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Thread: The Eyes of Zazen: Neither Open Nor Closed

  1. #1

    The Eyes of Zazen: Neither Open Nor Closed




    The question came up as to why we keep our eyes a bit open in Shikantaza Zazen.

    Master Dogen instructed in Fukanzazengi, "The eyes should always remain open."

    This is the proper attitude of neither running toward the world, nor running away. Seeing, yet not being disturbed by nor tangled in what is seen, no need to push away the world, yet the mind not grabbing on or caught.

    As the hard borders soften or sometimes fully drop away, what is "inside" or "outside" truly?

    Yes, there are functional reasons too, for it does make it less likely that one will doze or start to "trip" in inner states. In fact, most teachers say that one should sit with eyes perhaps 1/2 or 1/3 open, rather than fully open, facing a wall or facing the room, with lights softened but not in the dark. This reduces stimulation, but never ever shuts it off!

    As well, this instruction from Dogen to keep the eyes open is one of the strongest bits of evidence we have that Master Dogen did not mean for Shikantaza to be a practice centered on attaining unusually deep states of Samadhi concentration, for he rejected closing the eyes and never mentions in his instructions focus on a mantra, a koan phrase, the breath or visual mind object as usually accompanies such kinds of practices. Instead, Shikantaza is sitting in profound equanimity and deep presence with the world, inside and out.

    But if the eyes are the Gateless Gate, what is "inside" vs. "outside" truly? Light is seen, and all is radiant. It jumps through bright or dark. The eye which sees itself, sitting within a Buddha Eye, the True Dharma Eye, can neither be entered or exited, leaping through "inside and out" even as the world which we spy keeps coming and going.

    Gassho, J

    SatTodayLAH
    Sorry to run long
    Last edited by Jundo; 09-24-2021 at 11:47 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  2. #2
    Thank you Jundo.

    Focusing on the breath or on the posture sometimes served as an anchor in the beginning.
    Partially opened eyes seem to serve me as a "here and now" anchor, too.

    Gassho,
    Kotei sat/lah today.

    義道 冴庭 / Gidō Kotei.
    Being a novice priest doesn't mean that my writing about the Dharma is more substantial than yours. Actually, it might well be the other way round.

  3. #3
    Member Hōkan's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kotei View Post
    Focusing on the breath or on the posture sometimes served as an anchor in the beginning.
    In the beginning?

    40 years on I still often attend to breath and sometimes to posture.

    Some time ago Norman Fischer gave a short series of talks on meditation basics that seemed, in part, to be a corrective to one of his priests who a few months earlier, said that following/counting the breath is for newbies. Norman said that, especially when his mind had trouble settling, he often will count/follow breath.

    Looks like Everyday Zen has just updated their web site so I can't find those talks just now. As I recall the talks were on "The Six Dharma Gates to the Sublime" by Śramaṇa Zhiyi, founder of Tiantai.

    Sat
    Last edited by Hōkan; 09-24-2021 at 12:27 PM. Reason: add reference
    --
    Hōkan = 法閑 = Dharma Serenity
    To be entirely clear, I am not a hōkan = 幇間 = taikomochi = geisha, but I do wonder if my preceptor was having a bit of fun with me...

  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Hōkan View Post
    Some time ago Norman Fischer gave a short series of talks on meditation basics that seemed, in part, to be a corrective to one of his priests who a few months earlier, said that following/counting the breath is for newbies. Norman said that, especially when his mind had trouble settling, he often will count/follow breath.
    One may follow the breath (or place attention the the posture or hara or the like) at any time, especially when the mind is in turmoil. Some will do so as their practice for a lifetime. But I do encourage folks to return to "open spacious awareness" when they can, perhaps moving back and forth as they need.

    Ultimately, Norman is just a beginner too, as are we all.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  5. #5


    Gassho

    Risho
    -stlah

  6. #6
    I clarified one section because Inshin reminded me, quite correctly, that some other traditions sit with eyes partly open sometimes, including in South Asia, Tibet and Rinzai folks. To clarify my point, Dogen's Zazen instructions in Fukanzazengi and elsewhere to keep the eyes open, combined with the total absence of instructions by him to focus on a mind object, mantra, Koan phrase or the like or even to intensely follow the breath (in fact, he removed instructions for samadhi when copying meditation texts written by others to create Fukanzazengi), and no mention of stages (in fact, the rejection of stages as "shuzen" 習禪には非ず), all together evidence that he was not emphasizing technique for deep samadhi (better said, not emphasizing such nor running away from such).

    So, that portion now says:

    "As well, this instruction from Dogen to keep the eyes open is one of the strongest bits of evidence we have that Master Dogen did not mean for Shikantaza to be a practice centered on attaining unusually deep states of Samadhi concentration, for he rejected closing the eyes and never mentions in his instructions focus on a mantra, a koan phrase, the breath or visual mind object as usually accompanies such kinds of practices. Instead, Shikantaza is sitting in profound equanimity and deep presence with the world, inside and out."

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  7. #7
    Kaidō (皆道) Every Way
    Washin (和信) Harmony Trust
    ----
    I am a novice priest-in-training. Anything that I say must not be considered as teaching
    and should be taken with a 'grain of salt'.

  8. #8

  9. #9


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

  10. #10
    If I ever feel like I know enough to give advice to meditators with ADHD, I will likely tell them not to feel too bad if they need to come back to the breath even after quite a bit of practice. At least briefly, not necessarily counting, but as noticing. If not for this, I might have been convinced a long time ago that Shikantaza was not for me. My brain occasionally needs a dang hook to bring it back from its wanderings. The breath is something that I'm pretty sure we can rely on as the anchor point for coming back to spacious awareness until we die!

    Gassho,
    Jakuden
    SatToday/LAH
    清 道 寂田
    SEIDO JAKUDEN
    She/her.
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

  11. #11
    Member Seikan's Avatar
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    I feel that the breath will always serve as a friendly anchor to bring me back to earth when thoughts take me too far "off world".

    One of my old Vipassana teachers, Larry Rosenberg, was fond of saying (I'm paraphrasing here) that the breath is not only a good means for developing focus and concentration, but it can take you "all the way" if you choose to make it the center of your practice (again, coming from a Vipassana perspective).

    Gassho,
    Seikan

    -stlah-
    聖簡 Seikan (Sacred Simplicity)

  12. #12
    My habit of focusing on my breathing goes back many years to my fatherís teaching on square breathing or box breathing. He told me it was a Navy SEAL practice, and how it works on the body's systems when under stress. I have found that square breathing works nicely with my practice as needed.

    However, I have always had difficulty keeping my eyelids at a certain angle. Perhaps with practice, I will master that challenge.

    Sorry to run long.

    Gassho2 meian stlh

    Sent from my SM-G975U using Tapatalk
    迷安 - Mei An - Wandering At Rest

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by Jakuden View Post
    If I ever feel like I know enough to give advice to meditators with ADHD, I will likely tell them not to feel too bad if they need to come back to the breath even after quite a bit of practice. At least briefly, not necessarily counting, but as noticing. If not for this, I might have been convinced a long time ago that Shikantaza was not for me. My brain occasionally needs a dang hook to bring it back from its wanderings. The breath is something that I'm pretty sure we can rely on as the anchor point for coming back to spacious awareness until we die!

    Gassho,
    Jakuden
    SatToday/LAH


    I have even recommended mantras for people who are having particularly extreme mental storms. It is not some "mystical mysterious mantra," but any words or phrase ... with meaning or without ... that resonates and one can hold on to like a life jacket in a raging sea. It is fine.

    Keizan, the later successor to Dogen, recommended all manner of practices like that for those particularly unsettled and hard days, including a Koan phrase (a kind of mantra), breath, and more ...

    If dullness or sleepiness overcome your sitting, move to the body and open the eyes wider, or place attention above the hairline or between your eyebrows. If you are still not fresh, rub the eyes or the body. If that still doesn't wake you, stand up and walk, always clockwise. Once you've gone about a hundred steps you probably won't be sleepy any longer. The way to walk is to take a half step with each breath. Walk without walking, silent and unmoving.

    If you still don't feel fresh after doing kinhin, wash your eyes and forehead with cold water. Or chant the "Three Pure Precepts of the Bodhisattvas". Do something; don't just fall asleep. You should be aware of the great matter of birth and death and the swiftness of impermanence. What are you doing sleeping when your eye of the way is still clouded? If dullness and sinking arise repeatedly you should chant, "Habituality is deeply rooted and so I am wrapped in dullness. When will dullness disperse? May the compassion of the buddhas and patriarchs lift this darkness and misery."

    If the mind wanders, place attention at the tip of the nose and tanden [area just below the navel] and count the inhalations and exhalations. If that doesn't stop the scattering, bring up a phrase and keep it in awareness - for example: "What is it that comes thus?" or "When no thought arises, where is affliction? - Mount Sumeru!" or "What is the meaning of Bodhidharma's coming from the West? - The cypress in the garden." Sayings like this that you can't draw any flavour out of are suitable.

    If scattering continues, sit and look to that point where the breath ends and the eyes close forever and where the child is not yet conceived, where not a single concept can be produced. When a sense of the two-fold emptiness of self and things appears, scattering will surely rest.
    https://antaiji.org/archives/eng/zzyk.shtml
    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  14. #14
    Sitting with eyes open for me makes me feel “hyper clear” and gives me insightful moments to past sittings with groups of fellow practitioners- tapping in to the connectedness of group energy and gives me glimpses of past lives (perhaps?). With eyes closed I tend to see “movies” playing out and find myself more susceptible to monkey minding and strange yet familiar visions. Half open is a zone that takes me often to open or closed- it takes energy for me to remain at half.

    Satlah
    ✨💖🙏💖✨

  15. #15
    Sometimes a Heron flies overhead, and Piranha eats the wave.

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