Back in the Real World


I emerged from my self-imposed exile at Tassajara Zen Mountain Monastery on September 10th. At around nine in the morning I said my goodbyes and some twelve hours later I rolled into Los Angeles. It took that long because I caught the Tassajara cold that had been going around the cabins and I kept having to pull over and rest along the way.

The skit above is one I put together for the skit night they do at the end of each guest season. Though I came up with the original premise, my script was rewritten and fleshed out by Paul Cathy, Ryan Adams and Heather Ites. It’s very much an in joke, but I think it might be funny even if you don’t get it all. Work Circle (the setting for this skit) is something that happens each morning at Tassajara where announcements are made about what’s going on the rest of the day and where visitors say their hellos and goodbyes.

Anyway. It’s useful to get away from the mainstream world for a time. It gives you a different perspective. For six weeks there were no cell phones, no Internets, no Facebook, no Fox News in my life. We fill ourselves with too much information. Most of it we don’t need. It helps if you can find a way to cut all of that off for a time.

Every time I go to Tassajara I find myself trying to figure out what, exactly, this Zen Buddhism stuff really is. The Zen I practiced since I was a wee lad of 18 or 19 is in some ways identical to what they do at Tassajara and at monasteries like it and in some ways entirely different. Is it the same Zen Buddhism? I find myself asking. Is there one Zen Buddhism or are there many? Are there as many Zen Buddhisms as there are people who practice Zen Buddhism? Or are there even more than that.

Being in Dogen’s lineage, the folks up at Tassajara practice shikantaza style zazen, just as I was taught by Tim McCarthy and Gudo Nishijima. It’s propless meditation. There’s no goal to the practice. There are no mantras to recite. There are no trick questions to answer. Nobody tells you you’re doing it wrong. Nobody asks you to assess the relative success or failure of your meditation afterward the way they often do in other Buddhist lineages. You just do it and then do something else. But you keep on doing this pointless thing and years later sometimes, if you’re lucky, you notice the point to it. Which is precisely that there is no point to it. And, goofy as that sounds, it makes perfect sense.

But Tassajara has all the trappings my teachers removed from their way of teaching Zen practice. There are hierarchies of rank represented by the silly colors of certain people’s clothing. There is a lot of chanting. There are rules. There are a lot of cliches and buzzwords traded back and forth by the community — “Practice with that!” “That’s comparing mind!” “Think of it as a practice opportunity!” and so on and on.

There is a cult-y vibe to Tassajara sometimes. Which is not to say that the place is a religious cult. But there are aspects of it that are identical to the things you see religious cults do. The aforementioned cliches and buzzwords help to keep outsiders out by being obscure and impenetrable to all but the initiated. The funny clothing signals group affiliation. The repetitious rituals help harden the sense that we who belong are somehow better than those fools who come and gawk at us but who do not know what we know. All of this stuff bothers me tremendously every time I go to the place.

And yet I keep on going. Because I want to understand this side of Zen better and the only way I can ever hope to understand it is by diving deeply into it. And yet I’m not sure I understand it yet.

I just wrote a book all about why I think it’s wrong to call Buddhism a “religion without God.” While at Tassajara I started to think that maybe the type of Zen Buddhism they practice there could be called a “religion without belief.” They do all the things that religions do, but nobody really believes any of it. Even if a couple people do believe it, there is no importance laid upon belief.

There is no sense that one must believe the chants we did every third day or so for the protection of the temple actually do anything to protect the temple. There’s no sense that one must believe the chant we do asking for the guidance of the Buddhas and ancestors actually reaches all those dead people and helps convince them to lend us a hand. It doesn’t matter whether you believe it or not. You just do it.

It looks religious. But internally it’s not. This is what I think the atheists are missing out on. By dismissing all religious ritual as essentially ridiculous, a man-made invention with no real cosmic significance, which it is, they miss out on the beneficial qualities of performing those rituals.

And religions are adding a lot of needless silliness by insisting their members believe ridiculous stories that can never be proven. It’s stressful to believe because you can never be certain if what you believe is precisely what others believe. In fact, it never is. It never can be.

I’m in Calgary today. Here’s the details:

Title:  About 90 minutes of Zen with Brad Warner
When:  Saturday, September 14, 2:00pm to 4:00pm
Where:  University of Calgary, MacEwan Hall, Room MSC 317
Cost:  A recommended donation of $15
What:  Some instruction and practice of Zazen (sitting meditation) followed by a talk by Brad Warner with a question and answer period.

*   *   *

Your donations are, as always, gleefully accepetd!

45 Responses

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  1. Daniel_D
    Daniel_D September 14, 2013 at 11:11 am | |

    One of the conundrums I encountered while at Tassajara is what you mentioned about just doing the rituals, regardless of whether you believe in them or not. As a temporary student there, I needed to learn the chants and movements even though I found the whole thing to be a bit silly. Well, more specifically, I found chanting in a language I didn’t understand silly, though I understand those to be more appealing a language to chant when compared to English. However, I’m in total support of the material contained. Also, the dedications to this or that person became almost nauseating.

    So, all these services and the like seemed to be a bit too much icing on the cake of Zen. In retrospect though, I do appreciate “just following the schedule” more so than I did at the time. It all seems a bit paradoxical though and this paradox is something to be practiced with, for sure.

    How else is a specific tradition to survive? I once thought the identity Soto Zen has developed was hypocritical, and an argument can still be made in that regard. But, after not being inundated with the forms for going on a year, I can appreciate that identity more so, because under a certain light, it’s the bait for the ego that hopefully will unknowingly meet it’s demise.

  2. kinshaku
    kinshaku September 14, 2013 at 11:14 am | |

    Your “religion without belief” comment made me think of Frits Staal’s book ‘Ritual and Mantra’s: Rules without Meaning’ and his observations on Vedic religion. Maybe you should give it a try ;-)

  3. GoCloudRunWater
    GoCloudRunWater September 14, 2013 at 11:45 am | |

    Well done! I feel very understood by this post! Thank you.

  4. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 14, 2013 at 12:13 pm | |

    “While at Tassajara I started to think that maybe the type of Zen Buddhism they practice there could be called a “religion without belief.” They do all the things that religions do, but nobody really believes any of it. Even if a couple people do believe it, there is no importance laid upon belief.”

    You have singled out the difficulty, in my opinion. The actual fact is that there is a shared belief system at Tassajara and most Zen centers in the U.S.A., but because part of that belief system is that “the Tao that can be put in words is not the true Tao”, folks fastidiously avoid putting words to their beliefs. If they do put words to their beliefs, they do so with a shared understanding that what they put into words doesn’t have to fully and accurately express what they believe at the moment, because it’s not about the words.

    Here is the origin of the cliche-ish use of catch-phrases, like: “Practice with that!” “That’s comparing mind!” “Think of it as a practice opportunity!” The folks who use these phrases sincerely believe that there is a reality in the practice of shikantaza that can be alluded to but never made precise, as though that lack of precision were the secret passcode that admits a person into the club of real Zen practice.

    The truth is, that we are always expressing exactly where we are right now, and yet we are always subject to a freedom in the experience of where we are right now, without which we lose the sense entirely. To point only to the freedom is to ignore where we are right now; to point only to the sense of where we are right now is to ignore the necessity of a freedom of experience. We can speak quite precisely about what we believe are the relationships that are involved, and so long as we retain a freedom of experience in the speaking we may answer not only our own need to understand the things we believe but the need of others. It’s all about getting down to what we really believe, understanding that we cannot avoid belief based on thought but instead must learn to exercise the sense of mind to whatever extent is possible to discover what it is we really believe. It’s about that, because our actions will follow from our beliefs whether we will them or not (IM not so H O).

  5. Fred
    Fred September 14, 2013 at 2:13 pm | |

    So, what happens if you question everything?

    If it’s goaless practice, there is no self and the Tao is nameless ( and thoughtless ), what is the function of ritual and chant?

    It is thought that pulls you away from no where to this conditioned self.

    Even the Zen clichés of the ingroup/outgroup cultism sound like
    reaffirmation of ego.

    1. Mipham Dawa
      Mipham Dawa September 14, 2013 at 5:20 pm | |

      Is this reaffirmation of ego, or simply reaffirmation of process? The cliches that Brad mentions may indeed be cliches, but they seem intended to reinforce a process called Zen.

  6. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 14, 2013 at 4:13 pm | |

    Welcome back Brad! Did you get my Nara card? That was from his Flower Puddle series circa 1999.

    The skit, or rather, the atmosphere, reminded me of stuff we’d do at the end of church camp when I was in junior-high. I was famous for farting loudly during (otherwise) silent vespers. Do anything to impress the lay-dees…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FWavjx6vuXI

  7. Fred
    Fred September 14, 2013 at 4:36 pm | |

    My bad, a man of no distinction flows through the world like a hot knife through
    butter.

  8. Fred
    Fred September 14, 2013 at 4:44 pm | |

    Like the fuzz? at the end.

    “‘Mushroom Season’ is a beautiful, fragile and very haunting evocation of an early morning/late evening walk into the valley on the hunt for magic mushrooms, eventually drifting off into dreamy lysergic observations”

    Yeah, the lysergic drift.

  9. Fred
    Fred September 14, 2013 at 4:53 pm | |

    3:05 to 3:35 on the Mushroom Explosion. I could listen to a whole album of
    those kind of riffs.

    Psychedelic reality didn’t suck

  10. Shodo
    Shodo September 14, 2013 at 8:47 pm | |

    Brad said:
    “And yet I keep on going. Because I want to understand this side of Zen better and the only way I can ever hope to understand it is by diving deeply into it. And yet I’m not sure I understand it yet…”
    “…It looks religious. But internally it’s not. This is what I think the atheists are missing out on. By dismissing all religious ritual as essentially ridiculous, a man-made invention with no real cosmic significance, which it is, they miss out on the beneficial qualities of performing those rituals.”

    They’re great books on this…
    Read both, loved them.

    -”Living by Vow: A Practical Introduction to Eight Essential Zen Chants and Texts”
    -”Bringing the Sacred to Life: The Daily Practice of Zen Ritual”

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer September 15, 2013 at 2:33 pm | |

      Shodo,

      When I attended a Dogan Sanga LA sesshin this spring Brad was currently reading and recommending the “Living by Vow” book.

      Cheers.

  11. jas
    jas September 14, 2013 at 9:16 pm | |

    Revealing before Buddha one’s lack of faith and failure to practice
    dissolves the root of these unwholesome actions.
    This is the pure and simple manifestation of true practice,
    of the true mind and body of faith.

  12. jas
    jas September 14, 2013 at 9:20 pm | |

    i would have came, but had to work :(

  13. jas
    jas September 14, 2013 at 9:33 pm | |

    (jason! “yes?”…keep your i on the eight-ball~~~”right, right, right….”)

    Regardless of what anybody says, if you aren’t directly harming others(like throwing acid in someone’s face or something crazy like that…) You are entitled to practice exactly as you see fit to do so.

  14. Fred
    Fred September 15, 2013 at 6:47 am | |

    “Revealing before Buddha one’s lack of faith and failure to practice
    dissolves the root of these unwholesome actions.”

    And where would that Buddha be that one is revealing before other than the
    illusion in your own head about what is and isn’t.

  15. Fred
    Fred September 15, 2013 at 7:02 am | |

    “By dismissing all religious ritual as essentially ridiculous, a man-made invention with no real cosmic significance, which it is, they miss out on the beneficial qualities of performing those rituals”

    Such as ……………
    Beneficial in what way?
    I suppose that to a man of no distinction unopposed or opposed to these rituals
    , they bear no impact.
    But to others chained to their conditioned self yet seeking freedom, they are
    additional obstacles.

  16. Fred
    Fred September 15, 2013 at 7:11 am | |

    Fred said ” Psychedelic reality didn’t suck ”

    Yeah, it sucked as much as any other illusion.

  17. nativewater
    nativewater September 15, 2013 at 10:01 am | |

    I practiced Soto Zen for a number of years, a good part of it with Japanese Teachers. At first I thought my Japanese teachers were inscrutable in a Zen sort of way but after a while it dawned on me that much of the time they were just being Japanese. The Japanese teachers were sticklers for learning to do the chants and rituals just so. This was their main form of instruction, to correct errors in recitation or ritual. There was no real interest in teaching religious theory or shikantaza other than to correct my posture.
    I read Dogen and other theoretical zen stuff on my own.
    It was only after I got some translations of the chants used in the daily services that it dawned on me that there was a good deal of intellectual contradiction between the chants and what I believed to be official Zen dogma. Zen teachers supposedly did not believe that good deeds produced merit which would kick one off the wheel of karma a bit sooner, and yet, at the end of some of the chants there was a device called a transfer of merit by which one transferred the merit of chanting to some designated person or entity. So the Zen people tell you there is no merit to be gained through your actions and then have you chant something and then ask that the merit of this chanting be transferred from yourself to someone else.
    My conclusion on this was that the Japanese in particular and Easterners in general can understand logic and contradiction perfectly well but understand that the world is full of contradictions and perfectly comfortable with that.
    Ritual is an end in itself and practiced because in the practice you proclaim allegiance to the group that practices this particular ritual. By not practicing the ritual as taught you are proclaiming that you are not interested in being part of this particular lineage. Therefore, exact adherence is critical.
    Whether the content of the ritual makes sense or whether the text contradicts some other religious dogma is secondary.
    I suspect that this is why Zen teachers, especially Japanese ones offer a minimum of intellectual instruction. Students being what they are cling to words and look for contradictions so the less the teacher says, the better off the student is. Instead, they teach you how to chant, preferably in Japanese so you don’t understand what you are chanting. After five or ten years of this, you are a member of the club by virtue of knowing all the chants, the special bowing, the banging of the gongs and so on. All that just by way of diverting your intellect from asking stupid questions about what goes on in your head during shikataza or why Soto people face the wall and Rinzai people face the center and so on.

  18. Mumon
    Mumon September 15, 2013 at 10:02 am | |

    Being in Dogen’s lineage, the folks up at Tassajara practice shikantaza style zazen, just as I was taught by Tim McCarthy and Gudo Nishijima. It’s propless meditation. There’s no goal to the practice. There are no mantras to recite. There are no trick questions to answer. Nobody tells you you’re doing it wrong. Nobody asks you to assess the relative success or failure of your meditation afterward the way they often do in other Buddhist lineages. You just do it and then do something else. But you keep on doing this pointless thing and years later sometimes, if you’re lucky, you notice the point to it. Which is precisely that there is no point to it. And, goofy as that sounds, it makes perfect sense.

     あなたは公案座禅は絶対にりかいしないね… Assuming my Japanese is OK.

    And it makes me wonder also about the quality of your 只管打坐.

    I mean… I mean… what you’re saying about 只管打坐 is technically correct here, but this paragraph kind of conflates everything else all together.

    But one thing I’ll mention first: Regarding 公案座禅, I wouldn’t refer to a 公案 as a “trick question.”

  19. Mumon
    Mumon September 15, 2013 at 10:05 am | |

    Oh, I should correct my Japanese:

    ブラードは公案座禅を絶対にりかいしていないね

  20. Shodo
    Shodo September 15, 2013 at 10:58 am | |

    That was a very interesting post nativewater! Liked it a lot. :)

    And I agree with Mumon… Koans aren’t trick questions. And if you have never practiced them, then there is no way anyone can think that your dismissal of them as a method is informed by anything other than your biases…

  21. Mumon
    Mumon September 15, 2013 at 11:09 am | |

    I had to write a rejoinder to that paragraph above here: http://mumonno.blogspot.com/2013/09/is-a-trick-question.html

    Except for that paragraph, it’s actually not a bad post, but I think it’s good to elaborate the ritual part.

  22. Shodo
    Shodo September 15, 2013 at 11:33 am | |

    Brad I have heard you talk about shikantaza in terms of just sitting there in lotus…
    …it is strange to me. Do you really just instruct people in body position and then cast them adrift? I have heard other masters describe something very different:

    Shen-yeng:
    “While you are practicing just sitting, be clear about everything going on in your mind. Whatever you feel, be aware of it, but never abandon the awareness of your whole body sitting there. Shikantaza is not sitting with nothing to do; it is a very demanding practice, requiring diligence as well as alertness. If your practice goes well, you will experience the ‘dropping off’ of sensations and thoughts. You need to stay with it and begin to take the whole environment as your body. Whatever enters the door of your senses becomes one totality, extending from your body to the whole environment. This is silent illumination.”

    By contrast, you seem to advocate sitting there and watching Looney Tunes in your mind for 30 minutes and BANG your practicing the Buddha Way.

    Is my characterization of your view of shikantaza correct?

    1. Alan Sailer
      Alan Sailer September 15, 2013 at 2:43 pm | |

      Shodo,

      I am not speaking for Brad (obviously), but in his books and in person he definitely doesn’t describe sitting shikantaza in the way you present it (watching Looney Tunes…).

      Also, since both Kevin or Brad (both students of the same teacher) are very sparing when they describe how to sit, I have to believe that there is a reason for this.

      Cheers.

  23. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 15, 2013 at 12:25 pm | |

    “Shikantaza is not sitting with nothing to do; it is a very demanding practice, requiring diligence as well as alertness.” -Sheng Yeng

    Actually shikantaza is sitting with nothing to do. But don’t take my word for it.

    “Whatever enters the door of your senses becomes one totality, extending from your body to the whole environment.”

    Try this instead:

    “(Anyone)…knowing and seeing eye as it really is, knowing and seeing material shapes… visual consciousness… impact on the eye as it really is, and knowing, seeing as it really is the experience, whether pleasant, painful, or neither painful nor pleasant, that arises conditioned by impact on the eye, is not attached to the eye nor to material shapes nor to visual consciousness nor to impact on the eye; and that experience, whether pleasant, painful, or neither painful nor pleasant, that arises conditioned by impact on the eye—neither to that is (such a one) attached. …(Such a one’s) physical anxieties decrease, and mental anxieties decrease, and bodily torments… and mental torments… and bodily fevers decrease, and mental fevers decrease. (Such a one) experiences happiness of body and happiness of mind. (repeated for ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind).

    Whatever is the view of what really is, that for (such a one) is right view; whatever is aspiration for what really is, that for (such a one) is right aspiration; whatever is endeavour for what really is, that is for (such a one) right endeavour; whatever is mindfulness of what really is, that is for (such a one) right mindfulness; whatever is concentration on what really is, that is for (such a one) right concentration. And (such a one’s) past acts of body, acts of speech, and mode of livelihood have been well purified.”

    (Majjhima-Nikaya, Pali Text Society volume 3 pg 337-338, ©Pali Text Society)

    We can add an additional three senses (equalibrioception, proprioception, and the sense of gravity) to the “practice” described above, and it’s to these senses that Sheng Yeng refers when he says “never abandon the awareness of your whole body sitting there” (equalibrioception, the sense of location in “there”) and “begin to take the whole environment as your body” (proprioception).

    My practice is in the experience of sense and the freedom of sense that is necessary to breathe in and breathe out. Being in a particular posture or having a particular frame of mind can serve to bring the necessity of breath forward. There are things that can be said about posture and frame of mind, and to me the extension of the mind of friendliness, the mind of compassion, the mind of benevolent joy, and the mind of equanimity in the ten directions to infinity becomes a necessary part of the experience of freedom of sense for a time (“begin to take the whole environment as your body”), and yet the experience of necessity and of action engendered out of necessity without the exercise of volition is at the heart of shikantaza.

    Stop mumbling, Mark.

  24. Shodo
    Shodo September 15, 2013 at 1:23 pm | |

    Mark Foote said:
    “Actually shikantaza is sitting with nothing to do. But don’t take my word for it…”

    So my characterization is correct? If im sitting straight in Lotus posture, while lost in the stories of Valinor, musing on the Two Trees, I’m doing shikantaza…?

    …But if im lost in Valinor musing in my easy chair, that’s *not* shikantaza?

    1. sri_barence
      sri_barence September 15, 2013 at 2:11 pm | |

      Zazen is beyond Valinor and the Two Trees. (I think it is somewhere in Gondor, actually.)

  25. sri_barence
    sri_barence September 15, 2013 at 2:07 pm | |

    Lots of ritual and formal clothing in the Kwan Um school too. Different “ranks” and so forth. But I never get the impression that the teachers take it very seriously. I don’t mind the formal chanting as much anymore. I just think that “this is also practice,” and carry on. I could do without the 108 prostrations every morning during retreats. I have bad knees, so it can be tough to do that many bows.

    I have a low tolerance for cult behavior. If I start to see that at the local Z. C., I’m outta there!

  26. Shodo
    Shodo September 15, 2013 at 5:30 pm | |

    Really…? I could have sworn it was somewhere east of Beleriand. ;)

    Maybe I am asking the wrong question…
    The instruction for shikantaza that I have heard is that you take up one of the zazen postures and just sit, thinking about nothing in particular or focusing on anything, not directing your mind on this or that, and when a thought arises you observe it without grasping on to it or getting lost in it, and when that eventually disappears you return to just sitting like before, thinking about nothing in particular or focusing on anything. Thoughts come and go and you just watch, grasping to none of them. There is no goal to it, but it is not lost or zoned out, it’s an active practice. Observing the movements of the mind.

    Is that incorrect instructions?

  27. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 15, 2013 at 5:56 pm | |

    Sounds like how I learned it Shodo. After a while concepts like “movement of the mind” all go and its just wall without the wall part.

    …”like a shadow…”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=45-6duFvfuI

  28. Mumbles
    Mumbles September 15, 2013 at 6:02 pm | |

    It’s all just metaphor, isn’t it? This…talking about…

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0zrD9JiA_i4

  29. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 15, 2013 at 8:20 pm | |

    Kobun Chino Otogawa had this to say about shikantaza:

    “Shikan taza sounds very strong. Shikan is understood as identical to zaza. Shikan means “pure”, “one”, “only for it”. Ta is a very strong word. It shows moving activity. When you hit, that movement is called ta, so “strike” is ta. Za is the same as in the word zazen, sitting. To express the whole character, shikan taza is actually quite enough, but not enough until you experience it. Shikan taza is sitting for itself. You may say pure sitting for itself, not for something else.

    Shinjin datsu raku is the same as shikan taza. Shinjin is “body/mind”. Body/mind is nothing but our whole life. This cannot be seen in two ways; body/mind is one thing. Datsu is “to refrain”, and “to drop from”. When you are dreaming some terrible dream, and the dream is cut off, that is called datsu. When you get rid of that dream, that also is called datsu. When you have a sword, the action of pulling a sword from its sheath is called datsu. So datsu has a very strong meaning of freeing from something. Another way to express it is : to have conquered something which hindered your existence, like attachments, delusions, or misunderstandings. Zazen itself is cutting off those conditions. ”

    (that’s from Jikoji’s site, here.

    If you find body/mind as one thing, you have only found where you are at this moment. When you find where you are at this moment, you will lose where you are at this moment unless you allow the sense of where you to shift and move, to have a freedom. This is how we fall asleep. This is how we wake up.

    Any posture that is held for a period of time can allow for the observation of reciprocal activity related to pitch, yaw, and roll as a matter of necessity in the relaxed movement of breath. I find pitch, yaw, and roll is actually present in the experience of location itself, along with the necessity of a freedom of sense. When I realize the necessity of a freedom of sense, I lose the doer, yet it’s the necessity and not the realization that acts.

  30. buddy
    buddy September 15, 2013 at 9:19 pm | |

    Shodo, that’s pretty much how I was taught to do shikantaza, and how I’ve heard Brad describe it as well. The one thing I would add is a helpful thing to do when you zone out or get caught up in thinking, which is simply to open up to the posture (correcting it if necessary), breath or whatever grounds you in the present reality, then to return to just sitting. It was something of a revelation to me when I first began the practice to see that in just sitting there a wide open awareness just happens without any effort, except that of not pursuing thinking.

    1. Shodo
      Shodo September 16, 2013 at 7:23 am | |

      Buddy said:
      “… and how I’ve heard Brad describe it as well.”

      Well then that is good!
      Every time I have heard him describe it on his page it’s been so stark I was left with the impression that it’s simply a process of physical posture, with no instructions at all about what one is supposed to do with the mind…. making a novice think that as long as they are sitting straight-backed in Lotus pose then whatever was going on in the mind was immaterial.

  31. nativewater
    nativewater September 16, 2013 at 8:41 am | |

    I agree with buddy, to maintain your posture, you have to maintain a presence of mind. I noticed that whenever my mind went off somewhere for a long stroll, my posture would slide as well. When I notice that, I correct my posture and my mind comes back to the present as well.
    My first teacher gave me this book to read on the topic and it is a good one:
    Opening the Hand of Thought: Foundations of Zen Buddhist Practice by Kosho Uchiyama
    Ultimately, I realized that shikantaza is not an adversarial relationship. Shikantaza is your friend. When you practice shikantaza your mind will eventually settle down. It doesn’t really matter if you’re preoccupied with some task you have to get to. If you just sit, your mind will settle down sooner or later. The key is to sit and not judge the quality of your sitting.
    You also have to realize that when you sit, it is not just you sitting to develop some sort of ability to have a tranquil mind. Sitting is beyond you as an individual. You are an instrument of a larger universe. When you sit, you are sitting because you can, not because you have to. Sitting is a gift available to humans and we use this gift because the use of this gift benefits all beings. When you sit, you honor the bodhisattva vow you made to save all beings.

  32. buddy
    buddy September 16, 2013 at 9:00 am | |

    Shodo, I’ve read Brad be that vague as well. And there is some truth in saying , as long as they are sitting straight-backed in Lotus pose then whatever was going on in the mind was immaterial.’ But his chapter ’4 Points of Zazen’ in ‘Shut up and Sit Down’ has some really clear and helpful instructions and explanations. And at some point on this blog he even conceded that following the breath for brief periods could be helpful in returning from distraction.

    nativewater: Yes, ‘Opening the Hand of Thought’ is a great book.

    ‘In short, doing zazen is to stop doing anything, to face the wall, and to sit, just being yourself that is only the Self. While doing zazen we should refrain from doing anything, yet, being human, we begin to think; we engage in a dialogue with the thoughts in our minds. “I should have sold it that time; no, I should have bought it,” or, “I should have waited for a while.”

    If you are a stockbroker you will think like this. If you are a young lover, you may find that your girlfriend inevitably appears all the time. If you are a mother-in-law who doesn’t get along with your daughter-in-law, you will think only of your son’s wife. Whatever situation you are involved, thoughts will arise of their own accord while you are doing zazen.

    Once you realize that you are thinking when you are supposed to be doing nothing, and return to zazen, the thoughts which appeared as clearly before you as if they were pictures on the T.V. screen, disappear as suddenly as if you had switched off the T.V. Only the wall is left in front of you.

    For an instant… this is it. This is zazen. Yet again thoughts arise by themselves. Again you return to zazen and they disappear. We simply repeat this; this is called kakusoku (awareness of Reality). The most important point is to repeat this kakusoku billions of times. This is how we should practice zazen.

    If we practice in this way we cannot help but realize that our thoughts are really nothing but secretions of the brain. Just as our salivary glands secrete saliva, or as our stomachs secrete gastric juices, so our thoughts are nothing but secretions of the brain.’ -Uchiyama

  33. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote September 16, 2013 at 10:09 am | |

    Ok, take Uchiyama’s word for it; of course, he says “doing zazen is to stop doing anything” and I say “shikantaza is sitting with nothing to do”.

    I haven’t sat for 43 days of 14 50-minute periods like Uchiyama. I remember being really struck by Uchiyama’s description of the years it took him to get over his attraction to a woman; he just didn’t feed the attraction and over time it seemed to leave. Uchiyama I think gave his life in service, to his teacher and to his society (and ours). Having said that, in my brief 40 minutes in the morning and maybe 30 at night in the lotus, my concern is closer to Kobun’s description, to sit for the sake of sitting. I’m not concerned with doing something about my posture, which is not picture-perfect (let me say). I’m not concerned with doing something with my mind, with returning to anything. Get it?- doing nothing.

    You could ask yourself, does doing nothing mean straightening your posture? Does doing nothing mean returning to something from thought? What does just sitting mean, and who is it that keeps going in and out through the holes in your face?

    Uchiyama needed three shots of whiskey at night to get the feeling back in his legs- I can relate to that, I am still learning how to keep the feeling in my legs after 40 minutes, much less 43 days like Uchiyama did with the gang at Antaiji when Kodo Sawaki passed away.

  34. A Different Daniel
    A Different Daniel September 16, 2013 at 10:50 am | |

    You keep coming back to Tassajara eventhough parts of it come off as silly or cult-y, and you keep coming back to the cushion to sit and stare at a wall for 20-40-60 minutes at a time with no point. Hmmmm….

  35. buddy
    buddy September 16, 2013 at 12:35 pm | |

    ‘I’m not concerned with doing something with my mind, with returning to anything. Get it?- doing nothing. ‘ The thing is, Mark, that any seemingly extraneous mental activity- thinking, daydreaming, planning etc- that may go on during zazen is actually doing something, right? These thoughts may come out of nowhere, but for them to be sustained we have to give them some kind of energy. So to truly do nothing we have to at least stop engaging those thoughts. Whether one chooses to take that energy to focus on something to return to, or just remove it from the pursuit of thought, is a matter of technique. At any rate i try not to get too hung up on the ‘doing nothing’ side anyway- the essence of shikantaza is ‘do nothing except sitting’ or ‘just sitting’ or ‘sit!’.

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