Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Examples: Monday, today, last week, Mar 26, 3/26/04
Welcome home! Please contact lincoln@newbuddhist.com if you have any difficulty logging in or using the site. New registrations must be manually approved which may take up to 48 hours. Can't log in? Try clearing your browser's cookies.

Shikantaza: easier said than done

zenguitarzenguitar Bad BuddhistNew England Veteran

Greetings, virtuous Sangha. Sorry if this has been covered before, but I am looking for some practical meditation advice. I am having the hardest time trying to do a form of Zen meditation called shikantaza, that is, “just sitting.” This is supposed to be objectless meditation, where you simply sit and let thoughts come and go without holding on to them (or resisting them). Now I can understand meditating upon the breath, or upon any number of bodily sensations, but this objectless stuff is seemingly beyond me. Without having an anchor for my attention, my mind tends to run riot, and the meditation session just seems like a waste of time. The only fruitful part is when I count my breath a few times to bring the three ring circus in my mind to a halt. But that is anapanasati, not shikantaza (right?).

Does anyone have any practical advice on how to practice this so-simple-yet-so-difficult form of meditation correctly?

«1

Comments

  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited September 2014

    Shikantaza is Zazen, which is basically just Anapanasati without using an anchor (the breath). You can start with Anapanasati until you feel focused, and then let go of the breath and rest in pure awareness. That's a useful way of moving from Anapanasati into Shikantaza. If you have trouble, you can just stick with Anapanasati... it's not necessary to do Shikantaza instead.

    Treeleaf is an online Soto Zen Sangha, but also a forum; you could try asking the question there and likely be answered by one or more teachers/priests. There are also "sit-a-long" videos there that teach proper Shikantaza technique.

    zenguitar
  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited September 2014

    Also your mind running riot is perfectly okay, so long as you're not running riot with it... remain the awareness that notices everything arising and passing, attaching to nothing, just sitting and watching. When we sit, we're "putting the small self out of a job", as someone recently put it.

    As much as it seems to be a waste, it's not. Meditation isn't actually about trying to stay with an object (like the breath). That's just an anchor to focus upon that makes it easier. It's about not attaching to all the thoughts, feelings and sensations that are constantly arising as products of the mind. It's about observing the nature of mind. Whether Anapanasati or Shikantaza, the real point is watching and not doing.

    zenguitarTreeLuvr87misecmisc1
  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @zenguitar‌ Here's the thread that has links to all the sit-a-long videos (second post), and you can get through them faster if you don't actually sit-a-long and are using them instead for their information content: http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showthread.php?7706-Zazen-for-Beginners-INTRODUCTION

    zenguitar
  • My advice would be to make the focus on the breath or body part softer or name the mind arisings as you sit without objective in mind. :orange: .

    Chazzenguitar
  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @how said:
    Shikantaza is just not easy to do

    I think it may be easier if it occurs by accident! :D When I first took up Buddhist meditation, "mindfulness of breathing" (Anapanasati) was the technique most recommended for beginners, and so that's what I practiced. After some time I found that I didn't need the breath, so I let it go. I'm not sure how difficult Shikantaza is for beginners because I didn't start with it, but doing Anapanasati first to build concentration may be the most "natural" way to end up at Shikantaza (either as-planned or accidentally).

  • With Shikantaza, we differentiate concentration from meditation.

    I think this is the crux.

    How to let go of this tightening? In a way the 'just sit' is a concentration or tightening around a regular practice. There is the similarity.

    Unless active, doing, transforming . . . what is happening?

    What is happening is 'just sitting'.

    You might not be meditating when you sit but sitting still can be practiced . . .

    :scratch: .

  • @AldrisTorvalds said:
    I think it may be easier if it occurs by accident! :D When I first took up Buddhist meditation, "mindfulness of breathing" (Anapanasati) was the technique most recommended for beginners, and so that's what I practiced. After some time I found that I didn't need the breath, so I let it go. I'm not sure how difficult Shikantaza is for beginners because I didn't start with it, but doing Anapanasati first to build concentration may be the most "natural" way to end up at Shikantaza (either as-planned or accidentally).

    @AldrisTorvalds

    Not that I disagree with what you say but I might add...

    Easier is not always the best path for everyone.
    A good meditation instructor shapes their instruction accordingly.
    Good luck in trying to do that over the net.

    There may also be as many different representations of Shikan taza as there are Shikan taza practitioners. I think the practice is better measured by the fruit that it produces than by some hoped for consistency of structure or whatever may seem to be easiest.

    Many folks coming for Zazen instruction are anapanasati practitioners who are looking for something more than what they have. Often they are just folks coming up against something just a bit more scary within themselves than they were willing to face. Most will eventually arrive again at the same place of fear with whatever new practice they choose. Practice after practice will follow until they eventually face that fear or they just retreat to something less challenging..

    or perhaps something easier

    zenguitar
  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited September 2014

    I'm glad to not be a teacher at this point in my life. Maybe in another 10 years, or 20. :)  

    I also think fruit (consequence/result) is the correct measurement, but many people don't give their practice time to grow, and the amount of time and effort will vary from person to person. Anyone trying for a quick fix is bound to only dip their toes in the water.

    I hadn't heard of this phenomenon of Anapanasati practitioners seeking out Zazen, and I wonder what they were doing to think it wasn't enough. Maybe it goes back to the time issue. I don't think either meditation technique is necessarily better than the other.

  • Stick with anchoring eg. anapanasati until the mind is well trained. The trained ox(mind) no longer need to be tied up(anchored).
    That training takes time and effort - don't rush.

    Toraldrisseeker242zenguitar
  • howhow Veteran
    edited September 2014

    I am not sure that you can actually practice without that being your teaching
    &
    somewhere an anapanasati instructor is undoubtedly being sought out by unhappy former zen students.

  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    As @AldrisTorvalds pointed out, doesn't Shikantaza sort of happen involuntarily while we meditate, the second we float off away from our breathing and make of our fleeting thoughts the focus of our sitting practice?
    How to tell the difference between just getting carried away by one's thoughts and aware Shikantaza practice?
    Sorry, @how, it's not still quite clear to me.
    Reminds me of the contemplation of thought as described in DN ii314-15 and MN i62.
    Sorry I can't copy the links. I'm on the cellphone.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @zenguitar said:

    The only fruitful part is when I count my breath a few times to bring the three ring circus in my mind to a halt. But that is anapanasati, not shikantaza (right?).

    I think returning to the breath when needed makes sense. Or you can just stick with mind being a riot, and try to see it clearly - eventually it will calm down of it's own accord.
    I don't know what the recommended approach is with shikantaza though.

    Toraldris
  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    Aware observance of mind in riot could not be Shikantaza?

  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @DhammaDragon said:
    As AldrisTorvalds pointed out, doesn't Shikantaza sort of happen involuntarily while we meditate, the second we float off away from our breathing and make of our fleeting thoughts the focus of our sitting practice?

    Well the floating off isn't Shikantaza. Someone recently thought that Shikantaza was like daydreaming, and I don't want to confuse anyone. ;) In Anapanasati we bring ourselves back to the breath -- in Shikantaza we bring ourselves back to pure awareness.

    In both cases the "bringing back" strengthens our concentration, which is why there's no such thing as bad meditation (so long as we're doing it correctly). Even if we're constantly drifting off and having to return to the breath/awareness, it's like exercising.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @DhammaDragon said:
    Aware observance of mind in riot could not be Shikantaza?

    It probably is from what I can gather. I wasn't sure whether shikantaza "allows" for using the breath as an anchor when the sea is rough, or whether the focus is on maintaining a general mindfulness or awareness as in vipassana.

    Buddhadragon
  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @SpinyNorman said:
    It probably is from what I can gather. I wasn't sure whether shikantaza "allows" for using the breath as an anchor when the sea is rough, or whether the focus is on maintaining a general mindfulness or awareness as in vipassana.

    I think the method the teachers at Treeleaf recommend is to count the in and out breaths a few times if you have to, and then return to "just sitting" (bare/pure awareness).

    lobster
  • Yes, I sometimes find taking a few deep breaths to be helpful. Re-establishing mindfulness in the body.

    Toraldris
  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran

    Yes, diaphragm-deep breaths! :D  

  • @pegembara said:

    According to Master Shengyen, "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.

    It sounds very similar to developing the quality of vipassana. Maintaining clarity.

  • Exactly. The Buddha taught meditation but the later teachers started calling them samatha, vipassana, zazen etc. You need to go back to the suttas to see what the Buddha actually taught.

    bookwormBuddhadragon
  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited September 2014

    As far as I can tell from the suttas it's basically samatha / vipassana. Tranquillity and insight, calm and clarity, relaxed and alert. Paired qualities, 2 sides of the same coin.

    lobsterbookwormChaz
  • And another Zen forum here:
    http://www.zenforuminternational.org/

  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    My advice would be to not start with shikantaza as it's generally considered a more advanced practice. Many Soto teachers start people out with breath counting (susokukan) or breath following (zuisokukan). And once they become somewhat experienced in doing those, then they are moved on to shikantaza.

    But yes, typical breath following is not shikantaza, it's zuisokukan. Zuisokukan is a legitimate traditional soto zen practice. One should not harbor reservations about doing zuisokukan. It's a very good practice! :)

  • @seeker242 said:
    My advice would be to not start with shikantaza as it's generally considered a more advanced practice. Many Soto teachers start people out with breath counting (susokukan) or breath following (zuisokukan). And once they become somewhat experienced in doing those, then they are moved on to shikantaza.

    That's interesting. It's similar to samatha/vipassana, where a calm mind is generally seen as the basis for clarity. Though approaches vary!

  • zenguitarzenguitar Bad Buddhist New England Veteran

    Thank you everyone for the insightful comments. Actually I have been doing the anapanasati meditation for years--not that I'm good at that either. Since I am most intrigued by Zen, I figure I should be doing some form of zazen. But koan study is out, since I have no teacher, so shikantaza is I think all that's left!

    Yes, I should probably check out those videos and also Treeleaf. Thanks again!

  • bookwormbookworm U.S.A. Veteran

    How do the jhanas fit in shikantaza, if at all?

  • seeker242seeker242 Zen Florida, USA Veteran

    @zenguitar said:
    Thank you everyone for the insightful comments. Actually I have been doing the anapanasati meditation for years--not that I'm good at that either. Since I am most intrigued by Zen, I figure I should be doing some form of zazen. But koan study is out, since I have no teacher, so shikantaza is I think all that's left!

    Yes, I should probably check out those videos and also Treeleaf. Thanks again!

    I would say shikantaza is one form of zazen, but not the only one. Simple breath following is zazen too :) There is another option that is similar to koan, but not koan. Which is Hua Tou. A teacher is not so essential with Hua Tou as it is with Koan. Hua Tou can be practiced with or without a teacher. Hua Tou is a popular practice in Chinese zen and Korean zen.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hua_Tou

    zenguitar
  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @AldrisTorvalds said:
    I think the method the teachers at Treeleaf recommend is to count the in and out breaths a few times if you have to, and then return to "just sitting" (bare/pure awareness).

    A lot of teachers in the Tibetan traditions teach similarly.

    If I find it difficult to remain settled, I start counting out breaths for a while until a feel more settled and then return to less conceptual practice. Sometimes I'll count 1,2,3, etc for awhile and then switch to visualising the numbers to ease out of the inner dialog of counting.

    There's other methods, too, such as using pure and impure objects, and simple visualizations. I learned those techniques from a booklet on Shamatha my Guru wrote for his students, along with a little guidance from an instructor. The idea behind teaching these techniques was to introduce the student to methods employed in Vipassyana and analytical meditation.

  • Hey zenguitar practice mindfully seeing every day which means just sit & see an abject in your room or where ever you are, & really look at it every tiny detail..Also practice seeing everything in the room at the same time which means seeing everything above below & to the sides of you, & try to centralise your view point..Switch between the two & also scan the room slowly with your eyes slowly, moving from one object to another at random....Now at first & for a long time you will name what you see in your mind, but keep practising & you will eventually be able to scan/see/look with a clear mind without naming the object or objects....That is the practice for when your laid there at night meditating, & the practice will help you see/look with your eyes shut into the darkness..You will have to count your breaths or feel your body to start with, but after a lot of practice you will be able to just lay there & mindfully see/look....The reason this is a great way to meditate is because when you get good at looking/seeing through your eye lids, you will be in a state of "waiting" to see what you may see..While your waiting you can't be thinking, & then you should see patterns forming before your eyes....It's at that point you can start concentrating on the patterns, & so can get into a very deep meditative state..It takes a lot of daily practice until you get the knack, but eventually you can walk around in a state of just seeing/looking with a completely clear mind..Even in the supermarket etc, stop every once in a while & see/look at everything all at once..Same with listening to the silence, practice centralising your hearing & try to hear equally in both ears. :-)

  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @bookworm said:
    How do the jhanas fit in shikantaza, if at all?

    They're different forms of meditation, so I'm not sure I get the "fit in" part. You can do both Shikantaza and Jhana if you want...

  • bookwormbookworm U.S.A. Veteran

    I'm making Anapanasati my life long practice, I did try Shikantaza for the first time once for about maybe 30 minutes, i was staring at my wall, with my eyes downcast, and, i'm not sure what happened exactly, there was maybe a few seconds of clear awareness, at least i think it was, that caused me to be taken aback, i had a kind of a panic attack, my eyes were wide open and my mouth was agape, and my heart started to race, it was like i couldn't process anything, i couldn't really recognize my surroundings, like i was seeing my room for the first time, it was an interesting experience.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @how said:

    Getting carried away by ones thoughts (for example) is only an ego based habit of focusing on one sense gate to the obscuration of all the others, whereas to meditatively remain present with all the other sense gate data is to stop feeding that particular ego habit.

    True, though an obsession with the mind gate is a strong habit for most of us. I think that's why the breath is popular, it draws attention into the body and away from the mind - at least for that initial period of calming the mind.

    zenguitarChaz
  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    @bookworm said:
    I'm making Anapanasati my life long practice, I did try Shikantaza for the first time once for about maybe 30 minutes, i was staring at my wall, with my eyes downcast, and, i'm not sure what happened exactly, there was maybe a few seconds of clear awareness, at least i think it was, that caused me to be taken aback, i had a kind of a panic attack, my eyes were wide open and my mouth was agape, and my heart started to race, it was like i couldn't process anything, i couldn't really recognize my surroundings, like i was seeing my room for the first time, it was an interesting experience.

    I have rather recently joined a Dzogchen sangha, and the usual meditation practice is with open eyes and breathing through the mouth.
    Back in my yoga days, mouth breathing was an absolute no-no.
    A zen friend of mine does meditation gazing at a wall, but I never have.

    So the first time with open eyes (plus the mouth-breathing) was quite unusual, to say the least, for me too.
    There was this Guru Rinpoche thangka in front of me, which I immediately decided to make the focus of my meditation, and the wisps of incense wafting up and about.
    Fifteen minutes into the meditation, I was almost convinced that Guru Rinpoche was moving and the whole ambiance turned surreal.
    I also lost all references: had no idea where I was, who I was, what I was.
    No panic attack, no heart racing here, but the strangest sensation of unity and time loop.
    Like you say, @bookworm, an interesting experience.

    bookworm
  • Interesting to hear about your experience.
    When I first started meditating I was taught "eyes shut". Later on I practised in a Dzogchen tradition ( Rigpa ) where you meditate with eyes wide open. When I eventually arrived in Theravada it was back to "eyes shut", though after a while I found that didn't feel right, so I went back to eyes open. Pros and cons probably, but it's interesting to experience the difference.

  • BuddhadragonBuddhadragon Ehipassiko & Carpe Diem Samsara Veteran

    I find it's a huge difference. Still getting used to it.
    So, when in the Sangha meetings, I experiment with "eyes open," but during my private practice, I still do "eyes shut."

  • @DhammaDragon said:
    I find it's a huge difference. Still getting used to it.
    So, when in the Sangha meetings, I experiment with "eyes open," but during my private practice, I still do "eyes shut."

    It can be quite an adjustment! Also there are more variables with eyes-open, for example looking at a thangka might be quite different from looking at a blank wall.

  • howhow Veteran
    edited September 2014

    Shikantaza can be with either with the eyes open or closed as long as the practitioner is not unduly focusing on the visual sense gate to the exclusion of the other sense gates.

    Eyes open or closed both have their purposes and advantages and are fine as long as the meditator is not deliberately manipulating their visual input or any other sense gate.

    zenguitarbookworm
  • zenguitarzenguitar Bad Buddhist New England Veteran

    Thanks everyone, actually the other day I had maybe 1 minute of what seemed like real shikantaza, a brief period of bright and unencumbered awareness. Then my mind was off chasing thoughts again...

    And thanks @seeker242, I will check out Hua Tou, I did not know about that.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited September 2014

    Chasing thoughts is fine if you're aware of the chasing.

  • ChazChaz The Remarkable Chaz Anywhere, Everywhere & Nowhere Veteran

    To add a little anecdote to the eyes-open discussion. I've found that meditation with eyes open gives you another cue for awareness of a wandering mind. It's been my experience that if you use a visual object of meditation, if/when your eyes wander off that object then it's safe to assume that you're no longer meditating and you should return to the object.

  • I've read that the 7th consciousness, the manos, is the culprit. Attending to the five tactile senses can help with the manos and at some point the manos is transformed into it's wisdom qualities. These 8 concsiousness rather than seven is from the yogacara system.

  • ToraldrisToraldris   -`-,-{@     Zen Nud... Buddhist     @}-,-`-   East Coast, USA Veteran

    With Treeleaf at least, they don't recommend eyes "wide" open, but more "slightly parted", focusing about a meter in front of you and down-cast, but not on a particular object. You're not meant to actually use your eyes for anything, to be "looking out", but rather just let that come in (just like with sounds).

  • @AldrisTorvalds said:
    With Treeleaf at least, they don't recommend eyes "wide" open, but more "slightly parted", focusing about a meter in front of you and down-cast, but not on a particular object. You're not meant to actually use your eyes for anything, to be "looking out", but rather just let that come in (just like with sounds).

    I agree about not looking, the phrase I'd use is "resting the gaze" - it's passive rather than active.

  • soft focus

    how
  • howhow Veteran
    edited September 2014

    @jeffrey s term

    "soft focus " is traditional as it describes keeping the (open eyed) visual focus in Shikantaza balanced somewhere between visually obliviousness and deliberately exploring what your eyes are resting on.

    As something related which sounds a bit ridiculous until you explore it within your own sitting..

    Accomplished open eyed Shikantaza practioners will observe that any flight into mental la la land is preceded by a slight blurring of the visual field. This is actually physically created through a slight crossing of the focus of the eyes which provides a blank movie screen for our thoughts to be projected upon. This is a mental habituated reflex that our ego loves to trigger.

    Including a gentle but consistent awareness of ones visual sense gate, prevents the construction of that blank screen & deprives the ego of another tool used in the maintenance of it's dream.

    Earthninjamisecmisc1
  • @how said:
    Accomplished open eyed Shikantaza practioners will observe that any flight into mental la la land is preceded by a slight blurring of the visual field. This is actually physically created through a slight crossing of the focus of the eyes which provides a blank movie screen for our thoughts to be projected upon.

    Does that suggest the visual field is being used as an object of concentration?
    :rolleyes: .

Sign In or Register to comment.