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Shikantanza
Answer
3/23/09 10:52 PM
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

Hi all,

I've been practicing Shikantaza on and off for about 6-8 months (the last 6-8 months) before more recently progressing to vipassana. I saw Shikantza as a kind of insight practice which I picked up after reading Hardcore Zen. After reading a few other books notably opening the hand of thought I took to it quite a bit.

It took me a long time to come to insight practice, Shikantza being the main doorway.

I'm about half way throught reading MTCTB. Also started to read a state of mind called beautiful by Sayadaw Pandita before that.

Needless to say that although I've only been doing mahasi style vipassana for two weeks it is beneficial from the get go to notice the three characteristics.

My question is does anyone still do Shikantanza after having mastered mahasi style practice. Shikantaza seemed to me a somewhat balance between insight and concentration practice. What benefit would it have in terms of balancing out the "harsh" aspects of vipassana. Does just sitting (shikantaza) aid in being balanced when one is a little "disconcerted" or "off balance" after glimpsing through the illusions of regular perceivement or is it more beneficial to do mettha practice instead.

Also, along in the scale of things, where would Shikantaza sit in people's opinions.

Mettha.

Putthajanna

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/24/09 4:56 AM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Putthajanna,

I practiced (or attempted to practice) Shikantaza for a few years before I started practicing vipassana. I didn't make much progress, aside from gaining a fair amount of stability of mind. It's quite possible that I just wasn't doing it right. Since Skikantaza means, "just sitting," there's a tendency to interpret that as "just sitting around," in sort of a half-baked slacker sort of way. This is not at all the original intention. Gerry Shishen Wick Roshi said in a Buddhist Geeks podcast episode that it really means, "JUST sitting." I think the distinction is worth noting. In this sense, Shikantaza and be quite rigorous and harsh. It's not easy to JUST sit while aches and pains and bad moods are pelting you with maximum intensity. In that case, I think that samatha or metta practice would probably be better if one needs to "cool down" after an intense period of practice.

Part of what separates Shikantaza from Theravada Vipassana is that they come from very different cultural backgrounds. Dogen (who coined Shikantaza, as far as I know) was of the "You're already enlightened" school, and "just sitting" was both the vehicle to and representation of enlightenment -- which is paradoxical in a sense. It's as if "just sitting" could be interpreted as "just being Buddha", but I could be wrong here. Vipassana uses more of a developmental model, as I'm sure you're aware of. You're not enlightened until you do what needs to be done in a more or less systematic way. This is in pretty stark contrast to the Soto Zen school.

I think that Shikantaza is a great practice, and I think that people can get enlightened by doing it. Vipassana just works better for some people, and it's probably a temperament thing. It certainly works better for me.

Jackson

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/24/09 7:05 AM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Hi Putthajanna,
I'm a Soto Zen priest (but of a decidedly unorthodox and eclectic type), so I'd like to respond to your question.

The first thing to know about Zen is that it's deceptively simple. That is, Zen is actually much more complex than it seems to be. You can read Brad Warner and think you know what he's talking about. But if you meet Brad (as I have) you will see the most important aspect of Zen training: the Teacher.

So much of Zen -- as indicated but not explicitly stated in the many Zen stories -- depends on the presence and actions of a Teacher of some accomplishment. A real Zen Teacher (not just someone with a title) will size up each student and give a Teaching (sometimes without words) that is geared to the needs of that student.

Shikantaza is not a beginner's practice. One should begin with concentration on the breath. When this is stable, one can move on to other concentration practices. A real Zen Teacher will even discuss with you the energy sensations which should accompany successful concentration practices, even though almost nothing in written Zen ever talks about such phenomena.

Shikantaza is actually an inquiry or wisdom practice. Characterizing it as "just sitting" is exactly as misleading as Dogen's statement that zazen is "practice-realization." When one of Dogen's students pressed him to reconcile that statement with the Buddha's Teaching of Bodhi , Dogen relented a bit and said "Some will, some won't."

Did that help?

Gozen

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/24/09 7:38 AM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
dont make it shikantanza vs. vipassana - just add em both to your repertoire! ultimately its not about what technique you use but is straight between you and reality directly. the three characteristics can only get you so far - it'll be your *willingness* to engage fully with them that gets you the rest of the way. the open inclusive mind of shikantanza will only get you so far - it'll be your *willingness* to engage with what you're experiencing at this moment, now, now, and now, that will get you the rest of the way.

another way of looking at is is the just-sitting kind of techniques (or 'non-techniques') work best in equanimity stage. from that perspective, you'd be better off building a strong foundation of concentration and 3 characteristics-style insight first to make sure you're not floundering, then move on to a style thats more like shikantanza or dzogchen. of course, the problem with this approach is that it can be hard to know where on the maps you are in real-time.. but that wondering could be just one more thing to note/notice as sensations that are themselves dripping with potential for awakening into. and anyway, even though its a trial and error process, your intuition about what to do in this very moment will improve on its own over time and practice. trust it/trust yourself.

my final point is it can be pretty hard to know in advance how one is supposed to go about the thing, possibly even harder than just doing the thing itself. so just go for it mang! and good luck.

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/24/09 7:51 AM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Gozen,

Thanks for letting the cat out of the bag. It's great to get an insider's perspective on Zen and how the teacher student relationship unfolds in practice.

If the Zen teacher usually teaches the student to first build strong concentration, why don't we hear this? The Pop-Soto Zen perspective seems to really play up Shikantaza as if it is THE way to do Zen. It starts to sound overly egalitarian and humanistic, which perhaps stems from the fact that the Zen culture in America stemmed from the reception of Zen by the Boomer generation (no disrespect to Boomers). This has to be why Shikantaza is so easily misunderstood (or at least part of the picture).

Thanks again,

Jackson

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/24/09 7:54 AM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
I completely agree. It's like you have to get the ball rolling some how, and technique by which one gets the thing moving varies from tradition to tradition. Once it gets going strong enough, to the point where it starts to go on it's own, a "just sitting", Dzogchen, or Choiceless Awareness type of practice works really well.

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/24/09 9:46 AM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Hi Jackson,
To answer your question frankly, I have to let an even BIGGER cat out of the bag: Since Zen is "deceptively simple" it is also easy to fake. How hard is it to get "certified" as a Zen "teacher" by another "teacher" who himself is faking it? Not hard at all! Just learn the "act" according to Soto Shu (the "home office" in Japan) and you're in. Soto Shu only verifies that an applicant has a "certified" sponsoring priest and knows how to do the chants, make the bows, and do the other ceremonial crap.

I know tons of Zen "teachers" who, in Theravadin terms, do not even have Stream-Entry. But they know how to "act Zen." They wear the robes, make gnomic pronouncements, and fool lots of people.

Sad, very sad.

Gozen

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/24/09 9:59 AM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
That is really sad, and also pretty infuriating if I'm honest.

I really appreciate you bringing this information to the DhO. I learned quite a bit about this from Stuart Lachs, both from his essays (found in the 'Zen and West' page under 'The Big Issues') and via personal communication with him. Wild stuff.

We certainly don't want to throw the Zen-baby out with the bath water, as this stuff happens in every tradition (I'm sure there are some teachers at IMS that haven't gotten very far). Mastery of a meditative discipline doesn't always come in to play when deciding who should be a teacher, which only perpetuates the growth of the "mushroom culture." Just think, if these master actors took the energy they're wasting on appearances and used it to actually practice the techniques, we'd have a lot more enlightened teachers. I'm just saying...

Jackson

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/24/09 10:19 AM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Gozen, thanks for shedding light on this. It is disappointing, but at the same time it's inspiring and heartening to know that there are people on this site who are breaking the mold and coming clean about the mushroom culture.

I was a bit naive in thinking that anyone who had a title like Master, Arahat, etc. had been thoroughly examined and found worthy of the name, but that's just ignorance due to my relatively recent exposure to any of this.

I guess the old standby is still the route to take: "question everything".

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/24/09 10:44 AM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Stuart Lachs is a very straight-up Zen guy. He's been around for so long, and knows so many Zen folks in the USA going all the way back to Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, that you can trust what he says.

BTW, Stuart and Hokai are old friends from way back.

Gozen

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/24/09 1:07 PM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Thanks for your post Greco, I agree completely.

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/24/09 1:20 PM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Just to chip in: the disappointment and/or anger is proportional to our rather naive expectations that a huge archaic institution should have sophisticated methods of quality control and supervision, just because it's "spiritual". Most of institutional spirituality boils down to mere membership religiosity with it's own purpose and function and raison d'etre.

As to shikantaza, like advanced mahamudra and other "naked" meditations, it's both simple and extremely sophisticated. Being such, it is strongly dependent on the context being taught in for additional supportive training (traditionally, this is a monastery or a close relationship to the teacher's household where one learns through being embedded in an awareness prompting situation).

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/24/09 11:40 PM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Thanks. I will keep this in mind as it is important.

I am in Sydney, Australia hence not replying. There's a big time difference.

Sorry a little tired at the moment to reply more fully as I have not fully digested everything.
It is interesting to understand that zen training is more in depth and that a teacher student relationship is essential. Unfortunately there are no soto-zen teachers in OZ.

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/25/09 6:44 PM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Author: garyrh

Gozen; How is it you are determining the teachers stage? What are you looking for? Maybe it is a gut feeling.

BTW I am not questioning your judgement here, just curious what you look for.

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/25/09 7:22 PM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Dear Putthajana: check out Subhaana at http://www.szc.org.au/teachers.html. She is a lineaged Zen master and lineaged insight teacher: one of the few.

I agree: get a very strong foundation in the sensations that make up your reality, and when that is really good and powerful, let them show themselves just as they are. As some Zen dude said: Don't just sit there like an idiot! ;)

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/25/09 7:37 PM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Hi Gary,
I assess a teacher's stage by their public teaching and, in cases where this has been possible, in private communication with me (especially face to face).

Quite a few Zen teachers simply repeat what they've read or heard others say (and this is not true of Zen only, of course). And then they add a little something in their own words. However, to borrow an old saying: "Some of what they say is true and original. Unfortunately, the parts that are true are not original, and the parts that are original aren't true."

I'm giving my own judgment here. I don't exepct anyone to believe something simply because I said it. You must engage the practices to the point of Awakening. Then you'll see for yourself.

Gozen

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/28/09 5:10 PM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Well seeing that my old buddy Hokai jumped in, and Jackson and Gozan are already in I will add my 2 cents worth.
Thank you both Jackson and Gozan for your kind words. I am glad to hear
that my papers and our private discussions were appreciated and helpful. It was a two way street in terms appreciation in both cases.

It is unfortunate but as Hokai and others point out, titles definitely do not mean what sectarian propaganda would like you to believe. Zen, which I know best, almost always talks about their titled people and empowering mechanisms in the most idealistic terms. This almost always gives more authority to its leaders than is called for. This also almost always plays funny tricks with the leader’s minds and all too often wrecks them. I do not pick these words lightly.

This does not mean “to throw the baby out with the bath water.” But it does mean to be careful before choosing a teacher, that the teacher may know some more than you about
some teachings, methods, what have you, but it does not mean that he/she is fully enlightened, always comes form the absolute, is an expert on most every thing, or is above question. Don’t buy the sectarian rhetoric because it is self serving. That said a teacher can be helpful as can practicing with others.

continue

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/28/09 5:13 PM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
However, a teacher can also be a problem. Because his problems may be masked behind a title or crazy wisdom or teachings or enlightenment or beyond your understanding,…. his problems can be quite harmful to his followers. This can happen in gross ways which people hear about under the banner of scandal. But this can also happen in subtler ways where people are under mined in their own belief in themselves and abilities, led astray by odd teachings and so on. Recently I spoke with an old Zen friend of thirty five years.
This person could not imagine doing a seven retreat alone and seemed baffled where to begin or how to do it. To my mind, after thirty five years and many group retreats this should not be the case. I think his teachers have done him a dis-service.

Though a teacher can be helpful, as can a group, I do not think it is mandatory. It seems here people have many kalyana mitra, spiritual friends. This is especially so for more experienced people. Just as one example, Chinul the great revitalizer of Korean Zen in the 12th century could not find a teacher to his liking. He formed a small group with fellow monks to practice together for three years but that fell apart. Chinul continued on his own and had three major awakenings all without a teacher. His first enlightenment occurred while reading the Platform Sutra, “The self nature of suchness gives rise to thoughts. But even though the six sense-faculties see, hear, sense, and know, it is not tainted by the myriad of images. The true nature is constantly free and self-reliant.” His other awakenings were connected to the Avatamsaka Sutra.
continue

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/28/09 5:16 PM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Now to road maps. Road maps I believe can be helpful or a hindrance. I am now only speaking in the Chan/Zen context, especially so in doing hua-tou or koan practice, granted not he most popular methods on this board.. Road maps imply a kind of linear progression. One goes from A to E passing through B,C, and D in order. For better or worse, that is not the way these practices work. Further, in doing the hua-tou practice one concentrates on raising the doubt while forgetting the self. If one is wondering where on the map they are, clearly they are not forgetting the self or concentrating on the hua-tou and the doubt. They also would constantly be judging their progress. But the process does not work in a linear fashion. There are discrete jumps and one does not know what will hapeen in the next moment. Paying attention to the map in this case is like paying attention to the finger and not the moon. Paying attention to a map in hua-tou practice would in my opinion be a waste of time and a big hindrance.

Sorry this post is in three parts- a bit long.

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/28/09 10:49 PM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Thanks Daniel.

I had heard about Subhaana but didn't realise she was that well trained. I'll keep in mind about her.

Recently I learnt of a Burmese temple from a friend. They teach Mahasi style meditation and the abbot there seems the real deal although I have been taught by him only twice so far. I think the centre is linked to the Melbourne Burmese Mahasi meditation centre where the junior panditarama sayadaw is.

For the benefit of any other people on here from Sydney Australia the place is panditarama - http://www.panditaramasydney.org/ ,

Not flash by any means but definitely the real deal. It's in a drab surburb, near industrial and business district. Looks like a average house with no signs of a temple. Meditation hall is not flash by any means and neither is the accomodation. But unlike some much more elaborate big temples the practice is direct and they do Mahasi retreats there (2 one day retreats a month and other longer retreats). Sometime the only person at the one day retreat is you!! And you have all the access to the abbot you want and can ask as many questions as need be. His English is not western but communication is not a problem.

As an aside, been focussing on the sensations from the body compared to thoughts. It's easy to get caught up in the content which is what the mind seems to do when not mindful or paying attention.

Mettha,

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/29/09 2:31 AM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
In both Rinzai and Soto Zen students are always first instructed to build some level of concentration before changing to Chan methods: shakantaza, koans, hua-tou, or silent illumination. I believe some Chinese people begin with chanting the Buddha's name silently because they are used to doing this. Most all western people start with some form of breadth meditation, either
watching or counting the breadth. I guess from reading Chan/Zen texts this is not clearly mentioned, but around Zen centers it is common knowledge.

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/29/09 5:33 AM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
That's good to hear!

It does seem like the classic Zen texts I've read don't start out with preliminary practices, but it's probably because that stuff would have already been understood by the intended audience. Why write down what is already common knowledge? I guess that's where some good exegesis might come in to play. Historical context should never be overlooked, otherwise we'd end up with a Buddhism not unlike mega-church Christianity (health and wealth! Name it and claim it!).

RE: Shikantanza
Answer
3/29/09 7:29 AM as a reply to Glen Robert Stevens.
Classic Chan/Zen texts don't really talk about methods at all. Talking of methods was pretty much avoided because that gave a ring of "gradualism" and Chan was the sect of " instantaneous" enlightenment. Gradualism was looked down on.

Actually classical Chan texts were meant to replace the sutras as being the highest form of Buddhist writing. In so doing it reinforced the claim of Chan as being the highest and truest form of all Buddhist sects. It implied that the Chan masters were living Buddhas, and Chinese at that.