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Thread: Vipassana v. Zazen

  1. #1

    Vipassana v. Zazen

    Reading whatever I can find, and being new to meditation, I ask for clarity from the esteemed members here. Both styles seem to start with 'watch the breath' (or focus on an object of meditation--which I don't know how is determined or defined yet). Then, both seem to go to 'watch as the thoughts arise, and then don't follow them but return to the breath'. After that, where do they diverge? What is the difference between these styles? Jundo advised that I find what works for my life and stick with one or the other, but I don' t know enough to differentiate. I guess I'm looking for the practical, day to day on the cushion distinctions, and not really the historic backgrounds for now. Thanks much. Gassho (I even had to look that up! But I love the term now... Ann

  2. #2

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Hey Ann

    It is great that you are practicing. I don't know the first thing about Vipassana, but here is some practical stuff from Jundo regarding Shikantaza (when Soto dudes talk about zazen, it most frequently refers to Shikantaza specifically)

    I use the following to describe "Just Sitting" to beginners:

    I sometimes compare [Zazen] to a blue sky with clouds (thoughts). Clouds drift in and out, that is natural. However, we bring our attention again and again to the open, blue sky between, allowing the clouds to drift away. More clouds will come, same again. Repeat process endlessly, coming back to the clear blue sky.

    But one important point is this: Although we seek to appreciate the blue, empty sky between the clouds, some days will be very cloudy, some days very blue ... BOTH are fine. We never say "cloudy day is bad because there is no blue sky today". When the sky is blue and empty, let it be so. When the sky is cloudy, let it be so. In fact, both the blue sky and the clouds are the sky ... do not seek to break up the sky by rejecting any part of it. It is all the sky. Also, the blue sky is always there, even when hidden.
    I would like to encourage you to stick to one practice at a time, and of course I am biased in favor of Shikantaza. Regarding your mention of the breath, you will find conflicting points of view. Suzuki Roshi in "Zen Mind Beginners Mind" seems to place more emphasis on the breath than other teachers within our tradition (those chapters are delicious, but they are adaptations/versions from actual talks, and Suzuki roshi referred to them at some point as my students understanding of my teaching, rather than the teaching itself. So it is possible that he didn't actually emphasize the breath as much as it appears). Most other teachers I've read or heard recommend that you just sit (and that is an incredibly complex subject to discuss because only direct experience can make you understand it).

    Following the breath is a very good technique to get started, like training wheels. But that's not it. When the breath thing lets go of you, you will be sitting "watching the sky" that Jundo mentions (which includes the wall, the sore legs, the traffic noises) and letting go of everything you ever believed and thought (including your ongoing thoughts) just to exist, just to be there, sitting.

    Thanks for your practice


  3. #3

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen


    The only thing you can really do is the actual practice, and for a while at that. The best time to start would probably be right now. Mixing and matching in the beginning probably isn't best. Best to just choose one and do it.

    When it comes to practicing Zazen, usually the more you can sit the better, I think. As a day to day practice Jundo recommends sit twice daily or small sittings throughout the day. It's important that you keep in contact with a teacher and sit consistently. From my experience, one can really wander off course without any guidance.

    Zazen is really a lifetime practice for most, so getting an idea of what it's really about is a little difficult unless you do it.

    Watching the breath is really only a preliminary to Shikantaza to gain concentration and awareness. Shikantaza itself is Just sitting. Hard to explain.

    As for Vipassana I couldn't say. I believe it is somewhat more analytical than Shikantaza.

    Perhaps someone else could give you some input.

    Gassho Will

  4. #4

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    FWIW Jundo teaches Soto Zen (Zazen/Shikantaza) around here.


  5. #5

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Hi Chessie.

    A few months ago, Jundo posted a scientific study on shamatha vs. vipassana-type meditations and ability to concentrate on a task. Anyway, I was getting confused. Jundo helped clear me up but I also asked one of my sangha members the same question because they follow the Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnameses-style) Zen. Many of these folks do vipassana. The guy told me that vipassana beginners will start off with counting breaths or feeling the breath (even to the point of feeling it moving across the tip of your nose). They also practice body scanning where you stay aware of your breathing while focusing on parts of your body one at a time. Then typically they may concentrate on an object. Analyzing it while breathing until you sort of fuse with it and realize its "emptiness". TNH also has quite a few meditation practices like this where you analyze your original self, decomposing body, etc.

    Then there's the awareness/mindfulness. In this, a beginner uses simple noting techniques to learn how to become aware of sensory input, emotions, thoughts, etc. As thoughts, feelings, etc. arise you just note: thinking, hearing, emoting, etc. No judgment. Just a reminder to yourself that you're aware of stuff. Eventually, you don't need the labeling technique and you just sit. I told the guy that the advanced part sounds like Shikantaza. So, I may be wrong, but it seems like vipassana just has a wider variety of techniques for beginners or for people who need to revisit something whereas Jundo teaches that you start with breath awareness and, when you're ready, move straight into just sitting.

    Does that sound right to others around here? Too bad Jun doesn't hang around here anymore because I think he would be very helpful answering this question.

  6. #6

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen


    The following will be unavoidably one sided. That is because I have never practiced Vipassana in any significant way. In fact, over half my life has been just "Shikantaza"! Obviously, that is because I think that "Just Sitting" is "Just Great"! but it also might mean that my description of Vipassana will be in error. So, perhaps some of our folks who have practiced Vipassana can correct any misunderstanding by me.

    Traditionally, Vipassana Practice ... just like our Soto Zen Practice ... was meant to enable the student to realize and live the Buddhist teachings of "no self" "impermanence", "non-attachment" "dropping thoughts and views" etc. etc. So, for example, all Buddhists, in all schools, believe that having this hard sense of your own "self" that you are constantly trying to defend and protect (and which is filled with all kinds of judgments and ideas and disappointments about the world) is a problem because it is constantly bumping into all the rest of the world that doesn't go the way the "self" wants ... thus the suffering and disappointment. But when we "drop the self", and just flow along with the world and become "one" with the world (for want of a better way to express it), all the resistance and friction and separation is dropped too. Even sickness, old age and death (while not "fun fun" usually) are not "suffering" if we embrace, accept, do not resist and "go with the flow" ... "Suffering" comes from resistance to the conditions of life. For example, if one accepts and unites with the fact that "all things in life are impermanent", and one does not cling to things trying to make them last forever ... well, it is a very harmonious way to be. The "resistance" to change vanishes.

    Also, greed, lust and excess desires get us in trouble ... especially when we get hooked on them, they are in excess or we can't keep them moderated.

    That's basic Buddhist theory in a very, very small (too small) nutshell!

    Now, Vipassana Practice, traditionally, would try to bring the student to realize these things by various mental exercises during meditation, basically a form of mental analysis. Focusing on the "breathing" is just for starters, and the exercises go far far beyond that. For example, to truly realize and master the "impermanence of the body" ... and also to realize the foolishness of sexual and other desires ... there is this:

    After that you have to reflect upon the loathsome nature of the body, thinking about its repulsiveness such as blood, pus, phlegm, intestines, and so on. This body is full of these impurities and repulsiveness. The result is you are detached from this body to a certain extent because you find it loathsome or repulsive. This also must be done about two minutes.

    Then after that you should reflect upon the nature of death. Life is uncertain, death is certain. Life is precarious and death is sure. Everyone who is born is subject to death. So all men are mortal. In this way you have to think about the surety of death for every living being. You can arouse strenuous effort in your practice by thinking, 'I'll have to practice this meditation strenuously before I die, or before I am dead.
    ... and the irreality of the "self", and the manner in which a sense of "self" arises ... plus understanding and mastery of how our thoughts and emotions arise ... are taught through exercises like this:

    So when you see something you must be aware of it as seeing, seeing, seeing. As long as you see it you must be aware of it, you must note it. When you note the consciousness of seeing, it means you note the eye and visible object too, because when there is no eye and when there is no visible object the consciousness for seeing doesn't arise. Consciousness of seeing arises dependent on both eye and visible object.

    So if you observe the consciousness of seeing then it means you observe eyes and visible object too. So whenever you see something you must not watch the thing which is seen. You must not watch the thing with which you see. What you need to observe is seeing, the consciousness for seeing - because when you observe the visible object which is seen then you have to note seeing, seeing, not object, object. When you note seeing, seeing, seeing it's the consciousness for seeing, not the visible object.

    Only when you note the consciousness for seeing, the noting mind disturbs the process of seeing. So the process of seeing becomes weak and it doesn't see the object very well. It cannot judge about the object, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, bad or good. Then you won't have any defilement arising dependent on the consciousness for seeing or the visible object.

    So whatever you see you must be aware of by making the mental note seeing, seeing, seeing. Whatever you hear you must be aware of by making the mental note hearing, hearing. Whatever you smell you must observe the consciousness of smelling, making the mental note smelling, smelling. Whatever you taste you must be aware of it, make a mental note tasting, tasting. Whatever you touch you must observe it as touching, touching, touching. Whatever you think about you must be aware of it, make a mental note of it as thinking, thinking, and so on.
    It is said that all meditation can be divided into two types: Samatha (calming, pacifying, focusing meditation) and Vipassana (insight on the nature of reality). However, actually, it is not so simple and the two "kinds of meditation" overlap. Thus, for example, mind "calming" meditation brings great insights, and "insight meditation" is very calming.

    Now, our Zen Practice and Zazen also contains and manifests the very same elements of Samatha and Vipassana, and in fact, we are trying to teach pretty much the same lessons about "non-self" "non-attachment" "impermanence" etc. as the Vipassana folks. Same Buddhism!

    But our approach is a bit different.

    In Soto Practice, we "just sit", letting thoughts drift out of mind, dropping "likes" and "dislikes" and other judgments, even allowing the hard sense of "self" to soften, or fully fade away. We combine this with study of the same Buddhist philosophy as the Vipassana folks, but just NOT DURING ZAZEN. In fact, my talks on the HEART SUTRA are a good example, because the Heart Sutra is about that philosophy of how the "sense of Self" develops, how our attachments, desires and aversions develop ... same philosophy and theory.

    We believe that our "Shikantaza" Practice brings one to same same insights as "Vipassana" Practice. We also think (although it could be pure bias on our part) that it does so more effectively, because there is something really nifty about our discovering truths by "non seeking" for them.

    But, also, we are not so "analytical" about it. So, instead of saying something like "note seeing seeing seeing", and what it feels like and from where the sensation arises ... in Soto Practice, we might say "just see, don't think" or "be aware of seeing without judging or categorizing".

    Finally, there are some other differences between Soto Practice and Vipassana Practice worth mentioning. First, traditionally, Southeast Asian Buddhism (from which Vipassana arises) has been centrally focused on ending the cycle of future rebirth and "extinquishing" desires. Our Soto Zen Practice has always been more focused on living this life here and now with balance (not paying so much attention to what happens, if anything, after death), and of maintaining our desires in balance, in a moderate and healthy way. In fact, what has happened is that, after Vipassana Practice came to America (I am not sure the situation in Europe and other places), it got very "Zenny" ... and so-called "Insight Meditation Centers" have become much more focused on a balanced, present life and such. In fact, "Insight Meditation" may now have more in common with Western "Zen" than with its Thai and Burmese roots!

    Second, most Buddhist schools are seeking for "Nirvana" or "Enlightenment" or some such goal. Vipassana Practice, in its traditional form, was like this. However, the Mahayana philosophy of Buddhism added some things to this philosophy, such as viewing the philosophy through the eyes of "emptiness" and (in our Soto Zen way of Mahayana) non-seeking for any goal of enlightenment.

    Those take some explaining, and are also largely the topic of my Heart Sutra talks this week on the "Sit-a-Long with Jundo" netcast, so I hope you will sit with those.

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - Yes, it is okay to bounce around for awhile and try various things, but soon ... to truly get the fruits of either practice ... you need to pick one or the other and stick with it.

    PPS - Many folks just want to do Buddhism to "relax" a little. Then, those folks are missing the point and the real heart of the Practice, whether it is Soto or Vipassana.

  7. #7

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Thank you all very much. I think I understand better now. Ann

  8. #8

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Actually, Jundo's descrition made the decision easy to stick with Zazen. I'd much rather 'just sit' than think about my intestines (especially after having them surgeried twice in the past two years)! I think he picked the most abhorent examples he could come up with--maybe on purpose :wink: Thanks again, I feel more at home than ever now. Ann

  9. #9

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Hi Chessie,

    But do go find out more about Vipassana, and what its practitioners have to say.

    Gassho, Jundo

  10. #10

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    An interesting talk on Zazen and Samatha / Vipassana (Vipasyana):

  11. #11

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Quote Originally Posted by shikantaza
    An interesting talk on Zazen and Samatha / Vipassana (Vipasyana):

    Thanks for posting that.

    One thing I might mention (because it may be a little confusing to Chessie and others), it that it is important to keep in mind the two uses of Vipassana (Vipasyana). On the one hand, is just "insight" into Reality, Buddhist philosophy, etc. This is true to all schools of Buddhism, including our Soto Practice as I discussed. The other meaning, which I think Chessie was asking about, concerns that school of Buddhism that teaches "Vipassana" style meditation. The essay said that in the middle:

    Now, by vipasyana, I am not referring to a practice commonly referred to as vipassana. These are different. Vipassana is a Burmese revival of Buddhist meditation that really only has a history stretching back around 150 years. While, in many ways, vipassana is similar to foundational elements of our practice of zazen, in particular the emphasis on mindfulness, it is not the same. Vipassana is concerned with attending to details of experience.
    Gassho, Jundo

  12. #12

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Hi Ann,
    I don't consider myself an "esteemed" member but would like to comment since insight meditation (also referred to as vipassana or mindfulness) is my primary practice. I also sit at Treeleaf. I read the article that Jundo posted but in my opinion the writer is not giving the correct definition of vipasyana/vipassana (there are two different spellings for the same word; "vipassana" is the Pali spelling and vipasyana is the Sanskrit spelling of the same word). The writer states that "Vipasyana is observing or analyzing experiences." Vipassana (clear seeing) is not about analyzing anything. Samatha and vipassana flow like a river during meditation practice. I often start with samatha in order to center myself and become focussed this then flows into a broader awareness of whatever is present in the moment (e.g physical sensations, images, sounds, feelings, thoughts, mind states, etc.). Noting whatever is present and allowing it to be, but not as a distant observer, noticing as it changes, intensifies or diminishes, then something else comes up. The breath is the anchor. Vipassana (clear seeing/insight) is the wisdom into human nature and that of all existence is something that develops over time as a result of regular practice.

    There is a form of meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka and his predecessor U Ba Khin that is called Vipassana meditation and is taught over a ten day period at retreat centers. I took part in one 10 day course, but it's different to the style of vipassana I practice. Goenka's style primarily focusss on body sweeping.

    If you want some really good books to read on insight meditation try Mindfulness in Plain English and Seeking the Heart of Wisdom.

    Gassho and Metta,

  13. #13

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Quote Originally Posted by Marina S
    Vipassana (clear seeing) is not about analyzing anything. Samatha and vipassana flow like a river during meditation practice. ... Vipassana (clear seeing/insight) is the wisdom into human nature and that of all existence is something that develops over time as a result of regular practice.
    Dear Marina,

    Thank you for this. Hopefully, in our "Just Sitting" practice as well, Samatha and Vipassana (clear seeing) will just "flow like a river" (lovely description, by the way). That wisdom into human nature and all existence (two but not two) should develop over time as a result of regular practice. If not, something precious would be absent from our practice, I believe.

    Gassho, Jundo

  14. #14

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Hi Jundo,
    Since we're on the topic of vipassana and zazen (I don't like using "vs" because this implies polarization, and for me at least, both forms of meditation practice aren't too different), I'd like to say how appreciative I am belonging to the treeleaf sangha. As you know, I love Zen philosophy but practice a style of meditation from the Theravadin tradition. I have always felt included by you. Too often there's compartmentalization that goes on in the various sanghas from the different traditions. Your way of including us all, and your commitment to sitting online, albeit at times in the strangest places (well, perhaps they're not so strange), is an inspiration to me. If you can practice in a crowded subway train, then, I too, can find the time and motivation to practice in my room. Thank you, Jundo!

    Gassho and Metta,

  15. #15

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Hi Everyone,

    The noting that is part of insight/vipassana meditation practice comes teachers such as the Burmese monk Mahasi Sayadaw. Some well-known American insight meditation teachers have studied with him. Others such as Jack Kornfield have studied with The Thai Forest monk, Ajahn Chah. His method isn't as structured as Mahasi Sayadaw's. Goenka's style is very goal oriented ( I had to keep reminding myself to let go and be gentle when I took part in one of his 10 day meditation intensives). Some meditation instructions are heavily laden with technique. Form was important for me when I started, but at some point the tight grip on the technique needs to be let go of otherwise it becomes an obstacle. I have intentions and even goals when it comes to my own meditation practice, but I don't dwell on them nor are they laden with ambition.

    Noting is supposed to be used ever so lightly. Some people get a bit confused where this is concerned and start obsessing over it, to the point where they're noting every single thing that comes up, rather than just noting when something is strong enough to take you away from the breath and the moment. The main part of the awareness is on experiencing whatever comes up in the present moment without trying to judge it, grasp or push it away. For instance,let's say that during my sitting, I experience a pain in my knee. I gently note it as "pressure", "stabbing", etc. Feel it and observe the sensation as it changes. If I notice that I'm pulling away (aversion) from that pain, then I note that, too. Once it subsides, back to the breath, until something else comes up in the present moment. Let's say a memory pops up about someone who upset me the other day. Anger or feelings of embarrassment might accompany that thought. I note it as "anger" or "embarrassed". The physical sensations accompanying it such as a tightening of the belly or chest, reddening of the face,etc Sometimes formaly mentally noting the sensation, mental state, feeling, image, etc. isn't even necessary. Just being aware of it is enough. People get so tensed up about technique, especially when they're starting. No need. Meditation practice isn't about rigidity. It's really about being open, aware and accepting.

    There's a quote by Lao Tzu, which I've incorporated as a personal "mantra", so to speak, when it comes to my own meditation practice: "Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river."[/i] I sit solid and still like a mountain, yet on the mountain there is activity that goes on just as there is in your mind, body and surroundings. I flow like a great river in that I try to allow whatever to be with whatever arises. I ride the wave. Water flows; it's not rigid or static.

    Sorry for going on and on here folks. I'm nowhere near an expert when it comes to insight meditation, but I hope some of this is of help.

    Gassho and Metta,

  16. #16

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Thank you, Marina

  17. #17

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    For instance,let's say that during my sitting, I experience a pain in my knee. I gently note it as "pressure", "stabbing", etc. Feel it and observe the sensation as it changes. If I notice that I'm pulling away (aversion) from that pain, then I note that, too. Once it subsides, back to the breath, until something else comes up in the present moment. Let's say a memory pops up about someone who upset me the other day. Anger or feelings of embarrassment might accompany that thought. I note it as "anger" or "embarrassed". The physical sensations accompanying it such as a tightening of the belly or chest, reddening of the face,etc Sometimes formaly mentally noting the sensation, mental state, feeling, image, etc. isn't even necessary. Just being aware of it is enough. People get so tensed up about technique, especially when they're starting. No need. Meditation practice isn't about rigidity. It's really about being open, aware and accepting.
    People get so tensed up about technique
    Hi Marina.

    Yes. It is like the dog chasing his tail. Eventually one is probably more apt to learn to notice, observe, and perhaps let go, if one isn't stressing it so much. All things are empty; however, we need to be kind of relax a bit to get anywhere near that kind of relization. A relaxed state being more conducive to a open observing. So when people try too hard it really ends up effecting their practice. But it's a two sided coin. You have to have a bit of effort to sit a lot, but not attaching to any specific idea of what you are trying to do. Also,some are caught up in sensations so much that any possible breakthrough is nil. That's what anapansati (mindfulness of the breath) and what not are initially good for.

    I think the practices are basically the same result, and perhaps not fully in a sense. Soto Zen is big on not only realizing that all things are empty, but also dropping any realization that things are empty. Some only stop at a certain point I think, where as some Zen practices take it further. Perhaps the other practices are like that aswell. I couldn't really say.

    Gassho Will

  18. #18

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    greetings, new guy here -- probably just like zen, there's vipassana, and then there's vipassana -- some structure is necessary, i suppose, but there are degrees, and i guess the personality gets to choose -- but i've found that in years of vipassana teachers/retreats(only cause they were more available than zen), that when working with a teacher, some become very unstructured, and then its hard to say "this is vipassana, or even this is " "" -- for instance, the practice steve hagen describes, and the practice my old teacher, dhiravamsa, described, sound a lot alike, minus the vipassana metta practice(which dhira admitted was "cheating", but useful), and dhira was a thai monk for many years -- but the last time i did a long retreat at ims("vipassana") forest refuge, 2 months, it just happened that the monthly instructors were a lot more structured -- so i got to see what it was like to spend 2 months with more structured guys

    and didn't i notice in charlotte joko beck's book a description of a "noting" technique that sounded an awful lot like vipassana? -- i don't do well with the noting, many vipassana teachers do not use it, but its up to the individual -- i start stumbling all over myself -- i was taught to just sit, no goal, and that sits well with me -- but there's a lot of flavors to choose from

    used to live near the dalai lama's monastery in ithaca, ny -- loved the people, but it was way too structured for me -- tried to make it mine, couldn't

    good to be here, bob

  19. #19

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    tried to make it mine, couldn't
    I not sure exactly what you mean here Bob, but I think that part of practice is really about not making it our own. It seems to me that if we try to personalize Zen practice too much, we are sort of encouraging our ego or seeking as apposed to lessening it or letting it go. From my understanding Dogen's Zen practice is very ritualistic. There's no real room for personalization. I think maybe that's one of the reason why he wrote all those rules and guidlines.

    Gassho Will

  20. #20

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Quote Originally Posted by roky
    and didn't i notice in charlotte joko beck's book a description of a "noting" technique that sounded an awful lot like vipassana? -- i don't do well with the noting, many vipassana teachers do not use it, but its up to the individual -- i start stumbling all over myself -- i was taught to just sit, no goal, and that sits well with me -- but there's a lot of flavors to choose from
    Hi Bob,

    Welcome again.

    We came across that passage in Joko's Everyday Zen when reading it last year for our book club. I wrote this ...

    Hi Ho,

    The subject is what "what practice is' is.

    Joko starts off the section, "Practice is very simple. That doesn't mean it won't turn our life around, however."

    A simple truth about simple truth.

    If I might comment, though, on one part of the Chapter: In one paragraph, Joko seems to be recommending that we actively "label thoughts precisely" during Zazen, as thoughts arise and before releasing them. Then, we should return to 'just sitting." However, if that is what she is recommending [it turns out from a later chapter that she probably did not mean it like that], I would have to disagree firmly with that approach and say that such a way is not standard for Shikantaza practice as instructed by most teachers I know. I would not encourage that. Perhaps a little Vipassana influence in her method? I am not sure. When we "just sit," we "just sit" ... we let thoughts go without analysis during Zazen. There is nothing to do or attain in the sitting, nothing to examine or focus on ... and that non-doing and non-focusing is VERY important.

    Now, on the other hand, I think her "thought labeling" recommendation is a wonderful thing to do at other times in daily life, as thoughts arise during our busy day ... when tired, hot, a little angry, happy, etc. Just not during Zazen itself. I think, which should have no object or focus to it.

    Gassho, Jundo


    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow
    Jundo, Beck mentions the labeling-type meditation. Is that common in Soto or simply an peculiarity of her's?
    That's it for now,
    Hi Bill,

    This came up in an earlier chapter. It is not standard Soto practice, which is 'just sitting' Shikantaza. When this came up in an earlier chapter, I guessed it might be something that she had picked up from Vipassana practice, although Joko confuses me a bit in this chapter as she seems critical of such practices.

    I will tell you that I also advocate the practice of labeling, just not --during-- Zazen itself (when we are not to be doing anything). Labeling is, however, a very important part of learning to observe our mind's workings. So, for example, instead of just feeling angry, greedy or tired, and instead of just saying to ourselves merely "I am feeling angry/greedy/tired now), we should learn to say to ourselves such things as "this is my mind now temporarily feeling angry/greedy/tired during present conditions ... I can feel it arising, I can feel it developing, I can feel it passing away". When we learn to do that, experiencing the emotions of the mind becomes just watching a bit of theatre.

    All that is good, just not a practice for "during" Zazen, when we observe everything and nothing.

    Gassho, Jundo
    P.S - By the way, I think that times of great structure are very instructive, times of great looseness can be very instructive. When in a formal Sesshin, for example, run tightly, a prison ... up at 4am for sitting ... every step during the day set, whether we like it or not, day after day ... it can be very free-ing. We can learn that freedom is not a matter of being confined, that monastery walls cannot hold us.

  21. #21

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    jundo - interesting, i definitely had a reaction to that section of her book, was a bit disappointed, but everything else was like she was speaking to me -- as far as books go, its great - thanks for the clarification

    will - thanks -- i dont' always review stuff i type, and even if i did, don't always communicate clearly - by making it my own, i meant that i wanted it to ring true to me, like charlotte beck's book, which is how i judge everything, but i coiuldn't make it, cause, as you know, if you can lie to your self that well, you got a long ways to go -- tibetan is just not my path - at least so far

    by structure i am not referring to ritual, which i have no problem with, as long as you(thats me) just do it, you know what i mean -- completely, then leave it, like life -- i feel there has to be that type of structure in any open buddhism, like zen, or a pure "vipassana", in order to then have the freedom to be totally without structure -- i mean, really, we are like astronauts, exploring space, so its good to have a home base, something shared with those here, and those, like dogen, who've gone before --

    but in my encounter with tibetan, over the years, the emphasis was not on sitting, it was on studying texts -- and on passing along stories of how life is, and how death is, etc. -- "and on the third day ....." -- thats what i meant by structure, certainly i chose an obscure way to express it -- probably "form" would have been better

    if buddha had said "here's where its at:blah-blah-blah", i'd turn and run the other way, cause we already have a few folks very willing to tell me that -- they come knocking on the door with little pamphlets -- god bless them - but as the story goes, what the buddha said was something to the effect:"dont' believe this,etc., you check it out, and if it rings true, follow this path" -- that is my way, and maybe some day i'll get burnt by doing it this way, but what's the alternative? -- you can't give that responsibility away, even if you want to-- if you decide to not decide, thats a decision! - and as far as i can tell, the process goes on every moment, no?

    thanks again, i enjoy speaking with you, gassho bob

  22. #22

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Thanks Bob

    Gassho Will

  23. #23

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Putting the technical aside for a moment, allow me to share my experience:I have practiced both insight and zazen and found both to be very useful. Some time back I realized I needed to do one or the other, however, and deciding this was a struggle. Insight meditation taught me a great deal about myself and has had a strong influence on my being mindful throughout the day, but I also found it very "busy" with all this noting and analyzing going on. For a beginner it is hard to do that noting/analyzing lightly, as everything seems to have a "heavy step" when you first become mindful of it, but I suppose that lightness goes away in time with enough insight practice. Another factor was that insight was easier, in a sense, than zazen because it gave me something to do, and it's nice to have that crutch when you are a beginner. Eventually, however, I gave up insight in favor of zazen because zazen was more liberating. I mean, the point of insight seemed to be practicing awareness with analysis that allows you to let everything go, so why not just practice letting everything go in the first place. Also, I have found the "step" to be lighter in zazen because I don't dwell as much in the analysis like I did in insight. Anyway, I feel like my practice evolved from insight into zazen. The one practice seems to include the other without actually being the other, and that feels very zen to me.

    How does this apply to you? You need to find your own way on the Path like I did. Do what works, but be prepared for what works to change as you do.


  24. #24

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen


    If anyone wants a detailed view of the Samattha/Vipassana from a sutta perpective more can be found at -

    Basically it is written by one the teachers I see(who unfortunately is too far for me to get to) from the Thai Forest lineage. He is pali scholar as well a practicing monk and is particularly interested in the earlier suttas (theravadin texts of buddha's teaching) which he sees as more authentic and less adulterated by later writers of the same suttas.

    Anyhow, a swift pair of messengers is an analogy buddha gave of the nature of calm abiding meditation and insight (vipassana) practice. That was like a pair of messengers to the centre of a fortress, vipassana and samatha are messengers to the heart and should both be part of the practice and not one to the exclusion of the other. This is what facinates me as a part of shikatanza practice. I get the impression that it does have a lot of samathaesque parts to its practice even though it primarily an "insight" practice (just observing things as they are).

    Just to add with my experience of vipassana, the approaches are as varied as the teachers. I have had one teacher from the Sri Lankan tradition that taught the exact same as Shikatanza, a Thai teacher that taught differently depending on the student -more formal teaching as those shown by the suttas, the body sweeping Goenka technique, a monk from the Burmese tradition that taught beginners about noting, another Burmese monk that taught the same technique Marina uses and a burmese female monastic that did all the kammathana meditations (all 16 or so them, including contemplating the body). So basically, take your pick, whatever is suiting oneself's practice really is the key, but the message all the teachers had about seeing what suits you is don't fish around all the time and put some persistence once comfortable with a particular approach.



  25. #25

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Regarding remarks made about Joko Beck and her recommendation to label thoughts, this is just a short quote from her book "Nothing Special, Living Zen" which would seem to indicate that she is in favour of this method.

    "The work we do on the cushion is at times very dreary. We get tired of labelling our thoughts and going back to our body sensations. This work is not pointless, but it takes years. ....Renunciation of self happens each time we see our thoughts spinning and we label them and give up our little self - that's what the thoughts are - and return to what's happening. We return to taking in the body sensations, the sound of the cars, the smell of lunch. When we sit for a week in retreat we should do this ten thousand times;
    labelling our thoughts, seeing the fantasy, and returning to the awareness of what is, which is renunciation of little self for the sake of big self. The result; just life itself coming in."


  26. #26

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Why would we label our thoughts? There all really just thoughts. Wouldn't the thing be to just let them come and go, without adding any labeling to them?

    Angry thought=thought. Craving thought=thought. Sad thought=thought. Happy thought=thought. Thought=thought.

    Gassho Will

  27. #27

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Angry thought=thought. Craving thought=thought. Sad thought=thought. Happy thought=thought. Thought=thought.
    Right on, brother!

  28. #28

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Why would we label our thoughts? There all really just thoughts. Wouldn't the thing be to just let them come and go, without adding any labeling to them?

    Angry thought=thought. Craving thought=thought. Sad thought=thought. Happy thought=thought. Thought=thought.

    Gassho Will
    To be fair, you're not really aware of how vipassana works. It's got its reasons. (I read a lot of vipassana about twenty years ago, and my first forays into meditation were of that kind.)


  29. #29

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Quote Originally Posted by will
    Why would we label our thoughts? There all really just thoughts. Wouldn't the thing be to just let them come and go, without adding any labeling to them?
    I think for someone starting into zazen it's a way of being aware of your thinking process and letting go of that thought. At least that's one reason I was given when I started zazen.

  30. #30

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    I'm gonna join Erik: labeling thoughts is a technique popularized by Joko Beck and I think it is valuable for beginners, training wheels just like watching the breath if you will. Shikantaza is damn hard at first, and while that feeling of having nothing to hold on to is ultimately a great thing, it may be unsettling or downright devastating for somebody that is just starting. My impression is that nobody sane can keep on watching breaths or labeling thoughts for too long, and that those practices and some good Dogen-inspired teaching will land people on the shores of good ol' Shikantaza.


  31. #31

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    If zazen is about 'shining the light of awareness' on our thoughts, and not supressing them, they should dissipate and weaken over time - but I don't see how you can fail to notice what kinds of thoughts they are if you are really alert?


  32. #32

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Sometimes you need to know you are holding on to something so you can drop it, and labeling thoughts is a simple means of becoming aware that you are holding onto thoughts. The training wheels analogy is a good one. Also, the vipissana folks emhasize that lableing be done lightly, which takes practice. Speaking for myself, after a while it becomes second nature. I still do it, almost automatically (lightly), as I go through the day.

  33. #33

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen


    I also think that labeling thoughts is a great and necessary aspect of our Practice ... noting their presence, their first arising and fading away, the causes and conditions, how they color our world and create the mood, create reality itself or (better said) the reality of our experience.

    But I am going to be a purist on this and say, "Just not during Just Sitting" Shikantaza, when we "just sit", neither stirring up thoughts, nor running after them, nor focusing on them or labeling them, merely observing and open to everything and nothing in particular, merely allowing thoughts to drift in and out like clouds, neither encouraging nor rejecting the thought clouds, while finding again and again and again the open blue sky in between the clouds.

    Perhaps, as was suggested, thought labeling and such might be a good bit of training wheels for a beginner for a few weeks or even months (like counting the breath). Helps the person get settled, teaches them a good bit about how thoughts create our lives, how we are slaves to our thoughts and emotions. But soon, those training wheels must come off.

    However, otherwise, we should label and observe the thoughts whenever the opportunity arises during our day. Case in point, if one is in the super market line, someone cuts in ahead in the line, if anger or territoriality wells up in you ... great chance to observe the process of those thoughts and emotions arising, and to practice some "standing Zazen" or breathing to allow the emotions to calm too. I fully support that!

    On a side note, we recently had some discussion in which I described, in a nutshell, how to do Shikantaza "RIGHT" (even though it is beyond right or wrong). I take the liberty of reposting it here, because some of the new folks have asked me this week about such things ...

    Gassho, Jundo

    Allowing things to just be the way they are, no judging, not resisting, being with the flow, allowing 'happy' days to be happy and 'sad' days to be sad, all while dropping all idea of 'happy' and 'sad', whether really enjoying or really not enjoying ... fully dropping away any and all thought of doing Zazen 'right' or doing it 'wrong' ... THIS IS DOING IT RIGHT. And when you are doing it right, it will usually feel like you are doing it right, for there is no resistance, and a great sense of balance.

    Fighting things, wishing things were some other way that how they are, judging, resisting, going against the grain and the flow, wishing 'sad' days were happy or 'happy' days were happier ... filled with a sense of self bumping up against all the other 'selfs', with a mind held by thoughts of doing Zazen 'right' or doing it 'wrong' ... THIS IS DOING ZAZEN WRONG. And when you are doing it wrong, it will usually feel like you are doing it wrong, for there is resistance, and a sense of imbalance.

    But as well, even at those times when Zazen feels 'wrong', when there is resistance or imbalance ... it is still 'right', still 'Zazen', still just what it is. IT CANNOT BE WRONG. This last point is vital to understanding.

    Yes, that is a Koan. Is it clear? Please really really penetrate in your body and mind what I just wrote.

    Gassho, Jundo

  34. #34

    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    I am 100% with you on this, Jundo. The reason I gave up vipissana was that it made my mind too busy, especially while sitting, thus seeming to defeat the purpose of sitting. I learned some great and wonderful things about myself while practicing this technique that I am very grateful for, but the greater vehicle is what we do here, at least for me, at least right now, which is really all I (we) have. In terms of practice, it helped me to more clearly see how things/thoughts/objects, etc. rise and fade all the time, thus making it easier to let them go (insert heart sutra in here somewhere). When I said I still do it automatically now I meant that I note that rising and fading of life-stuff with labels.


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