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Thread: From Soto Teachers: The Essential Art of Zazen / Letting Go

  1. #1

    From Soto Teachers: The Essential Art of Zazen / Letting Go

    Hi,

    On the AZTA (American Zen Teachers Association) mailing list, a bunch of teachers got talking about Shikanataza and said I could share some of the comments here. (However, because of privacy on the mailing list, I won't say the specific teachers names as I did not check that. The below are from half a dozen well known folks). Some very helpful little pointers. Enjoy! Gassho, J

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    At times I have said to my students that the essential art of zazen is letting go. That is the subtle art including letting go of thoughts, as opposed to trying to get rid of them; but also letting go of all kinds of subtle graspings and attachments, the cultivation of flexibility. I would suggest that this is the essential art evoked in the Heart Sutra closing mantra and its practice.

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    Letting go. Another way of looking at it (and to me, this is also the same thing) is being present, completely present. This is turning the mind around (in full presence there is no mind and no object, just presence that's all-inclusive, and presence is always letting go, that's its nature, generous and open). The problem for most dharma students with ... the whole idea of turning the mind around etc etc is that it sounds too much like a job, also it sounds sexy and profound, these three together, a sexy and profound practice that I can accomplish if I am good enough though probably I am not, is a deadly idea for most dharma students, though of course this is not what the teaching is trying to say. But I am afraid this is how many people hear it. Anyway, this is what I have seen. Presence and letting go seem less disadvantageous in this regard.

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    Agreed. Some Zen academic, maybe Tom Kasulis, coined as a term "presencing", the act of being present as a verb. Another way these can be misunderstood, the opposite maybe of some job to accomplish, is as being passive. Turning the light; Letting go; Presencing; and I would add the practice of Patience- are not jobs to accomplish, but they are also not passive. Patience is an active mode of attention that I also sometimes see as the Essential Art.

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    I agree strongly with [the above] caution about the tendency for what is offered as a description to morph into instructions in a technique for striving toward attainment. I feel that letting go is, in and of itself, a removal of the obstructions that prevent us from seeing clearly and genuinely lighting up both the "inside" and the "outside", which after all together constitute a spacious whole.

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    [A]llow thoughts to come without suppressing anything and let them go without clinging to anything ... "Thoughts coming" is the "natural condition of mind," so we want to accord with it and not try to suppress thoughts or cultivate a blank mind. "Letting them go" is not thinking or engagement in thought. So, letting thoughts come without suppressing anything and letting them go without clinging to anything is Dogen's "think not thinking," or, "non-thinking."

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    Unfortunately, letting go can be a project and instruction to follow to get somewhere, some gain. I think it takes a long time to allow and accept with awareness and kindness this life as it is.

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    Thank you everyone for such generous teachings. I have found that suggesting the word "let" without the "go" is very helpful for people. I like "let" because it invites surrender into the present moment and people seem less inclined to feel they must do something--even if it's "letting go" and "returning to the present moment".

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    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  2. #2
    Hello Jundo,

    it is very intersting to read all these related approaches. Thank you for sharing.

    Gassho,

    Hans Chudo Mongen

  3. #3
    I struggle with the "letting go" in this practice daily. Just when I think I have it, there comes a situation that makes me grasp onto some thing all over again. Just thinking about it makes me smile and feel the need to sit...I guess that's why we call it practice. Will I ever learn?

    Thank you for sharing this with us.

    Gassho,
    Kelly/Jinmei

  4. #4
    I don't like the concept of "letting go." For me, it's too tied into the new agey way that French people always talk about how one should better oneself by letting go of an undefined everything (lacher prise). In fact, I hardly ever see this concept in English.

    How about "letting be," or just "being?"

    Gassho,

    Kirk

  5. #5
    Hello,

    And a pertinent, ". . . in true Shikantaza, living without need to discover some Truth is — precisely – Truth discovered. The forsaking of all desire for “something special” or to change one’s life in some way is– profoundly — special. . . ."

    Thank you Jundo.


    Gassho,
    Myosha
    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

  6. #6
    Letting go of letting go. Or the Beatles "Let it be, let it be."

    Gassho, Jishin

  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc View Post
    I don't like the concept of "letting go." For me, it's too tied into the new agey way that French people always talk about how one should better oneself by letting go of an undefined everything (lacher prise). In fact, I hardly ever see this concept in English.

    How about "letting be," or just "being?"

    Gassho,

    Kirk
    I would not be too concerned about the words or the specific phrase used.

    Gassho, J
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  8. #8
    Gassho for this.

    Risho

  9. #9
    Thank you Jundo. =)

    Gassho
    Shingen

  10. #10
    Brilliant.

    Where you are living in the present moment, there is nothing to let go.

    Thank you, Jundo.

    Gassho,

    Kyonin
    Hondō Kyōnin
    奔道 協忍

  11. #11
    Very valuable collection of posts, thank you, Jundo.
    求道芸化 Kyūdō Geika
    I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

  12. #12
    Where ever we go, there we are. =)

    Gassho
    Shingen

  13. #13
    Jundo,
    This is very helpful to have.
    Gassho
    Myozan

  14. #14
    Thank you very much dear teacher Jundo

    Gassho

  15. #15
    Beautiful, thank you for sharing

    Gassho
    Thank you for your practice

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by kirkmc View Post
    I don't like the concept of "letting go." For me, it's too tied into the new agey way that French people always talk about how one should better oneself by letting go of an undefined everything (lacher prise). In fact, I hardly ever see this concept in English.

    How about "letting be," or just "being?"
    Perhaps you just need to let it go Kirk.

    Gassho,
    Dosho

  17. #17
    Thank you for sharing
    Gassho
    C

  18. #18
    “Letting go” is so much stuff and nonsense when there is no one “letting go” and nothing to “let go”, but rather than kicking that dead dog, let’s go to Master Nishijima and Master Dōgen. We know they know why zazen “works”.

    In his Shōbōgenzō Translator’s Note to Establishment of the Bodhi-Mind (Chapter 70), Master Nishijima calls it The Theory of Instantaneousness. Master Dōgen’s explains it when he describes the momentary appearance and disappearance of the the universe.

    When, in Chapter 1 (Bendōwa), Master Dōgen says the problem is “we cannot perceive it directly,” Master Nishijima explains in his Notes that “perceive it directly” in Japanese is a way of saying “receiving a hit” and that it means “to be struck by reality directly in a momentary experience. He says Master Dōgen explained it this way: “Using this body and mind, we directly experience the state of buddha. This is to receive a hit.”

    Every time we sit zazen with right intention of aspiring to be a bodhisattva we receive this “hit ...always in a twinkling of the Dharma-Eye -- whether we know it or not! It is experiential not intellectual but knowing about it can prepare us for our direct perception, i.e., experience of the bodhi-mind when it happens instantaneously during the arising and disappearance of the universe. Zap! Instantly, you are there in bodhi-mind and back again before you even know it. Gone! Gone! Bodhi Svaha! You’ve taken a hit! You’ll sit and sit again and sit in zazen forever because with every hit you receive the bodhi-mind is incrementally establishing itself; and that’s buddha in action.

    Bodhi-mind “hits” happen in-between inconceivably small increments of “time” during which all aggregates, i.e., all conditioned dharmas, arise and disappear. In Chapter 70, Master Dōgen says these nano-moments are called “kṣaṇas”. There are sixty-five kṣaṇas in the time it takes to snap your fingers. In each kṣaṇa “the five aggregates arise and vanish, but no common person has ever sensed it or known it.” Although we are aware of “tatkṣaṇas”, i.e., moments equal to 120 kṣaṇas and in every 24 hours there are 6,400,990,980 kṣaṇas, we do not experience the arising and disappearance of all aggregates because we are not established in bodhi-mind.

    Master Dōgen says, “Because mind and real dharmas are both beyond subject, object, combination, and causelessness, if we establish this bodhi-mind for a single kṣaṇa, the myriad dharmas will all become promoting conditions.In general, establishment of the mind and attainment of the truth rely upon the instantaneous arising and vanishing of all things. If [all things] did not arise and vanish instantaneously, bad done in the previous instant could not depart. If bad done in the previous instant had not yet departed, good in the next instant could not be realized in the present. Only the Tathagata clearly knows the length of this instant.”

    When we enter into zazen with a bodhsattva’s aspiration, it is during that instantaneous arising and disappearance of all conditioned dharmas that we receive the “hit” – that instantaneous direct perception of buddha. And the hits just keep on comin’.

    Master Dōgen says, “Those who do not know the Buddha-Dharma and do not believe the Buddha-Dharma do not believe the principle of instantaneous arising and vanishing. One who clarifies the Tathagata’s right Dharma-eye treasury and the fine mind of nirvana inevitably believes this principle of instantaneous arising and vanishing. Meeting now the Tathagata’s teaching, we feel as if we clearly understand, but we are merely aware of periods of a tatkṣaṇa or longer, and we only believe the principle to be true. Our failure to clarify and failure to know all the dharmas that the World-honored One taught is like our failure to know the length of a kṣaṇa: students must never carelessly become proud. behavior, the cycle of life and death continues without stopping for a single kṣaṇa.

  19. #19
    Gassho,
    Entai

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