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Thread: Zazen and Upekkha/Upeksha

  1. #1

    Zazen and Upekkha/Upeksha

    Hey Everyone,

    There is a thought that has returned a few ties and been quite insistent and I would like to say what you guys think about it. In essence, it seems to me that one of the primary benefits (if not goals) of shikantaza is that it directly cultivates equanimity--the last and highest of the brahma viharas according to the Southern (Theravada) schools. I don't want to say too much at the outset but would like to invite you all to comment and correct my interpretation if necessary. Metta to all!

    To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
    -Dhp. 183
    My Practice Blog

  2. #2
    .. Hi Mike. I also came to this way Zen through the Forest Sangha tradition.... and can offer this impression. Equanimity as taught by our teacher at the time (Ajahn Viradhammo) is like a "forest pool" that is calm and not disturbed by the passions. When passions are stirred, they quickly settle.. It is cool. This tradition... as best I understand, does not view the passions.. our humanness, in the same way. There is a "stillness" the very passions. There is the "unborn" in both stillness and disturbance.. no picking or choosing. Only "as is".

    But that is just a Soto Zen newbie's take on it.

    Gassho, kojip.
    美道 代山 Bido Daizan

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  3. #3
    Hi Mike

    My understanding on this based on my limited experience thus far is that there is no goal in shikantaza. There is nothing to achieve. Nowhere to go thus no benefit. That being said while doing zazen I experience calmness and sometimes I don't just embracing what is. For me equanimity occurs with my continued practice so cultivate may be fair but not a goal. A benefit/non-benefit?



    I am only a novice priest. Do not just accept what I say but decide for yourself if it rings true.

  4. #4
    Hi Mike,

    Even though it is not so common for Mahayana and Zen folks to specifically refer to the "brahmavihāras", I would say that all such virtues are vital to our Practice too however we call 'em .. loving-kindness, compassion, empathetic joy, and equanimity.

    And, yes, I would say that Shikantaza cultivates "equanimity" ... although that word "equanimity" can give the mistaken impression that Shikantaza cultivates some kind of complacent numbness, dull resignation, shoulder shrugging "whatever" passivity, and "I don't care" emotional valium trance toward life. That's not it, although we all have such moments. Rather, it is an Embracing and Allowing so complete and all encompassing that one is active or passive, moving or still, alive and beyond life/death, taking all of life on life's terms. This is an "Equanimity" (with a capital "E") which holds in Total Satisfaction (capital "S") both human times of satisfaction and dissatisfaction (small "s"), a Stillness in stillness or storm. We tend to favor the emotional "middle way", and not run to extremes, excess or indulge in obviously harmful emotions like anger and greed ... but within those boundaries, we are anything but numb and complacent (as Kojip stated so nicely).

    The following is a bit off topic, but I wonder if it might interest you too ...

    A book that should be mentioned is the recent "The Experience of Samadhi" by Richard Shankman, 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. ...
    Richard Shankman'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))

    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.

    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.
    Gassho, J
    Last edited by Jundo; 08-03-2012 at 01:00 AM.


  5. #5
    @Kojip: Thank you for your comments. I always (perhaps unfairly) place a little more weight on your replies precisely because you have practice with a Theravada Sangha in the past and can understand where I get caught up and confused. Deep bows __/\__

    @Daido: Thank you! There are some things that one never can hear too often. __/\__

    @Rev. Jundo: Wow! I am truly indebted to you for the time and consideration you put into your reply. I will look into the book from which you quote but I feel a lot more encouraged to continue deepening my Zen practice. I cannot tell you enough how much I appreciate your knowledge and your style of teaching the Dharma. It will be an honor to be able to receive the precepts from you. Mettaya and deep bows __/\__

    To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind this is the teaching of the Buddhas.
    -Dhp. 183
    My Practice Blog

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