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Thread: Zen as Embodiment (2) - Buddha 'Sitting' Buddha

  1. #1

    Zen as Embodiment (2) - Buddha 'Sitting' Buddha


    A key facet of Shikantaza, often much too underplayed in many "How to Sit" instructions, is that traditional Shikantaza has aspects of visualization and embodiment practice, not unlike those Tibetan practices of visualizing oneself as a Buddha - thus to embody the qualities of a Buddha.

    Shikantaza is partially a visualization exercise, what Soto Priest and historian Taigen Dan Leighton has called an "enactment ritual" (https://terebess.hu/zen/szoto/Leight...-ZenRitual.pdf), an assuming of the role of "Buddha" in which one feels - deep in the bones - that one is fully embodying the peace, fulfilment and equanimity of a Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree ... thus eventually coming to feel profoundly the "no gaining mind, nothing more to attain" peace, fulfilment and equanimity that the sitter is first pretending like an actor to feel.

    Just sitting down, crossing the legs, is Buddha embodied.

    The logic behind such an approach is easy to understand: In modern terms, one "method acts" the power of a Buddha sitting, the sensation of freedom from conflict and release from tensions that one imagines a Buddha would feel, and the softening of the hard borders of "self" and "non-self," thus bringing to life the power of a Buddha sitting, soon creating the actual experience of freedom from conflict and friction, summoning an actual softening or dropping of 'self vs. other.'

    Now, please don't misunderstand: In Soto style Shikantaza, we do not visualize the actual image of a "Buddha" as overtly as the Tibetans do in their practices in which the Lamas begin by picturing a Buddha image within their mind, depicting all of a Buddha's physical aspects and qualities (although in my understanding, they do eventually drop away the image, leaving only the feelings of embodiment behind). Rather, in Shikantaza, this "bringing Buddha to life" through the act of Zazen is implicit and assumed as inherent in the action, subtly felt but unvoiced, an "embodying Buddha and all Buddha qualities" fully trusted deep, deep in the marrow of the bones as an absolute given, thus without need to ponder or keep as an idea before us. In fact, our feeling of embodiment serves simply as the unshakeable foundation upon which rests all the other vital aspects of Shikantaza typically found in the "How to Sit" instructions and not to be neglected, such as not "pondering" or latching on to anything at all, our letting thoughts go without becoming entangled, centering on the breath or body or "open awareness," sitting with no goal and nothing left to attain but sitting, sitting fulfilled merely by sitting.

    In this way, the often heard descriptions of sitting Zazen with "nothing to attain, no other place to be, nothing lacking" is now known as nothing other than the experience of a Buddha sitting under the Bodhi Tree, experiencing union with the completion of the Morning Star's shining, thus the Buddha's realization of nothing more to attain, no other place to go, nothing lacking. Yes, Buddha is star is shining is tree is ground is just us, and we are just so. When we sit Shikantaza, we naturally assume (with deep faith in our hearts, not needing to say it in so many words) that this is what we have become merely by sitting, that all the Buddhas and Ancestors are alive on the very cushion of our sitting, thoroughly so just by our act of sitting.

    Now, more secular and "down to earth" sitters don't have to be put off by all this talk of "summoning Buddhas" and "faith" and the like, because it is really a psychological practice at heart: It is not unlike what Olympic divers may do in visualizing and embodying the form of a "perfect dive" before they leap. My friend, a Zen practitioner and Broadway actor, has compared Shikantaza to his "assuming the role of Hamlet, with all the qualities of Hamlet, until one actually becomes Hamlet and Hamlet comes to life in the flesh."

    Further, as we discussed in our last installment of this "Zen as Embodiment" series, there is no need to be too hung up on the fact that we say "sitting" is Buddha. It is true that Master Dogen often said that "sitting in the Lotus Posture" is the sitting of a Buddha, but I feel it is fine to say that any sincere sitting (or reclining or standing if needed due to health) is "Buddha," because it is the sincere and dedicated act, not the posture itself, that is what counts. Further, when we take the attitude of "Shikantaza" off the cushion, all our daily actions such as tending our children, cutting the grass, driving down the road, become so too: Buddha tending Buddha, Buddha cutting Buddha, Buddha driving Buddha. I look forward to seeing some of our artists carve modern Buddha Statues of Gautama on a seiza bench or in a chair, just as beautiful as the Full Lotus or Burmese poses seen in traditional art.

    Master Dogen emphasized throughout his writings that Zazen is "Buddha Sitting Buddha." We don't give such declarations the weight they deserve. In Fukanzazengi, he declared, "If you want to attain just this, immediately practice just this. ... Practice thusness continuously, and you will be thus." In Bendowa:

    "[Even] the idea of 'a moment of sitting is itself the Buddha Dharma' is but a reflection in a mirror. Do not be concerned with the splendor of the words. By showing the buddha ancestors’ excellent way of direct transmission, I am just recommending the practice of the immediate realization of enlightenment, hoping that you will become a true practitioner of the way ... Instead, sit zazen wholeheartedly, conform to the buddha form and let go of all things. Then, leaping beyond the boundary of delusion and enlightenment, free from the paths of ordinary and sacred, unconstrained by ordinary thinking, immediately wander at ease, enriched with great enlightenment. When you practice in this way, how can those who are concerned with the traps and snares of words and letters be compared with you?"


    So, try sitting with a subtle, unvoiced, thorough trust deep in the bones, "This Sitting is a Buddha brought to life, nothing lacking," this is "Buddha 'sitting' Buddha," in fact, "Buddha Buddha-ing Buddha."

    Then, letting go of even such thoughts and any thoughts ... sitting (standing or reclining) as one's body needs ...

    ... Just Sit.

    Gassho, J

    STLah

    (sorry for being a bit long)
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-23-2020 at 11:51 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  2. #2
    It always surprises me how much Master Dogen can convey even when saying something as simple as '.. sit zazen wholeheartedly, conform to the Buddha form and let go of all things.'.
    It struck me that Hamlet was a pretty appropriate choice as an example of embodying a role, Maria from The Sound of Music wouldn't have had the same ring about it
    Gassho
    Meitou
    Buddha sitting Buddha
    命 Mei - life
    島 Tou - island

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Meitou View Post
    ... Maria from The Sound of Music wouldn't have had the same ring about it
    Dogen (from Sansuikyo): "Rejoice that there are times when sounds and forms appear in the mountains and waters ... the sound of the mountain — none begrudge the eighty-four thousand verses.

    Maria: "The hills fill my heart with the sound of music ... with songs they have sung for 1000 years ... "





    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-23-2020 at 05:00 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Dogen (from Sansuikyo): "Rejoice that there are times when sounds and forms appear in the mountains and waters ... the sound of the mountain — none begrudge the eighty-four thousand verses.

    Maria: "The hills fill my heart with the sound of music ... with songs they have sung for 1000 years ... "





    Gassho, J

    STLah
    As I always say, Dogen provides all that we need. He could even solve the problem of Maria.
    Deep bows
    Meitou
    Sattoday
    命 Mei - life
    島 Tou - island

  5. #5
    In fact, our feeling of embodiment serves simply as the unshakeable foundation upon which rests all the other vital aspects of Shikantaza typically found in the "How to Sit" instructions and not to be neglected, such as not "pondering" or latching on to anything at all, our letting thoughts go without becoming entangled, centering on the breath or body or "open awareness," sitting with no goal and nothing left to attain but sitting, sitting fulfilled merely by sitting.
    Thank you for this teaching, Jundo A good reminder...
    Sometimes I tend to think I might be overplaying with 'pretending'...until I let this notion go and just sit!

    Gassho,
    Washin
    StLah
    Kaido (有道) Every Way
    Washin (和信) Harmony Trust
    ----
    I am a novice priest-in-training. Anything what I say must not be considered as teaching
    and should be taken with a 'grain of salt'.

  6. #6
    Wonderful! Thank you, Jundo!


    Gassho

    Horin

    Stlah

    Enviado desde mi PLK-L01 mediante Tapatalk

  7. #7
    Thank you for this timely reminder. Wonderful exposition of just sitting.

    Gassho
    Van
    Satlah

    Sent from my HD1913 using Tapatalk

  8. #8
    Member RobD's Avatar
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    Thank you for this Jundo. Gassho2

    I've seen the familiar adage of "fake it 'till you make it" used around here at times, and that is one I've used many times myself. But after reading this, I think I'll start using a more positive variation such as: "Be it 'till you become it (although you already ARE it)."



    Gassho,
    Rob

    -stlah-


    Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk

  9. #9
    I often reread your post about Shikantaza as a re-enactment ritual and remind myself of it before I sit. Thank you for elaborating on this. This is truly taking refuge, isn’t it?
    Gassho,
    Krista
    st

  10. #10


    Tairin
    Sat today and lah
    泰林 - Tai Rin - Peaceful Woods

  11. #11
    Thank you Jundo
    Gassho
    Onka
    Sat today
    aka Anna Kissed
    Pronouns She/Her They/Them

  12. #12

  13. #13
    Thank you for the teaching, Jundo. Such a simple, yet profound, reminder.

    Gassho,

    Josh
    SatToday

    Sent from my Pixel 3 using Tapatalk

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by RobD View Post
    Thank you for this Jundo. Gassho2

    I've seen the familiar adage of "fake it 'till you make it" used around here at times, and that is one I've used many times myself. But after reading this, I think I'll start using a more positive variation such as: "Be it 'till you become it (although you already ARE it)."



    Gassho,
    Rob

    -stlah-


    Sent from my Pixel 2 XL using Tapatalk

    Thank you Jundo.

    I liked your positive variation, "Be it 'till you become it (although you already ARE it)", RobD. It reminds me of something I heard a Zen teacher say years ago that really stuck with me. He stated, " I can't think myself into a new way of living, I have to live myself into a new way of thinking".

    Gassho,

    Shade

    ST

  15. #15
    Thank you, Jundo and everyone who added to this discussion. Shade, your quote from a Zen teacher, "I can't think myself into a new way of living, I have to live myself into a new way of thinking," is startling, yet rings true. I want to remember it.

    Gassho,
    Onkai
    Sat/lah
    On (Warm)
    Kai (Sea)

  16. #16
    In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of both unenlightenment and enlightenment, and dying while either sitting or standing, have all depended entirely on the strength (of zazen).
    -- Dogen

    "Die sitting, die standing" was the motto of a hard-working old nun, and she in fact managed to die standing in the Buddha hall of her tiny temple, as reported by Paula Arai. I think of her often.

    I connect this with this from Shunryu Suzuki:

    We just practice zazen, taking our example from Buddha; that is why we practice. Buddha taught us how to act through our practice; that is why we sit.
    How to act: there are many dissipative, greedy, foolish, angry ways to act. There are a few ways to act within clarity and peace. Sitting can be a ground from which to act within clarity and peace.

    Thank you, Jundo. This was just the thing.

    gassho, shonin sat and some lah today
    I'm a visiting unsui from Bird Haven Zendo. Take what I say with a box of salt. Mmm!

  17. #17
    How to act: there are many dissipative, greedy, foolish, angry ways to act. There are a few ways to act within clarity and peace. Sitting can be a ground from which to act within clarity and peace.


    Gassho,
    Washin
    stlah
    Kaido (有道) Every Way
    Washin (和信) Harmony Trust
    ----
    I am a novice priest-in-training. Anything what I say must not be considered as teaching
    and should be taken with a 'grain of salt'.

  18. #18
    Member Seishin's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 2016
    Location
    La Croix-Avranchin, Basse Normandie, France


    Seishin

    Sei - Meticulous
    Shin - Heart

  19. #19
    Thank you Jundo

    When you take this truly to heart, I believe your practice begins to really unfold - no attainment - just depth and insight (for me anyhow!)

    SatLah

    Tokan

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