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Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

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Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Anirukta on Wed Jan 04, 2012 5:18 pm

The following is taken from the "Introduction" to the "Entering The Tao of Sudden Enlightenment (& The Tsung Ching Record) by Chan Master Ta-Chu Hui-Hai", Translated by Dharma Master Lok To.

Source: http://www.ymba.org/TaChu/tachu1.htm

When you practice Ch'an, sit in the lotus position, close your eyes, keep your body erect and allow your mind to become clear and still. Abandon any thoughts of good or evil.

When thoughts do arise, just observe each thought carefully and become aware whence it arises. Then you can become aware of false thought as it suddenly arises and suddenly dies away, as it comes and goes, never stopping for one instant. However, you, the practicer, should have patience and just be observant; then you will gain insight into the fact that such false thought has no self-nature and is originally void. You should have no impulse to follow false thought anywhere nor hold any idea about getting rid of it. Then, gradually, false thought becomes illuminated by your own mind and is suddenly stilled.

Also, even if more false thought continues to arise, you should, nevertheless, still use this method: just perceive whence it arises, and do not follow it or try to get rid of it. In time, as the observer becomes very skillful, false thought gradually falls away until, without a single thought arising, there remains only still, clear voidness. While walking, standing, sitting and lying down, always practice in this manner; then you can experience "Ch'an Ting" and easily attain Enlightenment.

When you let go of the dualistic idea of subject and object, then "the sound of discussion ceases and the role of thought is ended." Then, and only then, "the mouth desires to speak, but without words; the mind desires conditions, but without thought." It is just like one who drinks water; he alone knows whether it is hot or cold. It cannot be expressed in words or speech. Such is Sudden Enlightenment! All practicers of Ch'an should persevere and make a determined effort to investigate!
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Anirukta on Wed Jan 04, 2012 5:24 pm

The following is another one by the same author, taken from the "Introduction" to the "The Foundation Of Meditation Practice ", by Dharma Master Lok To.

Source: http://www.ymba.org/meditation/meditation.html

So, if you really want meditation to come about, sit properly erect and close your eyes. Then purify your mind, lay down everything and think of neither good nor evil. Just observe your thoughts. As you look for their place of origin, you discover that they suddenly rise up and just as suddenly disappear, and that this process goes on and on. Be patient and continue to observe them, and you will, in time, know the thoughts to be devoid of any self-nature; also you will, thereby, know original emptiness. Do not attempt to follow the thoughts, to trace them in any way or have any intention of getting rid of them, and, in time, awareness will manifest as your mind illumines a thought. Then, there will suddenly be a stillness that becomes suchness. At some point, another thought will arise, and you will observe it in the same way.

Do this at least once a day, sitting from fifteen minutes to an hour. As your concentration deepens, your thoughts slow down and diminish in number, and your power of illumination increases until you eventually find out that not a single thought arises. Then, there is only stillness and voidness, for then the mind is clear and pure. This is your self-nature as known directly through wisdom (Prajna).
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Anirukta on Wed Jan 04, 2012 5:28 pm

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.
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Anirukta on Wed Jan 04, 2012 5:34 pm

And the following is just three quick quotes by my beloved Master, Hongzhi Zhenjue of Mt. Tiantong.

"The practice of true reality is simply to sit serenely in silent introspection."

"Facing everything, let go and attain stability."

"Separate yourself from disturbance and face whatever appears before you."
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Re: Different ways shikantaza/silent illumination taught

Postby Anirukta on Wed Jan 04, 2012 5:50 pm

And, finally, should one ask me about what is it like, I'd respond in the following way:

unmovable and still -- sleepy mountain far far away
light and swift -- bird's feathers on the gentle wind
clear and cold -- autumn stream flows
careful and precise -- needle on water rests


:hide:

Now, your turn!..

:lol2:
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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 Anirukta on Thu Jan 05, 2012 2:43 am

Forgot to note in the OP, this topic was split from the "body & energetics in zen practice" { viewtopic.php?f=64&t=7581&start=20#p114516 }, as Meido suggested.
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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

Cheers

m
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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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Abbot and Head Teacher, Nebraska Zen Center / Heartland Temple, Omaha, Nebraska, USA
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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 Anirukta on Thu Jan 05, 2012 10:18 pm

Meido wrote:...in what tradition (or non-tradition) you gained the understanding you express? ...

Trying to practice in "non-tradition", I am sorry to say that I have gained no understanding, as of yet. The only thing that seems to be working for me is that, I must properly and thoroughly forget everything each time when I'm going to "just sit" (either formally or not).

Regarding your last question to Nonin, personally, in my own way of practicing, I consider following (or counting, or returning to) the breath to be neither practice preparatory to, nor leading to, a maturation of shikantaza. I see it as simply a different way of practice, pretty similar to the Jhana development techniques in Theravada. Though this is very interesting indeed, presently I don't pay attention to the breath at all.
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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 Anirukta on Fri Jan 06, 2012 3:17 am

Below please find the "Lecture given by master Sheng-yen during the Dec. 1993 Ch'an retreat", titled Shikantaza and Silent Illumination.

Please do not read it all [unless you really have much time at hand :) ], its rather long, so that I simply marked the "instructions only" part in bold.

Master Sheng-yen wrote:Shikantaza and Silent Illumination
Lecture given by master Sheng-yen during the Dec. 1993 Ch'an retreat, edited by Linda
Peer and Harry Miller

The Japanese term "shikantaza" literally means "just sitting." Its original Chinese name,
mo-chao, means "silent illumination." "Silent" refers to not using any specific method of
meditation and having no thoughts in your mind. "Illumination" means clarity. You are
very clear about the state of your body and mind.

When the method of silent illumination was taken to Japan it was changed somewhat.
The name given to it, "just sitting", means just paying attention to sitting or just keeping
the physical posture of sitting, and this was the new emphasis. The word "silent" was
removed from the name of the method and the understanding that the mind should be
clear and have no thoughts was not emphasized. In silent illumination, "just sitting" is
only the first step. While you maintain the sitting posture, you should also try to establish
the "silent" state of the mind. Eventually you reach a point where the mind does not move
and yet is very clear. That unmoving mind is "silent," and that clarity of mind is
"illumination." This is the meaning of "silent illumination."

Faith in Mind, a poem attributed to the Third Patriarch of Ch'an, Seng-Ts'an (d. 606),
begins with something like this: "The highest path is not difficult, so long as you are free
of discriminations." "Discriminations" can also be translated as "choices," "selections" or
"preferences." The highest path is not difficult, if you are free from choosing, selecting or
preferring. You must keep the mind free from discrimination and attachment. The method
in which the mind is kept free from discrimination and attachment is what is called
"silence" here. But "silent" does not mean the mind is blank and cannot function. The
mind is free from attachment, clear, and yet it still functions.

We also read in Faith in Mind that, "This principle is neither hurried nor slow. One
thought for ten thousand years." "This principle" is the mind of wisdom, and from its
perspective time does not pass quickly or slowly. When we meditate or work, we may
fall into a worldly samadhi state and feel that time passes very quickly. In an ordinary
state we may feel that time passes quickly or slowly. However, in the mind of wisdom
there is no such thing as slow or hurried time. If we can say there is thought in the mind
of wisdom, it is an endless thought which never changes. This unchanging thought is no
longer thought as we usually understand it. It is the unmoving mind of wisdom.

In the Song of Samatha of Master Yung-chia Hsuan-chueh (665 - 713, also the author of
the Song of Enlightenment), two Chinese terms are used which can be translated as
"quiescence" and "clarity." Master Yung-chia uses them in two phrases, "quiescence and
clarity," and "clarity and quiescence." They describe a person whose mind is both clear
and unmoving. When an ordinary person's mind is clear and alert, it is usually also active
and full of scattered thoughts. Quiescence of mind is difficult to maintain. When the mind
is quiet, it usually is not clear, even in a samadhi state. But Yung-chia describes these two
states, quiescence and clarity as well as clarity and quiescence, as goals.

Master Hung-chi Chen-chueh (1091-1157), who invented the term "silent illumination"
in his poem the Song of Silent Illumination, said this

In silence, words are forgotten.
In utter clarity, things appear.

"Words are forgotten" means you experience no words, no language, no ideas, and no
thought. There is no discrimination. This in combination with the second phrase, "In utter
clarity everything appears," means that although words, language and discrimination do
not function, everything is still seen, heard, tasted and so on.

Someone told me that when he uses the Silent Illumination method, he eventually gets to
a point where there is nothing there and he rests. That is not true Silent Illumination. In
Silent Illumination everything is there, but the mind is not moving. A person may think
he has no thoughts because the coarser wandering thoughts are absent, but there will be
fine, subtle wandering thoughts of which he is unaware. He may think there is nothing
there and so stop practicing. In Chinese this is called "Being on the dark side of a
mountain in a cave inhabited by ghosts." The mountain is dark, so there is nothing to see,
and in the cave of ghosts, what can one accomplish?

Now I would like to explain how to use the method of shikantaza. First, your posture
should be upright. Do not lean in any direction. Be clear about your posture, because if
you practice shikantaza, just sitting, at the very least you should be conscientious about
sitting. It is also important to remain relaxed.

Next, be aware of your body, but do not think of it as yourself. Regard your body as a car
you drive. You have to handle the car well, but it is not you. If you think of your body as
yourself, you will be bothered by pain, itchiness and other vexations. Just take care of the
body and be aware of it. The Chinese name for this method can be translated as "just take
care of sitting." You have to be mindful of your body as the driver must be mindful of the
car, but the car is not the driver.

After a period of time, the body will sit naturally and cause no problems. Now you can
begin to pay attention to the mind. If you were eating, your mind should be the "mind of
eating," and you would pay attention to that mind. When you are sitting, your mind
should be the "mind of sitting." You watch this sitting mind. Two different thoughts
alternate: the mind of sitting and the mind, or thought, that watches the mind of sitting.
First you watch the body sitting with little attention to the mind. When the body drops
away, watch the mind. What is the mind? It is the mind of sitting! When your attention
dissipates, you will lose awareness of this sitting mind and the sensations of the body will
return. Then you should again watch the body sitting. Another possibility is that while
you watch the mind you fall into a dull state, like "Being on the dark side of the mountain
in a cave inhabited by ghosts." When you become aware of this situation, your bodily
sensations return, and you should go back to watching them. Thus these two objects of
attention, the body and the mind, are also used alternately.

In the state where you watch the mind, are you aware of the external environment, sound
for example? If you want to hear sound, you will, and if you do not want to hear sound,
you won't. At this point, you primarily pay attention to your own mind. Although you
may hear sounds, they do not create discriminations.

There are three stages in this practice. You should start at the beginning and progress to
deeper levels. First be mindful of your body. Then be mindful of your mind, and of the
two thoughts alternating in it. The third stage is enlightenment. The mind is clear and, as
the poem quoted said, "In silence, words are forgotten. In utter clarity, things appear."
When you first practice, you will probably be in the first or second level. If you use this
method correctly you will not enter into samadhi.

This last point needs clarification. It depends on how we use the term "samadhi." In
Buddhadharma, samadhi has many meanings. For instance, Sakyamuni Buddha was
always in samadhi. His mind was not moving, yet he still continued to function. This is
wisdom. Sakyamuni Buddha's samadhi is great samadhi and this is the same as wisdom.
When I said that in the practice of Silent Illumination, you should not enter samadhi, I
meant worldly samadhi where you forget about space and time and are oblivious to the
environment. The deeper kind of samadhi, which is the same as wisdom, is in fact the
goal of Silent Illumination.


What good is this explanation of Silent Illumination for people who are not using this
method? If you are using another method of practice and you reach a point where it is
impossible to continue, you can switch to Silent Illumination and watch your body and
mind. For instance, if you use the method of reciting Buddha's name with counting and
you can no longer count, switch to Silent Illumination. If you use the hua-t'ou method,
but find that rather than generating great doubt, you are simply repeating your hua-tou,
you may reach a point where you can no longer recite it. You can then switch to Silent
Illumination and watch your body and mind. Eventually, you will be able to use your
own method again. Silent Illumination can provide a continuum for you in this inbetween
state so that you do not waste time.

I was just asked whether the enlightenment that comes from Silent Illumination is sudden
or gradual. Enlightenment is always instantaneous. It is the practice that is gradual. As I
mentioned earlier, the third level of Silent Illumination is enlightenment. But how does
one get there? As you practice, your attachments, discriminations, and wandering
thoughts gradually subside. Eventually, you simply have no discriminations, but this
change is instantaneous. When the change happens, you are in the state Hung-chi Chengchueh
described as, "In silence, words are forgotten. In utter clarity, everything appears.
After you have some experience practicing, the sentiments and vexations you ordinarily
experience may not arise during practice. It does not mean that they are gone. It just
means that when you practice they do not arise. When you use Silent Illumination, this
may happen, especially at the second level, but that is not enlightenment. Practice is not
like trying to clear thoughts from your mind and vexations from your life as if they were
dust on a mirror. You cannot wipe the dust away and make yourself enlightened. It is not
like that. Whether you use the methods of the Lin-chi or Tsao-tung sects within the Ch'an
tradition, once enlightened, you realize that enlightenment has nothing to do with the
practice that brought you there.

So why bother to practice? Practice is like a bridge that can lead to enlightenment, even
though enlightenment has nothing to do with practice.
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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

m
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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.
"reconstruct the past, and arrange the future, or who do both, whose speculations are concerned with both, and who in sixty-two ways put forward propositions with regard to the past and to the future, and those who do so, all of them, do so in one or other of these sixty-two ways"...
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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,

Nonin
Soto Zen Buddhist Priest. Transmitted Dharma Heir of Dainin Katagiri Roshi.
Abbot and Head Teacher, Nebraska Zen Center / Heartland Temple, Omaha, Nebraska, USA
http://www.prairiewindzen.org
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Nonin
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