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HomeMeditationShikantaza: Simply Sitting, Going Nowhere -- Lewis Richmond

Shikantaza: Simply Sitting, Going Nowhere — Lewis Richmond


The Zen observe of simply sitting, says Lewis Richmond, doesn’t assist us to achieve our vacation spot. It permits us to cease having one. However how do you “go” nowhere?

Photograph by David Gabriel Fischer.

The observe of “just-awareness” is the essence of Zen meditation. The Japanese phrase for this, shikantaza, is often translated as “simply sitting,” however Dogen, the founding father of the Soto faculty of Zen, particularly taught that zazen is “past sitting or mendacity down.” Shikantaza is greater than the mere bodily posture of sitting, though it definitely contains that. Basically it’s the observe of simply being right here, being current—besides that we’re not rocks or stones, however conscious beings—so I believe “just-awareness” extra absolutely captures the essence of the time period. However consciousness of what? That’s the first query.

Most individuals new to zazen suppose that it’s a talent that may be discovered, like tai chi. We come to zazen instruction and are advised to sit down a sure means, maintain the arms simply so, preserve the eyes open, and take note of the breath. It appears reasonably simple; we stay up for changing into extra achieved in it. However Dogen admonishes us, “Zazen shouldn’t be studying to do focus.” He appears to be implying that our ambitions to enhance aren’t fairly on the mark.

We could be forgiven for pondering that if we do the identical factor time and again, we’ll enhance. However is “simply being right here” a talent to be discovered? Can we ever get higher at that? I don’t suppose so. From the primary second of life to the final, we’re at all times simply right here. Our pure consciousness doesn’t develop, doesn’t change, doesn’t develop up and doesn’t develop previous. I used to be just lately speaking to a hundred-and-five-year-old girl, and he or she mentioned, “Effectively, I don’t really feel 100 and 5. It’s simply me.” She felt the identical as she did when she was a younger woman. So, from that perspective, none of us precisely grows previous. One thing grows previous—the physique maybe, or our recollections—however does our “being right here” develop previous? No. How might it?

Don’t attempt to get someplace, to do one thing. As an alternative, be like slightly little one—naturally joyous, naturally conscious.

This provides us a clue as to the form of observe we’re speaking about. It’s not some form of yogic focus observe, comparable to Gautama Buddha himself practiced early in his non secular profession. When he was younger, Gautama went round to numerous yoga academics and discovered develop trance states and psychic powers. He turned very achieved at these; he “improved.” However ultimately he felt that every one these practices missed the basic level. Regardless of how good we get at one thing, finally we develop previous, develop into sick and die; all our powers come to naught. Gautama’s conclusion was that every one of those focus practices actually didn’t work, as a result of ultimately they’re simply states of consciousness to enter and are available out of; they don’t actually deal with the bottom of being or the reason for human struggling.

Leaving all these practices behind, Gautama recalled a time when, as a baby, he sat beneath a tree and spontaneously felt ease and pleasure. Remembering this second, Gautama sat down beneath a tree once more—the Bodhi Tree—and reentered the pure childlike state of pure consciousness. And that was the observe that led to his enlightenment. The standard life tales of the Buddha at all times embody this second of returning to a baby’s expertise. A younger little one doesn’t suppose a lot about gaining one thing, about being completely different or higher. The kid simply rests in her fast expertise. That’s the purpose of one other of Dogen’s zazen directions: “Don’t want to develop into a buddha.” Don’t attempt to get someplace, to do one thing. As an alternative, be like slightly little one—naturally joyous, naturally conscious.

However what does this actually imply—naturally conscious? In early Chinese language Zen, many individuals thought it meant to clear the thoughts of all pondering. The Sixth Ancestor of Zen tried to right this error, saying, “Emptying the thoughts and dwelling in vacancy shouldn’t be Zen.” So stopping one’s pondering shouldn’t be the aim, although many meditators might imagine that.

As soon as somebody requested my instructor Suzuki-Roshi, “What do I do about all my pondering in zazen?”

“What’s incorrect with pondering?” Suzuki replied.

Dogen’s personal instruction on this level is the well-known injunction, “Assume not-thinking.” In all probability most individuals who hear that suppose it means we’re not imagined to suppose, that ideas are in some way a hindrance, and that the aim is a totally thought-free thoughts. However Dogen doesn’t say, “Don’t suppose.” He says, “Assume”; he makes use of a verb. We’re being requested to suppose one thing, to make some form of effort. However suppose what? How do we expect not-thinking?

Suzuki-Roshi used a fantastic phrase in explaining this level; he mentioned that “suppose not-thinking” was “actual pondering.” That is an consciousness that tracks precisely what’s occurring. So if you watch a plum blossom, he would say, you precisely observe the flowering of the blossom—no extra, no much less. That isn’t like our typical pondering. Normally we’re eager about some huge downside in our life, or what we did yesterday, or are going to do tomorrow.

Dogen So signifies that we’re not making an attempt to cease our pondering, however we’re additionally not paying explicit consideration to it or making an attempt to do something with it. As an alternative there’s a form of deep acceptance or tolerance about every thing. Thus we come to relaxation not within the observe of our pondering, however in that which thinks. However who or what’s that? We’re again to some deep ineffable query on the root of our existence, our just-awareness. Because of this within the midst of our childlike ease and pleasure, there’s additionally some uncommon and delicate effort—an inquiry that’s past ratiocination or cogitation.

With out that effort—that deep questioning that drove Gautama to go away the consolation of his princely place and wander the world as a homeless monk—zazen can shortly devolve right into a boring, enervated plopping down on a cushion. One Japanese Zen instructor appreciated to name this type of too-passive sitting “shikan-nothing.” Shikan-nothing isn’t fairly it both.

So what’s “it”?

The very best, and most honest, reply is that we really can’t say. There’s something inexplicable about it—not as a result of it’s secret, however as a result of our human situation itself is inexplicable. And that’s all proper. All of us naturally need a non secular observe we will perceive or conceive of, and most of typical non secular observe is like that—prayer, ritual, chanting, visualization and so forth. These are all practices that may be conceived of and understood. Zazen is a distinct kind of observe—mysterious and but as easy and acquainted as our personal hand.

Within the fullness of the hand, back and front, we’re all buddhas. To take a seat within the fullness of the entire hand has nice energy; it shakes the earth.

Our hand, although, has two sides: a entrance and a again.

Our odd life, our character and traditional psychological exercise, are just like the entrance of the hand. There’s nothing incorrect with the entrance of our hand, but when that’s all we all know—if we don’t settle for that our hand has two sides—then it’s probably not a hand. It’s some form of one-dimensional shadow of a hand. If we are saying, “I simply need the entrance of my hand,” that doesn’t make sense.

It’s equally true that zazen is not only the again of the hand, as a result of then we’d be falling into the lure of “emptying the thoughts and dwelling in vacancy.” Saying, “I simply need the again of my hand,” is one thing like an concept or idea of vacancy; asking for simply the again of the hand doesn’t make sense both. That may merely be one other form of one-dimensional shadow. A hand has two sides; that’s its nature. We carry it up and instantly each side are there. So we’d say that zazen observe is the observe of the entire hand.

There may be a way wherein, going past all of that, all of us discover ourselves swimming in the identical sea, lifting up the identical hand. Within the fullness of the hand, back and front, we’re all buddhas. To take a seat within the fullness of the entire hand has nice energy; it shakes the earth. They are saying that when Buddha was enlightened the earth shook. For a very long time I didn’t pay an excessive amount of consideration to such metaphors, however now I’ve a greater appreciation of them. There’s just one consciousness that’s deep sufficient and broad sufficient to embody all of us, and that’s the consciousness of just-awareness, simply being right here. That’s the consciousness that may remodel us all into beings of inexhaustible and intrinsic compassion.

Follow zazen such as you’re nearly to die.

Buddhist life is typically considered reasonably passive: sitting quietly, not saying or expressing something, not celebrating issues, not dancing, not enjoying music, not going to the films. That understanding is slightly an excessive amount of back-of-the-hand. Zazen is to not reject one aspect of the hand or the opposite, however to equalize each side in order that the premise of our life has some deep compassionate assist, some backdrop. We’re not making an attempt to suck the enjoyment out of our expertise and stay a colorless, black-robed life, however to spherical out our life so it could actually develop into deeply and authentically compassionate and joyous. This contains every thing—pleasure, sorrow, start, demise, delusion, enlightenment.

Jack Kornfield’s instructor mentioned to him as soon as, “You may’t assist anyone for those who’re afraid to die.” My instructor as soon as mentioned one thing related. He mentioned, “Follow zazen such as you’re nearly to die.” At first blush, that sounds form of grim. However really, what he mentioned may be very sensible and true. I keep in mind him smiling when he mentioned it. After we’re about to die, there are lots of issues we don’t have to fret about. Possibly there’s lots of disappointment, or remorse, however no less than you don’t must marvel who’s going to place the rubbish out anymore. Whoever it’s, it isn’t going to be you; you’re dying. So so much drops away.

Dying is definitely at all times right here, all through life. All human life is shadowed by the truth that we’re mortal, that we’re going to disappear. And our observe of zazen is to say, All proper, positive, let’s convey that in and get accustomed to it so it doesn’t frighten us anymore. Then we could be freed from it, and absolutely embrace the compassionate thoughts that’s our pure birthright.

In the previous few years neurologists have been wiring up Zen meditators, they usually’ve been discovering that {the electrical} patterns of the meditating mind look reasonably completely different than these of the conventional waking thoughts. What does this imply? We’d say that zazen is a distinct technique to be awake. This distinction might relaxation not a lot within the cortex—the half that does pondering and logical duties—however within the older components of the mind, these having to do with emotion, spatial notion, and the school that defines the boundary of self and different.

This rising neurological understanding might assist us perceive “suppose not-thinking” as a state the place the upper mind features are all operative and alert, however not purposefully lively. We don’t shut down odd consciousness, as we’d in states of deep focus or trance. However we don’t apply our thoughts to something particularly, both. As an alternative, we simply relaxation in consciousness itself, consciousness itself.

May this presumably be all there’s to it? Is the essence of Buddhist observe actually this easy? Effectively, sure and no. Thrangu Rinpoche, an eminent instructor of Tibetan Mahamudra (which has many similarities to Zen) as soon as mentioned, “It might be troublesome to belief the truth that one thing so comparatively easy might really convey one all the way in which to awakening.” Then again, the oral and written teachings of Buddhism are huge. The books of the Tibetan canon alone would fill a good-sized room, flooring to ceiling, and that is only one custom.

Sure, the essence observe of Buddhism—which is what zazen is—actually is easy. It’s we human beings who’re sophisticated. It takes us a very long time to belief the observe absolutely, as Thrangu Rinpoche implied. Consequently Buddhism affords us an amazing number of different transformative practices—comparable to bowing, chanting, visualizing or the meditations on compassion—to encourage us on the trail whereas we domesticate this belief.

Many, many individuals, by means of numerous generations, have cultivated and refined these practices. We’re the inheritors and beneficiaries of their lifetimes of effort. On this troublesome world of ours, the place there appears to be a lot confusion, strife, struggling and terror, we should do not forget that Gautama the Buddha lived in simply such a world, and confronted the exact same imponderables as we—the identical wonderment, hopefulness, confusion and despair. He acquired by means of it, and so can we. He was not a god, not a superman, however a human being with the identical thoughts, physique and colleges as we. In the intervening time of his enlightenment he exclaimed, “All beings are similar to this—all of them are intrinsically buddhas!”

Might it’s so. Might all beings instantly acknowledge their intrinsic nature as buddhas and develop into absolutely liberated!

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