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Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby fukasetsu on Thu Jan 05, 2012 12:54 am

el gatito wrote:And, finally, should one ask me about what is it like,

Now, your turn!..


Like no[-]thing in particular

But that's my answer to anything :PP:
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby amelia on Thu Jan 05, 2012 1:16 am

Eyes closed or open? I often battle with this. I like to sit with my eyes closed because I feel my body drop off more easily... but then I remember Bodhidharma and I open them again, rather forlornly for the loss of transcendence.
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Michaeljc on Thu Jan 05, 2012 4:13 am

Hi guys. Thanks for this post. While I fully respect and value the various approaches I see here recorded, I see no examples of what I consider to be Shikantaza. Shikantaza appears to mean different things to different people. I may be completely wrong but to me there is an important awareness component to Shikantaza – in fact awareness is the heart of Shikantaza. Shikantaza follows the physical reality of the moment, moment by moment. It is not silent illumination or non-thinking involving a void. I do not consider that it is something that can be used as training technique. It most come naturally from out of Zazen – or rather the realisation that we are already using it without knowing. Shiknataza is simply 'to be'.

My penny's worth

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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby fukasetsu on Thu Jan 05, 2012 4:59 pm

amelia wrote:Eyes closed or open?


Neither open or closed.

I often battle with this

Declaring war is all the psyche does, leave it be and see it as something alienated from yourself, in that way it will dissolve into its own condition.
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Meido on Thu Jan 05, 2012 8:44 pm

Before participating I wonder if I could request something which could make this thread more useful: when making statements about how you practice, teach or view shikantaza, would you folks mind letting us know in what tradition (or non-tradition) you gained the understanding you express? I.e. Ch'an, Son, Thien, Soto, Rinzai, Obaku, Sanbo-Kyodan, unaffiliated, self-taught, etc. If there is a sub-tradition within one of these that you could identify, please do so also.

As I had mentioned, for my own learning I'm very interested in the ways practices vary from tradition to tradition. It also seems that we sometimes are using the same name for what, are in fact, different practices...or slightly differing flavors/"house styles" of using general practices...or different ways of using a general practice according to individual capacity/need (even if we're not aware that's what our teacher assigned us)...etc. etc. While such things may be well-defined within a particular tradition, they are not always well-communicated (or applicable) outside that tradition. This thread has the potential to really be interesting.

Finally, given the many different variations and understandings that could be discussed, it would probably be very useful in this thread for all of us to avoid blanket statements that shikantaza definitively "is" or "is not" something.

Thoughts?

~ Meido
Last edited by Meido on Thu Jan 05, 2012 9:11 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Nonin on Thu Jan 05, 2012 9:09 pm

el gatito wrote:The following is an example of how shikantaza instructions are taught by Rev. Nonin Chowaney, an American Soto Zen priest { http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nonin_Chowaney }

I practice and teach zazen in this way: our instruction is four-fold: body, mind, breath, and return.

The proper attitude of body is to sit in an erect posture, either in one of the lotus postures, burmese, seiza, or in a chair.

The proper attitude of mind is to allow thoughts to come without suppressing anything and to allow them to go with out clinging to anything. This is called the "cultivating the natural condition of mind," or "non-thinking."

The proper attitude of breath can vary. Some teachers start students off with counting the breath, some with following, and some even say, don't pay attention to the breath at all. I tell all students, beginners and long-term practitioners alike to follow the breath, don't try to regulate it but concentrate on it as it is drawn in past the nostrils and follow it, or concentrate on it, as it passes to the bottom of the lungs and return back up and out the nostrils.

Zazen is a process. We don't try to cultivate any particular state of mind. When we sit, thoughts arise, and we cling to them; we engage in the thinking process and pull ourselves away from the breath and the present moment. The fourth attitude is "return." When consciousness arises that the present moment is not being attended to, that breath is not being followed, drop what it is that you're thinking about and return to breath. This is called "bringing the mind back home." Then, start the process once again.

el gatito has quoted me above as to how I teach Shikantaza. I am a Soto Zen priest and teacher. Our definition of Shikantaza is "wholeheartedly hitting the mark when sitting."

Hands palm-to-palm,

Nonin
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Meido on Thu Jan 05, 2012 10:06 pm

Nonin, thank you.

In this way of practicing, do you consider following (or counting, or returning to) the breath to be a practice preparatory to, or leading to, a maturation of shikantaza? That is, is the breath considered an initial "anchor" which at some point may drop away or be set down?

If the focus on the breath is thought of as something that may (or should?) drop, do you use a separate name for it as a method (e.g. susokukan, or just "breath-returning" or something like that)?

~ Meido
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Nonin on Thu Jan 05, 2012 11:27 pm

Meido wrote:Nonin, thank you.

In this way of practicing, do you consider following (or counting, or returning to) the breath to be a practice preparatory to, or leading to, a maturation of shikantaza? That is, is the breath considered an initial "anchor" which at some point may drop away or be set down?

If the focus on the breath is thought of as something that may (or should?) drop, do you use a separate name for it as a method (e.g. susokukan, or just "breath-returning" or something like that)?

~ Meido

Meido,

"Susokukan" is not a term that I've come across in my 30 years of Soto Zen Buddhist practice in the US and in Japan.

The method of zazen that I described above is full and complete in and of itself. I don't see it as leading to anything else, and I still practice it. Whenever consciousness arises that the present moment is not being attended to, that breath is not being followed, I drop whatever thought is engaged and return to breath. Then, I check posture thoroughly from top to bottom, for proper posture is extremely important, and subsequently follow the breath until consciousness again arises that breath is not being followed. This is a never-ending process for as long as I sit.

Some Soto Zen teachers start students off with breath-counting in a few different ways, then then switch them to breath following. Some don't have students either count or follow the breath. Different strokes for different folks! No matter what process one follows, one eventually just sits and then returns to the present if one exerts proper effort and zazen is practiced properly.

I follow the process taught by my masters in the US and in Japan. It's not possible to stay with the breath for more than a short time unless this is cultivated, and cultivating this is not Soto Zen zazen practice. The length of time I stay with the breath varies with the content of my life at the present moment. Then, mind begins to wander off. This is a natural process. "Just sitting" in Soto Zen encompasses the whole process. Zen Master Dogen, the seminal Soto Zen Master in Japan saw the mental processes in zazen as three-fold: thinking, not-thinking, and non-thinking. "Thinking" is engaging in thought. "Not-thinking" is blankness. "Non-thinking" is letting thoughts come and go. All three arise and pass away during zazen; However, we cultivate "non-thinking," and proper effort consists of returning to "just this."

Hands palm-to-palm,

Nonin
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Michaeljc on Fri Jan 06, 2012 4:11 am

My (limited) formal training has been under Diado Loori or teachers of his movement. I have never been given a koan. Over the last 7 months I have been in a situation where I could sit quite intensively on a lone basis. I do not routinely count or follow the breath but throw it into some sits for limited periods of time. Why? – because during most sits I will fall into a state at around 30 min where there is no thinking and a purely natural following of the breath- this can persist for periods exceeding 5 minutes. Essentially, I 'just sit' imposing no control whatsoever. If I have the hots for a lady that is what I will be thinking about.

As for Shikantaza – The closest sensation I can refer to in relation to my definition is .'just listen' anyone can do this. When we just listen we are following the present moment without thoughts.

with respect

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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby klqv on Fri Jan 06, 2012 9:22 am

there is no thinking and a purely natural following of the breath- this can persist for periods exceeding 5 minutes. Essentially, I 'just sit' imposing no control whatsoever.
you don't ever wonder if noticing that you've been "not thinking" for some time, is a break from not thinking?

anyway when i try to practice this technique, it is more like i am disinterested in my thoughts than they appear and disappear completely fluidly. which has happened before, but once it's over i am unsure if i was half asleep so assumed something was being done wrong.
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby klqv on Fri Jan 06, 2012 9:50 am

i have a couple of questions

should i in correct meditation lose the sense of deliberately doing anything - even staying aware?
is it right that when i notice a thought, that train of thought is not continued [not a great example, but it would be like "1 -> 2 -> 3 *notice* -/->4"?

thanks!
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Nonin on Fri Jan 06, 2012 5:10 pm

klqv wrote:i have a couple of questions

should i in correct meditation lose the sense of deliberately doing anything - even staying aware?
is it right that when i notice a thought, that train of thought is not continued [not a great example, but it would be like "1 -> 2 -> 3 *notice* -/->4"?

thanks!

Please find a teacher and practice face-to-face under his or her guidance.

Hands palm-to-palm,

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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby klqv on Fri Jan 06, 2012 5:52 pm

:)
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Meido on Fri Jan 06, 2012 6:02 pm

Thank you, Nonin.

Nonin wrote:The method of zazen that I described above is full and complete in and of itself.


Yes, I believe that completely. We use a practice of counting or following the breath essentially the same as you described (we do call it susokukan, or in English just "breath counting"). Although people attracted to Rinzai training usually discuss koan practice, one of the teachers in our line wrote very clearly that this method of the breath is profound enough to be the sole method used for one's whole life, and completely sufficient for deep realization.

El Gatito: thank you for posting Sheng-yen's lecture. I'm generally very appreciative of the structured and clearly laid-out manner in which he presented Ch'an practice. I know he had experience practicing in Japan (and did his doctorate at Rissho U.) But in this case, I think it's less than accurate for him to make the broad assertion that shikantaza as understood in Japanese Buddhism consists only of "just paying attention to sitting or just keeping the physical posture of sitting" and that "the understanding that the mind should be clear and have no thoughts" is not present.

Attempts to suppress or push away the arising of thoughts would in my understanding of course be a mistaken approach to shikantaza (and would constitute taking as one's aim the "blankness" or "not-thinking" which Nonin mentioned). However, Sheng-yen's description of the arrival at the unmoving mind which nevertheless functions and is marked by clarity, as well as his differentiation of "worldly" and "great" samadhi, are well understood in the practice traditions to which I've been exposed.

~ Meido
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Meido on Fri Jan 06, 2012 6:56 pm

Well, actually I am a big fan, and had the chance to practice at his center in NY for a few years back in the 80's. I just think he missed the mark in that particular lecture.

el gatito wrote:[Sheng-yen]: Finally he sighed and said, "Put down!", he slapped suddenly on the bed, and shouted "Put down!". These words struck me like lightning. My body poured sweat; I felt like I had been istantly cured of a bad cold. I felt a great weight being suddenly lifted from me. It was a very comfortable and soothing feeling. We just sat there, not speaking a word. I was extremely happy. It was one of the most pleasant nights of my life. The next day I continued to experience great happiness. The whole world was fresh, as though I was seeing it for the first time...


"Direct pointing at the mind, seeing [one's] nature..."

"Direct pointing..." is not just a general description of Zen. It is a method. But that's another topic.

~ Meido
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby fukasetsu on Fri Jan 06, 2012 8:25 pm

Meido wrote:Attempts to suppress or push away the arising of thoughts would in my understanding of course be a mistaken approach to shikantaza (and would constitute taking as one's aim the "blankness" or "not-thinking" which Nonin mentioned). However, Sheng-yen's description of the arrival at the unmoving mind which nevertheless functions and is marked by clarity, as well as his differentiation of "worldly" and "great" samadhi, are well understood in the practice traditions to which I've been exposed.

~ Meido


Ofcourse, though there is no such thing as a mind without thoughts, for it is in it's nature to be restless. It is just that "we" are either conscious of arising thoughts or not, it's a matter of having the ability to shift the consciousness away [instead of surpressing] from mind and its contents, until "we" are drawn beyond consciousness all together and only "awareness remains" not that there's no manifestation of awareness in consciousness ofcourse, yet without consciousness there's awareness, but without awareness there is neither mind, consciousness or the complex system of brain activity/senses etc. The ability to shift consciousness away from mind can be trained or can be sudden spontaneous and natural, and the latter is the key. Until that point we still have training/practise, expedient means, and Buddhism, and so called contradiction in teachers words and sciptures. And so called different approaches to match the needs of "individuals"
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Nonin on Fri Jan 06, 2012 9:40 pm

Meido wrote:El Gatito: thank you for posting Sheng-yen's lecture. I'm generally very appreciative of the structured and clearly laid-out manner in which he presented Ch'an practice. I know he had experience practicing in Japan (and did his doctorate at Rissho U.) But in this case, I think it's less than accurate for him to make the broad assertion that shikantaza as understood in Japanese Buddhism consists only of "just paying attention to sitting or just keeping the physical posture of sitting" and that "the understanding that the mind should be clear and have no thoughts" is not present.

Attempts to suppress or push away the arising of thoughts would in my understanding of course be a mistaken approach to shikantaza (and would constitute taking as one's aim the "blankness" or "not-thinking" which Nonin mentioned).

I agree, Meido. I, too, have a great deal of respect for Sheng-yen, but his blanket statement about shikantaza in Japanese Zen Buddhist is just not true. Oh well, nobody's perfect!

Meido also wrote:
We use a practice of counting or following the breath essentially the same as you described (we do call it susokukan, or in English just "breath counting"). Although people attracted to Rinzai training usually discuss koan practice, one of the teachers in our line wrote very clearly that this method of the breath is profound enough to be the sole method used for one's whole life, and completely sufficient for deep realization.

Although Japanese Rinzai and Soto cultures can be quite different, there is a lot of similarity, and at the core of practice and realization, I see very little difference. Here in the West, Rinzai and Soto (and also Son and Thien) teachers frequently interact in the American Zen Teachers Association and also teach at each other's practice places. We've all come to realize that blanket statements about "Rinzai Zen" and "Soto Zen" usually don't apply. For instance, some Soto Zen teachers have trained with koans and train their students in koan practice.

As an aside, in Japan, Rinzai Zen is sometimes called "warrior zen," and Soto Zen, "farmer zen." Maybe that's why I ended up in Nebraska, the heart of farming in the USA!! However, the style of the practice place usually depends on the personality of the teacher, and I know teachers from both schools who could wear either label, especially since both traditions move further and further away from their Japanese roots.

Hands palm-to-palm,

Nonin
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Meido on Fri Jan 06, 2012 10:17 pm

Although Japanese Rinzai and Soto cultures can be quite different, there is a lot of similarity, and at the core of practice and realization, I see very little difference. Here in the West, Rinzai and Soto (and also Son and Thien) teachers frequently interact in the American Zen Teachers Association and also teach at each other's practice places. We've all come to realize that blanket statements about "Rinzai Zen" and "Soto Zen" usually don't apply. For instance, some Soto Zen teachers have trained with koans and train their students in koan practice.

As an aside, in Japan, Rinzai Zen is sometimes called "warrior zen," and Soto Zen, "farmer zen." Maybe that's why I ended up in Nebraska, the heart of farming in the USA!! However, the style of the practice place usually depends on the personality of the teacher, and I know teachers from both schools who could wear either label, especially since both traditions move further and further away from their Japanese roots.


Good points. The differences we notice and discuss are certainly ones of culture, style, personality and technique - path, not fruit. And I'm thrilled that the kinds of encounter you describe enable us to see what a truly stunning and wondrous variety of these things exist. That's the value of ZFI to me as well.

RE "warrior Zen" vs. "farmer Zen": Nebraska, yes, and perhaps that's why I'm in a pugnacious town like Chicago. Of course in the 19th century the warriors became businessmen...hopefully we won't see too much development of "business Zen" as the next thing.

Gassho,
~ Meido
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby So-on Mann on Sat Jan 07, 2012 1:08 am

I dig Loori's commentary- mostly he is describing the pre-samadhi experience, part of the process which is shikantaza. There is that "learning to trust" and then the "mind and body" we normally think of as ours opens up and becomes something without limits.
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Michaeljc on Sat Jan 07, 2012 6:32 am

Nice meaty topic is this :Namaste:
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