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Thread: Breath, Samadhi and Radical Goallessness

  1. #1

    Breath, Samadhi and Radical Goallessness

    I recently heard an interview with a respected western Rinzai Zen priest who said that almost all forms of meditation come down to breath practices for attaining deep samadhi states of peaceful concentration. I think he is perhaps right with regard to most kinds of meditation, where attaining highly concentrated states is the common goal. However, what was noticeable to me in the esteemed Roshi's talk is that he never once mentioned anything in his recommended meditation resembling the radical "goallessness," the profound dropping of ALL need to attain, that is at the heart of Shikantaza Zazen. The Roshi emphasized breath and attaining deep samadhi, but not the profound dropping of all need to attain itself.

    So, what is the place of breath and deep samadhi states in Shikantaza, the "Just Sitting Which Hits the Mark," the way of Zazen which is the centerpiece of Soto practice?

    The answer is that we cherish and celebrate such states, honor the breath and welcome samadhi when samadhi comes. However, we believe that samadhi which emerges from anything but an attitude of radical goallessness simply feeds the very hunger and thirst for gain that is the root of Dukkha suffering. It becomes one more pleasure and treasure to chase after and enjoy. It is this very hunt and hunger that we need to drop away in the grand equanimity and fulfillment of liberation.

    So many schools of meditation make levels of concentration and spiritual attainment but more rungs to reach, finish lines to cross, payoffs to earn, prizes to stive for. It is literally "self-defeating," as the little self's very own hunger and hunting, reaching and striving is, in fact, the source of the very suffering from which it seeks relief.

    Our solution to this dilemma in Shikantaza is to drop, to the marrow, all hunting and reaching, except for sitting itself for sitting's sake! Zazen must be good for nothing but sitting! Then, sitting itself is the treasure attained, sitting itself is the goal reached, all just by sitting. Without such radical goallessness and foresaking of all cravings for goals, meditation becomes another ploy to feed never ending, self-created feelings of human lack.

    And so, Soto folks do nothing special with the breath ... except to breathe naturally and deeply, one breath after another. We refuse to use the breath as one more tool or trick or scheme to get some state or kickback. We do not need to get some state, for the very dropping of all "need to get" is itself the most wondrous of wondrous states!

    For us Soto Zen folks, deep and pleasant samadhi will emerge in our Zazen, just as in the other schools of meditation, and it is wondrous! It is like an unsolicited treasure, for it arises right from our giving up of all need for finding, much like a door which unlocks only when we stop struggling to unlock it! The very act of dropping all need to turn the key leads to the door springing open! Such unsolicited samadhi is glorious!

    In fact, EVERYTHING is glorious!

    Everything is glorious because, in our equanimity, we equally honor and welcome as wondrous all the moments of Zazen without samadhi too! Both samadhi and the absence of samadhi are wondrous, and the total face of Zen samadhi! So many meditators make the mistake of thinking their meditation "good" only when they feel good and get what they want. In fact, Zazen is ALWAYS good ... both when it feels good and even when not, when we want just what we get.


    It is something like saying that Shikantaza folks know the presence of the moon, not only on those clear and bright nights when the moon shines brightly, but also on the darkest and cloudiest nights. Only radical dropping of hunger to experience the moon can lead to a profound moon awareness which knows the moon both seen and unseen. We see the moon even on moonless nights, although not with the eyes. Then, on those cloudless evenings when the moon reveals itself in its fullness, and also on the nights when not, our trust is rewarded: The moon is always shining, seen or unseen.

    Samadhi comes and samadhi goes, and we celebrate such coming and such going. True Zen samadhi is always present, whether come or gone, beyond coming and going.

    So deep, this samadhi cannot be fathomed.


  2. #2
    Treeleaf Unsui Nengei's Avatar
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    遜道念芸 Nengei
    Sat today. LAH.

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    安知 Anchi

  5. #5

    Thank you, Jundo!

    I remember reading several Rinzai books early on, and there seemed to be more focus on breathing and the hara. Do you think that this particular teacher's view is typical of Rinzai? I do not know enough of whether they have a similar perspectice on Shikantaza or are more inclined to use breathwork to achieve certain states of being?

    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Kokuu View Post

    I remember reading several Rinzai books early on, and there seemed to be more focus on breathing and the hara. Do you think that this particular teacher's view is typical of Rinzai? I do not know enough of whether they have a similar perspectice on Shikantaza or are more inclined to use breathwork to achieve certain states of being?
    I gather, having had many conversations with the fellow, reading his books and knowing that he is from a very mainstream Japanese lineage, that it is considered standard guidance (at least in the very mainstream Rinzai lineage he comes from, and in my understanding of several others.)

    Gassho, J


  7. #7

    Thank you, Jundo for your insight.


  8. #8
    I really love this teaching. I came to zen practice looking to get something; I feel like slowly it shows me how much I already have and how to give. I know there is ultimately nothing that can be taken or given, but we (I) don't act like it - like I forget a lot and fall back into old habits. I think it is a gift to show that to others, more importantly to live that - I think if you live it, it really gives benefit to others just by our presence.

    Sorry for going long.



  9. #9
    Thank you for this teaching Jundo

    Sat today and lah

  10. #10
    Thank you Jundo, this teaching helps to clarify the idea of goallessness as it relates to samadhi.


  11. #11
    Thank you Jundo. Gassho.
    東西 - Tōsei - East West
    there is only what is, and it is all miraculous

  12. #12
    Thank you, Jundo.

    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.

  13. #13
    Thank you Jundo!


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