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Thread: Book Notes: The Art of Just Sitting

  1. #1

    Book Notes: The Art of Just Sitting

    Subtitle, Essential Writings on the Zen Practice of Shikantaza.

    I thought I'd share my thoughts about this book, which I bought sometime last year, as it covers the basic practice of Treeleafers.

    This anthology contains 22 texts, six texts in an appendix, and an introduction, all focusing on the practice of shikantaza. About half the texts are different presentations of how to "do" shikantaza (or not-do), and the other half are things like commentaries to Dogen texts, short dharma teachings related to meditation, etc. The appendix contains six foundational texts, such as the Satipatthana Sutra and other classic texts.

    First, this is not really the kind of book you'll want to read from cover to cover, but rather dip into, reading a chapter from time to time. Since most of the texts are about how to "do" shikantaza, there is not a lot of "meat" in the book. However, reading ten different descriptions of how to sit is valuable - at least it was to me - as each one gives a slightly different explanation of shikantaza. Some of the texts are by Dogen, and the book contains a relatively long commentary on the Fukanzazengi (by Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi) which is quite useful. There are also a few koans and zen stories, which are related to meditation practice.

    All in all, I find this a very useful book. When my sitting has been erratic, I've gone back and read parts of it, or when I felt I needed to "learn" how to sit again, I've found the instructional chapters useful. Anyone who's bookish and wants to know more about shikantaza will probably want to own this.

    (Note: this opinion is mine alone, and in no way reflects the official position of Treeleaf Zendo or of our fearless leader, Jundo. In fact, I'd be curious whether Jundo agrees with my assessment of this book...)


  2. #2

    Re: Book Notes: The Art of Just Sitting

    Thanks Kirk,

    I haven't read it!

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - I may try to order it though.

  3. #3

    Re: Book Notes: The Art of Just Sitting


    Waddya know... I would have thought you'd have this book.


  4. #4

    Re: Book Notes: The Art of Just Sitting

    Okay, I ordered it! It will be about No. 30 in the pile of books waiting to be read ...

    Yes, I should just burn them all!

  5. #5

    Re: Book Notes: The Art of Just Sitting

    Quote Originally Posted by HezB

    Think not-thinking, [not-thinking being the natrually arising sub-conscious thought or stillness],

    Q. How do you think of not thinking?,

    A. Non-thinking [that is, desist from deliberate thinking and abide in arising sub-conscious thought or stillness].
    I don't see this. I see "abide in stillness", but not "abide in arising sub-conscious thought". What is meant by that? Is that what Kennett Roshi said?

  6. #6

    Re: Book Notes: The Art of Just Sitting

    Quote Originally Posted by HezB
    Hi Jundo,

    No, that's just what I said.

    Kennett Roshi only made the comment about the Japanese recognising two different types of thought.

    "Abide in sub-conscious thought" means to simply sit with arising sub-conscious thoughts if that happens to be what your sub-conscious is doing at the moment of practice. We do this rather than manipulating, chasing/ rejecting them for example.

    Can't "stillness" be described as sub-conscious thought? Is "stillness" separate from sub-conscious 'movement' in practice?

    As I am sitting here (not in Zazen at the moment) is my sub-conscious thinking? Isn't it always thinking?

    I'm currently of the opinion that sub-conscious thought and stillness are not separate. That sub-conscious activity, and sub-conscious stillness, are really the same and should effectively be accepted and received thus in Zazen.

    I am aware that "sub-conscious" is a relative value as we become more aware of our sub-conscious thoughts in Zazen, but I don't feel that this is dependant on discriminating between movement and stillness.

    We should not abide in "deliberate thought", or thought that we cause to arise or remain of course, and we should just stop it if we find ourselves doing it as most instructions point out.


    Hi Harry,

    Personally, I'm just hung up on that word "subconscious" ... I keep thinking Freud! But words are just words.

    I am more a "clouds of thought naturally drifting through a clear, spacious blue sky" kind of fellow. :wink: We do not chase after these clouds of thought, or play with them, neither do we reject them or encourage them ... we simply let them drift from mind. We return 10,000 times and 10,000 times again to the wide, open sky.

    I'm pretty sure we are saying the same nothing. What do you think, Sigmund?

    Gassho, Jundo

  7. #7

    Re: Book Notes: The Art of Just Sitting

    In the book, Kennett Roshi says "deliberate thought" and "natural thought". Natural thought is defined as the thoughts that arise from external stimuli - say noise, for example. Deliberate thought is that which arises when one focuses an a noise and gives it value (annoying, agreeable, etc.).

    Personally, I disagree with this. Both are thought, both mental reactions to stimuli. I'd rather see a distinction between discursive thought (the one we want to get to fade away from time to time) and reactive thought. I certainly don't see "sub-conscious thought" as having any value; if it is sub-conscious, we don't notice it, so there's nothing we can do. I agree with Jundo that the term is bathed in connotations from Freud and other psychologists.

    What you describe, Jundo - if I understand correctly - is simply the attempt in shikantaza to remain detached from thoughts, to notice them, and even, perhaps, acknowledge them, but to not grasp them and take hold of them and turn them into discursive thought. Since we cannot turn off our thoughts entirely (as long as we are alive, unless we're Ken Wilber :-) ), then we just let them pass like clouds rather than make them "ours".


  8. #8

    Re: Book Notes: The Art of Just Sitting

    You say either and I say either, You say neither and I say neither
    Either, either Neither, neither, Let's call the whole thing off.

    You like potato and I like potahto, You like tomato and I like tomahto
    Potato, potahto, Tomato, tomahto, Let's call the whole thing off

    But oh, if we call the whole thing off Then we must part
    And oh, if we ever part, then that might break my heart

    So if you like pyjamas and I like pyjahmas, I'll wear pyjamas and give up
    For we know we need each other so we , Better call the whole off off
    Let's call the whole thing off. ... yrics.html

  9. #9

    Re: Book Notes: The Art of Just Sitting

    Jundo, i'm looking for my tap shoes right now

  10. #10

    Re: Book Notes: The Art of Just Sitting

    Thanks for that Kirk. I'm off to have a look on Amazon now .


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