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Thread: A Few Shikantaza Misunderstandings

  1. #1

    A Few Shikantaza Misunderstandings

    Hi,

    In my view, the following are some common misunderstandings regarding Shikantaza. Or, better said, different baseball teachers may teach somewhat different ways to throw the ball. This is as I see it and emphasize here ...

    I - "Just Sitting" is only to sit in the "Full Lotus Position" and no other position:

    Japanese culture can be a bit rigid and incessant on the one "right" way to do any action, be it to pour a cup of tea (this is a cultural aspect of the traditional arts) or crossing the street, and about pushing oneself to conform to that 'One Way or the Highway' ... called a 'Kata' (if anyone has martial arts experience). Such teachers may tend to emphasize that the one and only way to sit Zazen is in the "Lotus Position". Here is a little description of "Kata" (I cannot verify the source of the following, but I can verify the conclusion from 20 years living in Japan):

    .... an immovable set of rules that govern what is and what is not accepted as acceptable behavior or thinking in japan ... In reality, there are many “Ways” to do most things in Japan, although each group will have a tendency to claim that its pattern is “the Way.” As a medical researcher who has participated in procedures and experiments at many dozens of Japanese hospitals, universities and the like, I know that no two groups ever will follow exactly the same patterns. Each, however, will have a tendency to explain that its way is “the Way,” usually because the most senior person in the group will have come to that conclusion after having learned it to be the thinking of some other person ... that the senior person respects. (Also, one must be very careful in suggesting that a competing group might have a better way which contradicts the opinion of a senior member of group). Every group in every culture does this, but what is unusual in Japan is the inflexible, almost mechanical way the system operates. The emphasis on proper “Kata” (Boye de Menthe has a wonderful, hard to find little book on this) in Japanese society is reminiscent of any conservative, tradition based culture, though unique in the way is has developed to permit a functioning, industrial society.
    On the other hand, as with Oryoki eating (a wonderful example of "Kata"), there is a beauty in the fixed form that one literally can lose ones' 'self' in. So, "Kata" is also a very very good thing, don't misunderstand me on that point. Conforming to "classic" form has very many beneficial aspects. I am a big big fan of Oryoki and other Kata practices, and I teach them. In fact, Dogen seems to have only talked about the Lotus Position (no seiza benches for him in the 13th century), and my own teacher, Nishijima says that folks should sit in the Lotus Position (and he is not too open to alternatives ... he rightly says that some folks reject the Lotus position and such before really giving it a try). Uchiyama Roshi has said some things in his book that place him more or less in that category.

    But when this is carried too far, the "Lotus Position" itself can come to be thought of as having some "magic power", or fetishized as working some miraculous psycho-physiological effect on the body to lead to "Satori". But that is not the meaning, I believe, of "sitting in the Lotus Position is enlightenment itself".

    It is, rather, "sitting in the Lotus Position as a 'pure' act, the one and only act in the universe at that moment'. The Lotus Position itself is not the point. It is "doing one pure act in one moment". (Although, truly, the Lotus Position does have many advantages in allowing us to forget the body, and balance the body, leading to balance in mind ... chair sitting, for example, is just not as good in that way)

    Well, in the fat thighed, bad back West, many folks just cannot manage the Lotus Position. So, the emphasis has changed slightly: As opposed to "sitting in the Lotus Position as a 'pure' act, the one and only act in the universe at that moment' ... it has changed to 'sitting as a pure act, the one and only act in the universe at that moment'. In other words, "sitting in a chair is enlightenment itself' is true too if approached with that attitude. Do "chair sitting" as a Kata!

    By the way, while Dogen and others emphasized that sitting Zazen is "enlightenment itself", they also taught that everything is "Zazen" if approached that way. Dogen sometimes said that Zazen is only sitting (not walking, running, standing or lying down), but he also said that Zazen is walking, running, standing or lying down (that guy knew how to talk out of both sides of his mouth!) So, I teach that perspective too here at Treeleaf.

    2- The point of "Shikantaza" is "Not Thinking".

    All through the history of Buddhism, and many Eastern religions, has been the emphasis by some on attaining states in which thought and perhaps all consciousness are extinguished in various ways. There are forms of meditation that do reach such states. We may even, at times, experience this in our "Shikanataza" meditation. However, I believe that Dogen's meaning of "think not thinking = non-thinking" is much more subtle than this, much more practical. Dogen wrote this in his Fukanzazengi ...


    "...Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully, rock your body right and left, and settle into steady, immovable sitting. Think of not thinking. Not thinking: What kind of thinking is that? Letting thoughts go (Nonthinking). This is the essential art of zazen. "
    I describe "nonthnking" in another way too, for example, as having "thoughts, goals, likes and dislikes" on one channel ... while simultaneously dropping "thoughts, goals, likes and dislikes" on another channel, not two. It is not about always being in a state of deep Samadhi in which thoughts (and even consciousness) vanish. There is no evidence in Dogen's writings that he meant such states or that, if such a state were sometimes tasted (which we do taste), we should remain there. (I know some drugs you can inject in your veins that will get you "there" faster than Zazen!). Nor is this practice about being in a coma or a deep deep sleep. Rather, it is about being alive and awake!

    Some teachers of Shikanataza, often coming from a Rinzai influence, believe that Dogen meant that we should use Zazen to attain deep states of "not thinking" as the ultimate goal of practice. I don't think so (pun intended), and I see no evidence that he meant that. Or that the Buddha meant that, for that matter.

    3- "Shikantaza" should be a strenuous effort, sweat pouring from your brow as if your "hair were on fire."


    Again, I usually hear this from some lineages heavily impacted by a hard "Rinzai' approach (usually connected to the "Harada-Yasutani" school, which includes the Diamond Sangha, "Three Pillars of Zen" Kapleau Roshi, the early Maezumi Roshi/White Plum lineage, Sanbokyodan and others.). Push push push to "Break through".

    In fact, I believe that Dogen's way and meaning was much more subtle. I sometimes say that the Rinzai folks like to punch a hole through the wall separating "self" and "other" by using dynamite, while Dogen was like the air itself ... gently filling all the cracks in the bricks, both this side and the other, and even the bricks themselves until all is just as whole and clear as the air. Oh, there may be days to push ourselves hard ... times to just relax and go with the flow ... but, in all cases, just be the flowing.

    6- Something like "Shikantaza" is only for advanced practitioners.

    That was not Dogen's teaching. He recommended Shikantaza as a universal practice for everyone, and it is.

    5- "Shikantaza" is a breathing practice.

    Buddhism does have some forms of meditation that emphasize ways of breathing to bring about certain mental states. Also, in Soto Zen, we do teach counting the breaths and such as a way to settle the mind for beginners or at times when the mind may be unusually turbulent and disturbed. But I see no sign that Dogen meant counting the breath, or awareness of the breath as the heart of Shikantaza. In fact, he said quite the opposite, and just said to let the breath take its natural rhythm.

    More on "just breathing" here ...

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...ht=breath+long

    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-09-2012 at 02:33 PM.

  2. #2

    Re: A Few Shikantaza Misunderstandings

    Thank you for that Jundo!!


    Many Bows

    Seiryu

  3. #3
    Treeleaf Unsui Shokai's Avatar
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    Re: A Few Shikantaza Misunderstandings

    Jundo;
    Thank you for the analogy

    As a baseball coach I'm not as concerned with how you throw a ball as I am with how you field it. As in life, can you be yourself as you mingle with others?

  4. #4
    In my beginning practice, I'm struggling mightily with a racing mind and obtrusive, banal thoughts. And the second I manage to separate myself from them, even momentarily, my head is abuzz with thoughts like "Look, I'm doing it this time! Aren't I doing well? I wonder how long I can keep doing this..." so that, of course, I'm no longer doing it at all! It's as though "I" am doing everything to oppose "my"efforts. Yesterday, in an effort to give myselfsomething better to do, I repeated the mantra from the end of the Heart Sutra, and then watched my breathing; which worked a little (until the thoughts "this seems to be working. I wonder if I'm doing it right" started to well up). So, my question is, can I continue to use a mantra and/or breathing concentration, or am I thereby no longer "doing Shikantaza"? Or should I just not care about the thoughts. How do I detach myself from them, without adopting a superior stance, that only sets up another persona within myself to comment on the less proficient persona?

    I've always thought of myself as a pretty calm, rational person -- I never suspected my interior life was so chaotic!

    Robert.

  5. #5
    Thank you Jundo ... being an Aikidoka we do not use katas in our technics, but do with the jo and bokken. I know for myself those katas have done great things for my technic and have allowed me to find my center (hara), which in Aikido, is very important.

    Gassho,
    Michael

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by RobertG View Post
    In my beginning practice, I'm struggling mightily with a racing mind and obtrusive, banal thoughts. And the second I manage to separate myself from them, even momentarily, my head is abuzz with thoughts like "Look, I'm doing it this time! Aren't I doing well? I wonder how long I can keep doing this..." so that, of course, I'm no longer doing it at all! It's as though "I" am doing everything to oppose "my"efforts. Yesterday, in an effort to give myselfsomething better to do, I repeated the mantra from the end of the Heart Sutra, and then watched my breathing; which worked a little (until the thoughts "this seems to be working. I wonder if I'm doing it right" started to well up). So, my question is, can I continue to use a mantra and/or breathing concentration, or am I thereby no longer "doing Shikantaza"? Or should I just not care about the thoughts. How do I detach myself from them, without adopting a superior stance, that only sets up another persona within myself to comment on the less proficient persona?

    I've always thought of myself as a pretty calm, rational person -- I never suspected my interior life was so chaotic!

    Robert.
    Hi Robert,

    Shikantanza is a bit like ... and not much harder than ... learning to ride a bicycle. Seems hard before ya find the balance and just ride, but even a kid can do so!

    Although a wonderful practice, following or counting the breath (a mantra too, I suppose) is a wonderful practice ... but we encourage those around here as "training wheels on the bike" before settling into the open, spacious awareness ... focused on everything and nothing in particular ... letting thoughts come and go without getting caught up in them ... of Shikantaza.

    should I just not care about the thoughts. How do I detach myself from them, without adopting a superior stance

    Let thoughts come and go without latching on to them, finding the quiet space in between. If finding oneself caught in a train of thought, daydreaming or the like ... NO PROBLEM! Just let the train go, return to the quiet space. Repeat endlessly as needed. No need to detach, no need to latch on.

    And drop all judgments of superior or inferior. Just sit.

    Have you had a chance to sit with our Beginner's (We're All Always Beginners) talks yet?

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/forum...-FOR-NEW-FOLKS

    Gassho, Jundo
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Hi Robert,

    Shikantanza is a bit like ... and not much harder than ... learning to ride a bicycle. Seems hard before ya find the balance and just ride, but even a kid can do so!

    Although a wonderful practice, following or counting the breath (a mantra too, I suppose) is a wonderful practice ... but we encourage those around here as "training wheels on the bike" before settling into the open, spacious awareness ... focused on everything and nothing in particular ... letting thoughts come and go without getting caught up in them ... of Shikantaza.

    should I just not care about the thoughts. How do I detach myself from them, without adopting a superior stance

    Let thoughts come and go without latching on to them, finding the quiet space in between. If finding oneself caught in a train of thought, daydreaming or the like ... NO PROBLEM! Just let the train go, return to the quiet space. Repeat endlessly as needed. No need to detach, no need to latch on.

    And drop all judgments of superior or inferior. Just sit.

    Have you had a chance to sit with our Beginner's (We're All Always Beginners) talks yet?

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/forum...-FOR-NEW-FOLKS

    Gassho, Jundo
    Yes, I'm working my way through them, one a day, and finding them all greatly useful. I'm also going to go through the intro talks on buddhism etc.

    Thanks for the advice. Will try to keep this attitude (without constantly observing mentally that I'm keeping this attitude). I'm encouraged to hear that it's more of a mental (spiritual?) habit than a technique to learn.

    Namo Amida butsu! Robert.

  8. #8
    Quote Originally Posted by RobertG View Post

    Namo Amida butsu! Robert.
    If you are coming from a Chinese Chan group (and I comment without knowing your particular teachers), there is a chance that they may have emphasized sitting more to attain some concentrated state of Samadhi removed from thought, or chanting of a Mantra to attain some sensation of peacefulness or "one with Buddha" or the like. These are all lovely practices.

    Shikantaza, though, is more centered on encountering the Peace and Stillness right in/amid/behind/as the stuff and noise of the world ... so we tend to look at those other practices as directed toward removing one from here and this ordinary world. Thus, we sit with our eyes open so as not to shut out the world, and we allow thoughts to come and go ... although not getting caught up in the thoughts, and tasting the Peace and Stillness right in/amid/behind/as the thoughts too. This is our definition of "Zen Samadhi" ... neither falling into the traps of the world, nor pushing the world away, but experiencing this messy world with the light of a Buddha's eyes.

    The Pure Land is right here, there, in the beautiful and in the ugly of this life, inside you and out when found as such.

    Namo Amida Butsu! Jundo
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  9. #9
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    The Pure Land is right here, there, in the beautiful and in the ugly of this life, inside you and out when found as such.

    Namo Amida Butsu! Jundo
    One of my favorite haikus, Issa's death poem, frozen in an empty warehouse in midwinter:

    Code:
    There are thanks to be given:
        This snow on the bedquilt --
            It too is from heaven.

  10. #10
    Thank you Jundo for describing this in such careful words.

    I describe "nonthnking" in another way too, for example, as having "thoughts, goals, likes and dislikes" on one channel ... while simultaneously dropping "thoughts, goals, likes and dislikes" on another channel, not two.
    I just wanted to quickly check with you if the last bit ... 'on another channel, not two' was intentionally written that way?

    Gassho,
    Santosh.

  11. #11
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Thank you for this teaching, Jundo.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  12. #12
    Treeleaf Unsui/Engineer Kyonin's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by ecoist View Post
    Thank you Jundo ... being an Aikidoka we do not use katas in our technics, but do with the jo and bokken. I know for myself those katas have done great things for my technic and have allowed me to find my center (hara), which in Aikido, is very important.
    Yes! Kata helped me find hara and has left a lot of learning in my life. In Nishio Aikido we have them for jo and bokken, but also for learning some elbow defenses.

    At any rate, kata not only teaches us procedures to do certain things, but teaches us discipline and persistence. And those are great values for sitting.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Please remember I am only a priest in training. I could be wrong in everything I say. Slap me if needed.

    The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few, or the one. Mr. Spock

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by santosh View Post

    I just wanted to quickly check with you if the last bit ... 'on another channel, not two' was intentionally written that way?

    Gassho,
    Santosh.
    Yes, that "not two" is "Zenspeak", developed over the centuries to leap beyond and through dualities where words can mislead.

    Saying that "A and B" (like "Santosh" and "Jundo") are "not two" means that they are two things, but not two things, not even one thing. Like binary code in which the Zeros and the Ones, are Zerone, are Onezer, are much more than that ... even not "are" or "are not".

    Don't ask me, Santosh. Indian and Chinese programmers came up with the code a few thousand years ago.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Yes, that "not two" is "Zenspeak", developed over the centuries to leap beyond and through dualities where words can mislead.

    Saying that "A and B" (like "Santosh" and "Jundo") are "not two" means that they are two things, but not two things, not even one thing. Like binary code in which the Zeros and the Ones, are Zerone, are Onezer, are much more than that ... even not "are" or "are not".

    Don't ask me, Santosh. Indian and Chinese programmers came up with the code a few thousand years ago.

    Gassho, J
    When sitting I did observe more than one channel and goes something as follows:

    ... thought passing through ...
    (interrupt)
    ... don't interfere ...
    (interrupt)

    ... and so on. There is this back and forth.

    Thank you for this teaching! Will sit and observe.

    Gassho,
    Santosh.

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by santosh View Post
    When sitting I did observe more than one channel and goes something as follows:

    ... thought passing through ...
    (interrupt)
    ... don't interfere ...
    (interrupt)

    ... and so on. There is this back and forth.

    Thank you for this teaching! Will sit and observe.

    Gassho,
    Santosh.
    Don't even try so hard.

    Thoughts come ... just don't grab them.

    If tangled in trains of thought ... just return to the space between thoughts.

    Repeat, repeat. Take it easy, no stress.

    As simple as riding a bicycle.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  16. #16
    The interaction of thought and awareness is some dance. I can very easily get caught in a thought and before I know it (a half breathe later) built an entire castle of mental image, emotion and tension. Finding an awareness that each part of the body, mind and universe has during all of this is a challenge.

    Gassho for the teaching.

    Charlie

  17. #17
    Hi Charlie!

    Quote Originally Posted by charst46 View Post
    The interaction of thought and awareness is some dance.
    Yes, I agree, a process, a flow, a dance. Sometimes very still, but still flowing, dancing.

    I can very easily get caught in a thought and before I know it (a half breathe later) built an entire castle of mental image, emotion and tension.
    That's great!
    Some people are tense all the time and never let themselves get caught in a thought. You are also very easily liberated from thought right?

    Finding an awareness that each part of the body, mind and universe has during all of this is a challenge.
    Realizing that the challenge is an illusion is a challenge!
    As Jundo said, stop trying so much.
    The awareness that includes body-mind and the universe is always there. But it's not always obvious. We refuse to let go of the castle of mental image. Becoming mindful of this awareness is a matter of practice. Practice IS enlightenment. As soon as you practice whole-heartedly, in a way, you are as enlightened as you will ever be!

    Gassho,
    Pontus
    Last edited by Omoi Otoshi; 12-23-2012 at 07:13 AM.
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    you ride a jade elephant backwards, chasing the winged dragon-deer;
    now as you hide far beyond innumerable peaks--
    the white moon, a cool breeze, the dawn of a fortunate day

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