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Thread: Labeling thoughts joko

  1. #1

    Labeling thoughts joko

    I've been reading 'nothing special' and 'everyday zen' and joko beck seems to make a case for not just noticing thoughts but labeling them before allowing them to go. I've been trying it and I think it's a good practice, but I wanted to know what others think about it? I haven't come across it in other books so far on Jundo's list, I did read it in some essay by Myla kabat-zinn. Are there other teachers who recommend it? Does Dogen or any classical writers mention it?

    Thanks
    _|_
    Neal

  2. #2

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    I'm away from my computer, but if you search this forum you will find some threads where Jundo talks about this form of meditation. IIRC, Gil Fronsdal talks about it in his lectures. Here is one example :

    http://www.insightmeditationcenter.org/ ... editation/

    Sent from my SPH-D710 using Tapatalk

  3. #3
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Quote Originally Posted by gongli
    I've been reading 'nothing special' and 'everyday zen' and joko beck seems to make a case for not just noticing thoughts but labeling them before allowing them to go. I've been trying it and I think it's a good practice, but I wanted to know what others think about it? I haven't come across it in other books so far on Jundo's list, I did read it in some essay by Myla kabat-zinn. Are there other teachers who recommend it? Does Dogen or any classical writers mention it?
    It's certainly a common practice in Vipassana. But I don't think it fits in with Dogenese Zen very well.

  4. #4

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    It's not the kind of soup Rev Jundo and Taigu are serving in this establishment and it shouldn't be confused with Shikantaza.
    Other than that, I did it 15 years ago and liked it very much. I think there are far worse ways to spend your time. But I'd view it more as an interesting and sometimes helpful psychological experiment to see what goes on in your mind that you aren't normally aware of, and not so much as Zen practice. But then again, everything is Zen practice... :wink:

  5. #5

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Hi All,
    One can think of PPE 8 that Fugen posted is similar to what you're talking about, in a way at least. We notice and label our negative emotions and try to transform them into positive.
    viewtopic.php?f=7&t=4331

  6. #6
    Senior Member Nindo's Avatar
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    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    I once spent a whole sesshin on labelling thoughts. It helped me to understand how my mind works. At that stage, I would not have been able to sit Shikantaza; I had to understand some of my thought patterns first. If you find yourself going through the same patterns over and over again, or operating from certain beliefs and assumptions towards self/ others, it may help to clarify and let go.

  7. #7

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    If there are very compelling thoughts that have me sucked into content, like some narrative that raises or diminishes the value of "me",... calling it can break the identification and bring things back to simple presence.

    .... Not sure if this accords with what is dished up here. :|

  8. #8

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc
    Quote Originally Posted by gongli
    I've been reading 'nothing special' and 'everyday zen' and joko beck seems to make a case for not just noticing thoughts but labeling them before allowing them to go. I've been trying it and I think it's a good practice, but I wanted to know what others think about it? I haven't come across it in other books so far on Jundo's list, I did read it in some essay by Myla kabat-zinn. Are there other teachers who recommend it? Does Dogen or any classical writers mention it?
    It's certainly a common practice in Vipassana. But I don't think it fits in with Dogenese Zen very well.
    agreed. labeling means attaching to the thoughts rather than letting them arise and subside.

  9. #9

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Quote Originally Posted by Kojip
    If there are very compelling thoughts that have me sucked into content, like some narrative that raises or diminishes the value of "me",... calling it can break the identification and bring things back to simple presence.
    True!

    When I'm stuck with an unusually persistant image/thought/idea, that keeps coming back again and again, it sometimes helps to take a good look at it and examine what it stands for and where it is coming from, before letting it go and returning to Shikantaza. But in my view, that is different from the dedicated thought labeling described by Joko Beck Roshi, which is great, but should not be confused with Shikantaza.

  10. #10

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Quote Originally Posted by Omoi Otoshi
    But in my view, that is different from the dedicated thought labeling described by Joko Beck Roshi, which is great, but should not be confused with Shikantaza.
    Yes, I think it is different too. More akin to the thought-chasing that eventually drops back to ZZ' as described by Uchiyama Roshi

  11. #11

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Quote Originally Posted by Matto
    Yes, I think it is different too. More akin to the thought-chasing that eventually drops back to ZZ' as described by Uchiyama Roshi
    Yes, with the difference that the thought-chasing is more like day dreaming, caching on to a thought that leads to another thought that leads to a whole train of thoughts, images and emotions, without you realizing it immediately. When thought labeling, at least when I did it, you mindfully "watch" a thought arise, study it, label it, let it drift away, return to awarness, watch another thought arise and so on. I believe back when I started doing Zazen without a teacher and without much instruction, it helped me get some insight into how my minds works, what issues I carried with me that I wasn't aware of, how thoughts arose and drifted away. It may also have improved my ability to concentrate, my awareness and watchfulness for when thoughts start to carry me away, I don't know. One risk with this practice that I noticed when I started doing more classic Zazen is that you focus all of your awareness on the inside of your mind, watching for thought to arise, instead of the non-grasping, open awareness of Shikantaza. Maybe one could start with thought labeling to get into a calmer state of mind, before moving on to Shikantaza, instead of counting breaths or focusing on posture? It's an ingredient that I, from my very limited experience, guess would work well in some kind of soup, as long as one is aware of the fact that it isn't the standard Treeleaf or even Soto soup and that according to most Soto teachers, it really isn't Shikantaza.

  12. #12

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Well sometimes for me things are just clear, thoughts come and go like any other sensation, and awareness is grounded as the cushion, the floor, room, etc. There is no checking back, no narrative, and so forth, and no dukkha.

    Sometimes the whole room is within "my story" . The thoughts are invisible because I am absorbed in them. I think I'm "just sitting" but there is something fishy, something uncooked. It is that stealthy background picture of "my life" that is containing everything. So that is when calling it out helps because then I am just in the stew as the stew. Then it's not in the stew anymore. ....if that makes sense. ... tired this morning. :lol:

  13. #13

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Quote Originally Posted by Kojip
    Well sometimes for me things are just clear, thoughts come and go like any other sensation, and awareness is grounded as the cushion, the floor, room, etc. There is no checking back, no narrative, and so forth, and no dukkha.

    Sometimes the whole room is within "my story" . The thoughts are invisible because I am absorbed in them. I think I'm "just sitting" but there is something fishy, something uncooked. It is that stealthy background picture of "my life" that is containing everything. So that is when calling it out helps because then I am just in the stew as the stew. Then it's not in the stew anymore. ....if that makes sense. ... tired this morning. :lol:
    Ah... Lovely description. For me, your words are a poem!


    Something fishy in the Stew
    -Kojip

    Sometimes, for me, things are just clear
    Thoughts come and go like any other sensation
    Awareness is grounded as the cushion, the floor, room
    There is no checking back, no narrative, no dukkha.

    Sometimes the whole room is within "my story"
    The thoughts are invisible because I am absorbed in them
    I think I'm "just sitting" but there is something fishy
    something uncooked

    It is that stealthy background picture of "my life"
    that is containing everything
    That is when calling it out helps,
    because then I am just in the stew
    as the stew
    Then it is not in the stew anymore


    Thank you,
    /Pontus

  14. #14

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    True, wonderful words...

    And yet,



    just, this, now




    T.

  15. #15

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Thank you. Words, wonderful. ...... consistency of practice..... uh.... maybe not so wonderful ops:

  16. #16
    Senior Member AlanLa's Avatar
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    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Sometimes I find labeling thoughts helpful, and other times I find it helpful to just drop them without labeling. I like vipissana, but when I sit I sit.

    If you think about, which I don't recommend, all our thoughts are already labels, so you're labeling labels, no?

  17. #17

    Labeling thoughts joko

    Yes, shining the spot light on them, reading their labels out loud, but without words.

  18. #18

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Some thoughts are easier to see and let go than others. Busy chatter is easy to see, but thoughts around matters of deep attachement...like worried thoughts about my child's wellbeing, can't easily be let go of, and maybe that's not the point, maybe just recognizing being there, and being in that mindstate, opens things up even as the suffering is still actually suffering.

    Can anyone relate?

  19. #19

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Hi,

    That comment by Joko comes up from time to time. I had a chat a few years ago with someone from Joko Beck's lineage on this (maybe Ezra Bayda) and yes, as a psychologist, she did incorporate certain "insight mediation" practices into Zazen sometimes. However, we do not here. When we "just sit," we "just sit" ... we let thoughts go without analysis during Zazen. There is nothing to do or attain in the sitting, nothing to examine or focus on ... and that non-doing and non-examining is VITAL.

    Now, on the other hand, I think her "thought labeling" recommendation is a wonderful thing to do at other times in daily life, as thoughts arise during our busy day ... when tired, hot, a little angry, happy, etc. I also advocate the practice of labeling, just not --during-- Zazen itself (when we are not to be adding anything). Labeling is, however, a very important part of learning to observe our mind's workings. So, for example, instead of just feeling angry, greedy or tired, and instead of just saying to ourselves merely "I am feeling angry/greedy/tired now), we should learn to say to ourselves such things as "this is my mind now temporarily feeling angry/greedy/tired during present conditions ... I can feel it arising, I can feel it developing, I can feel it passing away". When we learn to do that, experiencing the emotions of the mind becomes just watching a bit of theatre.

    All that is good, just not a practice for "during" Zazen, when we observe everything and nothing.

    Here is more that I wrote on the topic ...

    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.

    However, 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, "samatha/vipassana" are both important.
    Gassho, J

  20. #20

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Hello Jundo.

    May I ask you , as a father, when thoughts and concerns about your child's well being, not just based on fancy but genuine concerns, arise. How does seeing it as a "mind created bit of theater" play out with you?

    For me there are certain trumps, where I am identified, can't help it. Like for instance, situations concerning my family's wellbeing. Equilibrium in those moment ...well, is just being without much equilibrium, at best.... and living with that. If, Buddha forbid, your son were in danger, how would you work with those strong feelings?


    Thankyou. Kojip.

  21. #21

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Quote Originally Posted by Kojip
    Hello Jundo.

    May I ask you , as a father, when thoughts and concerns about your child's well being, not just based on fancy but genuine concerns, arise. How does seeing it as a "mind created bit of theater" play out with you?

    For me there are certain trumps, where I am identified, can't help it. Like for instance, situations concerning my family's wellbeing. Equilibrium in those moment ...well, is just being without much equilibrium, at best.... and living with that. If, Buddha forbid, your son were in danger, how would you work with those strong feelings?


    Thankyou. Kojip.
    Hi Kojip,

    I have done a few talks on the nights (a couple of times) when our son was rushed to the ER. Fortunately, he came home fine each time, but once was very serious. So, I can honestly speak from experience.

    I can say that my response is not an "either/or" answer. Having just gone to a wonderful exhibition here on the human brain yesterday, I believe that some responses are hard wired into us ... fear as a parent being one of those ... and that any attempt to completely eliminate that is either impossible ultimately or (even if possible for some Great Yogi) unnecessarily removes a good and rich element of our humanity from us. Further, I do not believe it even good and necessary to fully eliminate such in order to know True Liberation. So, instead of being an "either/or" fellow, I believe that one can best taste the richness of Buddhist Practice AND our humanity as a "many ways at once" fellow ... and thus samsara as nirvana as samsara is fully pierced.

    So, on the one hand, I was completely in fear as any father, not knowing where to turn, my heart breaking and my head filled with the worst "what if" scenario. Such is to be human.

    And, on the other hand, years of practice allowed me great recognition of the "mind theatre" ongoing ... even though a very real theatre in my life at the moment. So, I did not fall into the worst of it, could be aware of my natural reaction as just the natural reaction. I could drop away some of the "worst case" from mind.

    And ultimately, on the "no hand" (One Hand Clapping Hand?), there was that Peace of All Pieces, such Allowing and Letting Be, such Suchness ... that I was at Peace with it all somehow and thoroughly. There was nothing to fear, no child which might be lost.

    ALL AT ONCE!

    That is how I practice. I do not believe that the richness of the Mahayana is tasted only by having equanimity VS. a lack of equanimity .... Rather, there is Such Equanimity which sweeps in and fully allows both equanimity and lost equanimity ... AT ONCE, AS ONE!

    (I don't know if this is still visible or lost (cause I am in China and Youtube is blocked), but here is one of those) ...


    http://www.treeleaf.org/sit-a-long/with ... r-son.html

    Gassho, J

  22. #22

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Thank you Jundo, and thank you for sharing.

  23. #23

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Dear Jundo Sensei and sangha friends,
    I have a related question: count my breaths is also a thing different of shikantaza?
    To be honest, I am experimented in different ways and I achieve a better focus using a technique of count my breaths in a complicated way (1, 0, 3, 8, etc) so is easier to keep my mind on the "here & now" (that includes the count 8) ) But I wonder if it is no shikantaza.
    I appreciate any suggestion about it.
    Thanks
    Gassho
    Senryu

  24. #24

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Quote Originally Posted by senryu
    Dear Jundo Sensei and sangha friends,
    I have a related question: count my breaths is also a thing different of shikantaza?
    To be honest, I am experimented in different ways and I achieve a better focus using a technique of count my breaths in a complicated way (1, 0, 3, 8, etc) so is easier to keep my mind on the "here & now" (that includes the count 8) ) But I wonder if it is no shikantaza.
    I appreciate any suggestion about it.
    Thanks
    Gassho
    Senryu
    Hi Senryu,

    I usually say this ...

    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". [Jundo Note: In my view, our practice is not so much about keeping "one's mind on the here and now", but rather, about fully allowing the "here and now" so that the barriers of separation with the "here and now" drop away.] Another reason for that is that I believe it makes it a bit easier to take this practice off the Zafu and out into the world.
    and

    In Shikantaza practice as encouraged around here, we teach counting the breaths, or observing the breath, merely as a way to settle the mind for beginners. (After a few weeks or months, the training wheels come off, and we begin open, spacious sitting centered on everything and nothing at all.) On the other hand as mentioned, different teachers, even within the Soto school, will teach somewhat different perspectives on this, and observing the breath can even be a lifetime practice for some!

    However, generally, we do not do anything with the breath, except to allow it to find its own, natural , easy rhythm. Master Dogen (the founder of the Soto lineage in Japan) did not really say very much about breathing. In fact, I often think that he could have said more (breathing is so important in the martial arts, for example). But, Dogen did not really seem to say much more than "know that long breaths are long, short breaths are short ... and that they are neither long nor short'. And breathe from the tanden [the physical center of gravity located in the abdomen three finger widths below and two finger widths behind the navel], ... in other words, breathe deeply ... but know that they come and go no where.

    It is, after all, goalless "just sitting".

    We usually just let the breath settle into a natural rhythm. I find that 2 or 3 breaths per minute is a sign of a very balanced Zazen. Let it come and go so naturally that you forget you are breathing.

    I gave a "sit-a-long" talk on this as part of our "Zazen for Beginners" series, and I hope that you will have a look at that (and the whole series ... with Taigu too) when you have a chance ...:

    viewtopic.php?p=41798#p41798
    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 01-25-2013 at 01:58 PM.

  25. #25
    Senior Member Ekai's Avatar
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    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    I find that labeling works well in dealing with strong or negative emotions and then going back to Shikantaza by letting the feelings go. For instance, I used the labeling thoughts this weekend when I was angry with my husband over an issue that happened on Friday evening. Labeling helped me to take a step back and see what was going on in my mind. After I recognizing my thoughts and feelings, I noticed I created and intensified most the things I was upset about within my own mind. After realizing this, I was able to let the feelings go. The anger seemed to melt away. However, I think my husband benefited more than me since I saved him from my wrath! :evil:

    Thanks,
    Jodi

  26. #26
    disastermouse
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    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    Hi,

    That comment by Joko comes up from time to time. I had a chat a few years ago with someone from Joko Beck's lineage on this (maybe Ezra Bayda) and yes, as a psychologist, she did incorporate certain "insight mediation" practices into Zazen sometimes. However, we do not here. When we "just sit," we "just sit" ... we let thoughts go without analysis during Zazen. There is nothing to do or attain in the sitting, nothing to examine or focus on ... and that non-doing and non-examining is VITAL.

    Now, on the other hand, I think her "thought labeling" recommendation is a wonderful thing to do at other times in daily life, as thoughts arise during our busy day ... when tired, hot, a little angry, happy, etc. I also advocate the practice of labeling, just not --during-- Zazen itself (when we are not to be adding anything). Labeling is, however, a very important part of learning to observe our mind's workings. So, for example, instead of just feeling angry, greedy or tired, and instead of just saying to ourselves merely "I am feeling angry/greedy/tired now), we should learn to say to ourselves such things as "this is my mind now temporarily feeling angry/greedy/tired during present conditions ... I can feel it arising, I can feel it developing, I can feel it passing away". When we learn to do that, experiencing the emotions of the mind becomes just watching a bit of theatre.

    All that is good, just not a practice for "during" Zazen, when we observe everything and nothing.

    Here is more that I wrote on the topic ...

    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.

    However, 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, "samatha/vipassana" are both important.
    Gassho, J
    Thank you so much for this post, Jundo!

    The hardest part of Shikantaza is resisting the urge to make it productive - to add something extra, to DO something. IMHO.

    Chet

  27. #27

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Thanks a lot for your answer Jundo Sensei
    Gassho
    Senryu

  28. #28

    Re: Labeling thoughts joko

    Quote Originally Posted by disastermouse
    The hardest part of Shikantaza is resisting the urge to make it productive - to add something extra, to DO something. IMHO.

    Chet
    Ain't that the truth! I have to remind myself before I sit, "this isn't the time or place for accomplishing anything."

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