jundo, is there Zazenkai today, I didnīt find any info about it?

    Gassho

  5. #5

    Re: Zen MInd, Beginners Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by Janne H
    And Jundo, is there Zazenkai today, I didnīt find any info about it?
    I don't know... :?
    If there is a zazenkai (what I hope of course!), I won't be with you with the live version... I've got to go dinner in 10 minutes ... (mmmh I feel like a hungry monster!!!) So, I'll sit with the recorded version!

    hope everyone will have a nice zazenkai, in live or recorded... just the same by the way!

    gassho,
    Luis/jinyu

  6. #6

    Re: Zen MInd, Beginners Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by Janne H

    And Jundo, is there Zazenkai today, I didnīt find any info about it?

    Gassho
    Yes, I just posted the link ...

    The respons I got was that sitting in stillness is not enough, that I also need to do insight practice, like samatha and vipassana.
    Buddhist Practice is usually described as flying upon the twin wings of ?amatha (calming thoughts and emotions, illuminating and dropping body-mind) and awareness and understanding of vipa?yan? (insight and awareness primarily into the nature and workings of 'self' and mental functions). That is true in Zen practice no less than most other forms of Buddhist practice.

    In a nutshell, Vipa?yan? might be described as insights and awareness, based on Buddhist psychology, as to how the mind works and plays it games. It is an understanding of the Skandhas (form, sensation, perception, mental formation, consciousness ... those words always sung in the Heart Sutra), how our thoughts and emotional reactions arise, how we label and divide the world. We should also understand the Buddha's ideas about how suffering arises within us, which is intimately tied to all that.

    Unlike some schools of Buddhism, in Shikantaza we do not pursue any particular practices --during-- Zazen itself in order to cultivate such vipa?yan? insight ... and much insight naturally arises from Zazen as "Zazen does its thing". Perhaps we might say that, just in "just sitting" Shikantaza ... dropping thoughts of this and that, thus quieting the mind's "mind games" ... we develop a natural sensitivity and understanding of the mind's "mind games" (much like one first comes to really appreciate what "urban noise" is when one first drives out of the city to the middle of the desert or some other truly quiet place).

    Apart from "on the Zafu" sitting times, however, in the rest of our Buddhist studies and practice, it is good to contemplate and develop such insight, and come to identify the workings of the Skandhas and such within us day to day.

    For example, if you feel an angry or jealous thought arising within you during your day, it is very helpful to identify that as a "bit of temporary mind theatre" and "just the self judging and conflicting with another perceived self". That gives us some distance from the passing emotion, and we no longer see the emotion as quite as inevitable and "true" as we might have before.

    For example, in the case of anger ... We need to develop a sensitivity to how anger arises within us, the triggers which tend to set it off, the first feeling of it starting to arise and the cycle it follows until vanishing. We need to catch ourself more and develop the ability to say, "I am feeling the emotion of anger now, but it is only the mind created theater which is present in this moment ... it need not be so." We need to see it as a story the self writes for itself, "catch it" and thus not be "sucked in" and fooled as much. (Most people who feel anger do not realize it is just a mind created bit of theater which can be replaced by something else ... it is not the way things "have to be". E.g., most people think, when they become upset, that they have "reason to be upset, and it is true and justified", not an optional response to the circumstances). That realization and understanding of how our inner theater works is a step to developing the ability to "rewrite and change the story" at will.

    So, yes, "Insight" is important.

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - I confess to cut and pasting some of the responses, as the subject has come up several times in the past. That explains how I type so fast. But the responses are the same as before, so no reason to say it differently! 8)

  7. #7

    Re: Zen MInd, Beginners Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    So, yes, "Insight" is important.
    I agree with that, as it was part of my argument that insight "naturally springs" from when being still in the midst of awareness. Nothing more is in need (in the way of practice) to be added.

    Se you soon for some zazenkai!

  8. #8

    Re: Zen MInd, Beginners Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    For example, in the case of anger ... We need to develop a sensitivity to how anger arises within us, the triggers which tend to set it off, the first feeling of it starting to arise and the cycle it follows until vanishing. We need to catch ourself more and develop the ability to say, "I am feeling the emotion of anger now, but it is only the mind created theater which is present in this moment ... it need not be so." We need to see it as a story the self writes for itself, "catch it" and thus not be "sucked in" and fooled as much. (Most people who feel anger do not realize it is just a mind created bit of theater which can be replaced by something else ... it is not the way things "have to be". E.g., most people think, when they become upset, that they have "reason to be upset, and it is true and justified", not an optional response to the circumstances). That realization and understanding of how our inner theater works is a step to developing the ability to "rewrite and change the story" at will.
    Thanks Jundo! I'm gonna cut this passage out and tape it to my boxing gloves! 8)

    gassho
    ghop

  9. #9

    Re: Zen MInd, Beginners Mind

    ^^Agreed Ghop
    Very Good thread... thanks for the questions and answers

    Gassho
    Shohei

  10. #10

    Re: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    I love this thread, thank you to all that have included their thoughts.

    Gassho,

    Lu

  11. #11
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    Suzuki does emphasize breath. Reasons for this are varied, but because the breath is always 'there' - but also deceptive because it implies a sort of 'consistency' or permanence that isn't there. Breath can be used to induce trance - but shikantaza is not a trance state. The breath is always there, but holding awareness too close to it can prevent diffuse awareness of everything.

    Now, one can sort of 'ride the breath' into diffuse awareness by resting in it lightly and allowing breath to wash over and into all perception. In this case though, one becomes breath and from there also dissolves into all perception. This is different from trance, where one 'becomes' breath to the exclusion of all else.

    In shikantaza, though it may begin with breath, it cannot end there. It and the witness dissolve into greater awareness/perception. Dissolving further into perception, perception as a 'thing' dissolves because there is no gap between perceptions as 'things' and the observer of those things. The subtle resistance of subject and object is allowed to drop away and become 'subject/object'. When this happens, sense of time also disappears - as the sense of time requires a subject that compares the memory of previous perception with a picture of 'present' perception.

    At the same time, however, a 'mental dialogue' of subject and object tracking may continue...or there may be a sort of sideways 'dreamlike dialogue' going on. The difference is that in shikantaza, it appears to merge (no actual merging takes place as there was no real separation) with subject/object perception/awareness. That is, there is also no gap between such dialogues and a 'witness' of the dialogue. As with perception, the 'witness' is dissolved into dialogue and perception without a center. All of it is happening together, including the dialogue.

    When this happens for you in your practice, Jundo's 'acceptance without acceptance' and other seemingly enigmatic phrases will really make sense to you.

    IMHO.

    Chet

  12. #12

    Re: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse

    In shikantaza, though it may begin with breath, it cannot end there. It and the witness dissolve into greater awareness/perception. Dissolving further into perception, perception as a 'thing' dissolves because there is no gap between perceptions as 'things' and the observer of those things. The subtle resistance of subject and object is allowed to drop away and become 'subject/object'. When this happens, sense of time also disappears - as the sense of time requires a subject that compares the memory of previous perception with a picture of 'present' perception.

    At the same time, however, a 'mental dialogue' of subject and object tracking may continue...or there may be a sort of sideways 'dreamlike dialogue' going on. The difference is that in shikantaza, it appears to merge (no actual merging takes place as there was no real separation) with subject/object perception/awareness. That is, there is also no gap between such dialogues and a 'witness' of the dialogue. As with perception, the 'witness' is dissolved into dialogue and perception without a center. All of it is happening together, including the dialogue.

    When this happens for you in your practice, Jundo's 'acceptance without acceptance' and other seemingly enigmatic phrases will really make sense to you.

    IMHO.

    Chet
    I'm kind of simple minded about these things. Let me use a swimming hole that's really a "swimming whole".

    Sometimes, jumping into the waters of Shikantaza, I might feel like I'm just swimming freely and easily way far in the deep end. In fact, that "deep end" is so deep and vast that ... truly ... it does not seem limited at all by width or length or height or bottom or borders (so boundless and whole that even limited words like "deep" and "vast" cannot serve as a description). It might sound very very scary to swim there, as if one might easily lose one's bearings of "up" and "down" and "here" and "there" and "near" and "far" ... and thus DROWN! ... but it is not like that at all. One feels in one's natural home, a fish in water ... in fact, perfectly 'waterfish' ... and a swimmer can 'lose himself' there (in a very good way) and swim freely and effortlessly in all directions. In fact, if one gets really really really deep beyond sight of the shore ... one can experience sometimes that there is no "I" who is a "swimmer" with arms and legs forging ahead in some "water" ... no "place to go" or "time" ... and all is just flowing flowing.flowing effortlessly and naturally. Perhaps it is much like an unborn infant floating peacefully in the womb ... the infant even without thought of itself vs. mother, of up and down, inside and outside, of birth.

    The other end of the "swimmin' hole" is shallow and hot, most folks spend their life there, and makes a very crowded beach. Folks bump into one other and often feel cramped and lacking, constantly looking at their watches and hoping for something better. They must head again and again to the over priced concession stands to stuff themselves with junk. They almost cannot find the water amid the plastic trash and oil spills, and are lost in searching for it. When they encounter it, most are afraid to jump in.

    (In fact, the "deep" water is so all encompassing and boundless, that it fully holds the shallow end too, and everything else ... All is just the "swimming whole", but the shallow folks usually cannot sense that). Our Shikantaza practice is something like jumping in that water and allowing the current to take us to the deep end.

    Got the image?

    Okay, here's my point:

    Sometimes, in Zazen, we get really really deep ... to the "no swimmer, no water, no time" part. That's good!

    But most days, we are somewhere in between "shallow" and "deep" ... which is good too! One reason is because we come to realize that the "shallow" -is- the "deep" too, just "the deep" in the shallow part close to shore! Also, the shallow part is where life happens, and one cannot really have a life if only out in the deep end. Thus, our real practice is to learn to swim around the shallow end or play up on the beach, and still feel the freedom of the water all around. Something like that.

    Some types of Buddhism and other Eastern philosophies will tell you that the only point of practice (or meditation) is to get into the really really really deep part. They claim that everything in the shallow end is a lie, or "delusion", so we must get away from the shallow. Even some schools of "Zen" will emphasize something like that ... that the "real" is only when we are in the very very deep water far away from shore.

    But I do not feel so. I feel that our practice is to sometimes be in the deep water, sometimes in the middle water or shallow water, sometimes frolicking on the beach ... but feeling up to our gills that it is all the "boundless water" and we are always swimming free all the time (even when, as often happens, we cannot always feel free, or wet, or even damp). Thus, we realize, that the shallow is not "shallow" at all, and is in fact the deep water whole (i.e., delusion is not just "delusion", samsara is not just samsara etc.). Our view and experience of the beach and shore is transformed into something very different (although the same old crowded beach too ... with its junk food to avoid and oil spills to clean up ... despite being also all Healthy and Clean from the start).

    So, for that reason, I do not think that the only "good Zazen" is very very deep Jhana states or earth shattering Kensho and the like. Sometimes that is good. It may even be necessary in our practice to get out there from time to time. But, ultimately, shallow swimming is good, deep swimming is good, in between swimming is good ... so long as we learn, through Shikantaza, that it is all deep, all "whole", all beyond "deep or shallow", there is no place we need go, no time to get there.

    In that, we keep on swimming swimming swimming energetically and moving ahead in life ... even though we are always up to our necks in the H2O, and there is no place to go that's not soaking wet. Something like that.

    By the way, how do we "find the water" in Shikantaza? Why, by giving up the distant search ... by being still ... thus to find that we were bathing in it, and were it, all along! Then, we cast out our arms ... drop all resistance ... merging into the stream ... allowing the current to carry us where it will. Deep "Shikantaza" is good swimming, shallow "Shikantaza" is good swimming ... all is good swimming.

    Something like that. A swimming whole.

    Gassho, J

  13. #13

    Re: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    Hi.

    People say that practicing zen is difficult, but there is a misunderstanding as to why. It is not difficult because it is hard to sit in the crosslegged position, or to attain enlightenment. It is difficult because it is hard to keep our mind pure and our practice pure in its fundamental state.
    -shunryu suzuki, zen mind, beginners mind (first paragraph)
    Don't muddle the water.
    If you take away the concepts of here and there and now and then asf, what do you get?
    purity.
    Dont muddle the water.

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen

  14. #14
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    It's not the shallows that bring suffering, it's being stuck there that's problematic, IMHO. Zazen embraces both ends at the same time. There's no need to make an enemy of either side. Without experience of the deep end, however, the shallows can seem, well, shallow.

    My main purpose was to point out the difference between concentration practice and shikantaza. Apologies if I led anyone astray.

    Chet

  15. #15

    Re: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    It's not the shallows that bring suffering, it's being stuck there that's problematic, IMHO. Zazen embraces both ends at the same time. There's no need to make an enemy of either side. Without experience of the deep end, however, the shallows can seem, well, shallow.
    Good point - unless one knows of the "shallow and the deep" one cannot know the pool!

    What if there is a larger body of water beyond the neighbourhood pool? I'm ascard!

    -Jim

  16. #16

    Re: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    The entire human race is but a couple of breaths away from extinction.
    What an awesome focus.
    Gassho zak

  17. #17
    disastermouse
    Guest

    Re: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    Quote Originally Posted by zak
    The entire human race is but a couple of breaths away from extinction.
    What an awesome focus.
    Gassho zak
    LOL, wut?

    Chet

  18. #18

    Re: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    even these thoughts have a physical basis so not knowing I can believe in no extinction of it. that is whatever it is. its easy to accept the good times the test of your practice is accepting the bad times. beginners mind is all I have sometimes.

  19. #19

    Re: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    Hi Zak,

    We don't know...You could be right. You could be wrong.
    Whatever, now, and now, you and I do our best, that's the way forward. Statistics, propheties, numbers, talks...Shall we leave them behind...Just be. No judgement involved.
    Zak, no need to be afraid. Afraid of what? No need to be over optimistic.

    do you read me?...

    You got it. The realistic take.

    Meanwhile, shall we love, embrace, sit and expand?...

    Zak, all is well, and yet, every inch we can claim, every battle we can fight is...just what it is...

    it doesn't mean we have lost it.

    Your sitting and words are but flowers.

    More important than statistics...


    take care


    gassho

    Big Stupid bear

  20. #20

    Re: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    Thank you Taigu, for eyes that hear. Now, and now, This. ... gassho zak

  21. #21

    Re: Zen Mind, Beginners Mind

    Taigu, thanks for your encouraging words.

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