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  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39270


    Dear All.

    I am writing a longer chapter for a book that points up some aspects of sitting Shikantaza that seem to be often missing, misunderstood or understated in many explanations I've read and heard regarding "how to" Shikanataza.

    In my belief, neglecting these points robs Shikantaza of its power, like fire without its fuel.

    A few excerpts ...



    There are subtle differences in how Zen teachers explain Shikantaza, so-called “Just Sitting” Zazen. After listening to hundreds of talks and reading so many essays, I am left very surprised that one key aspect is not emphasized more. This crucial point often seems to be missing, misunderstood or understated. In my belief, not placing one fact front and center (or leaving it out altogether) robs Zazen of its power, like a fire without fuel, a tiger without its claws.

    What is this missing piece of the puzzle?

    Shikantaza Zazen must be sat, for the time it is sat, with the student profoundly trusting deep in her bones that sitting itself is a complete and sacred act, the one and only action that need be done in the whole universe in that instant of sitting. This truth should not be thought about or voiced in so many words, but must be silently and subtly felt deep down. The student must taste vibrantly that the mere act of sitting Zazen, in that moment, is whole and thoroughly complete, the total fruition of life’s goals, with nothing lacking and nothing to be added to the bare fact of sitting here and now. There must be a sense that the single performance of crossing the legs (or sitting in some other balanced posture) is the realization of all that was ever sought, that there is simply no other place to go in the world nor thing left to do besides sitting in such posture. No matter how busy one’s life or how strongly one’s heart may tempt one to be elsewhere, for the time of sitting all other concerns are put aside. Zazen is the one task and experience that brings meaning and fruition to that time, with nothing else to do. This fulfillment in “Just Sitting” must be felt with a tangible vibrancy and energy, trusting that one is sitting at the very pinnacle of life.

    Unfortunately, this unique and powerful aspect of Shikantaza is too often neglected or merely paid lip service.

    I do not mean to say that other teachers explain the general outlines of Shikantaza in a wrong way. Almost all experienced teachers agree on the basics: One should sit in the Lotus Posture (or, these days, some other balanced way such as Burmese or Seiza or in a chair), focus on the breath or the body or just be openly aware, letting one’s thoughts go without grabbing onto them. If finding oneself caught in trains of thought, return to the breath or posture or spaciousness. Sit daily for a certain length of time, but without objective or demanded pay-off. Do not seek anything from your Zazen, whether “enlightenment” or to become “Buddha” or anything at all. Just Sit!

    That’s all correct. But by leaving out the vital ingredient, such explanations can miss the mark too. The description can leave students thinking of Zazen as just some relaxation technique or place to sit quietly without purpose. One may assume that “Just Sitting” is to sit like a bump on a log, the joined fingers but thumb twiddling. Talk of “nothing to attain” or that “Zazen is useless” may falsely lead hearers to the conclusion that there is no great value and treasure in sitting, that it is a silly waste of time rather than a state beyond all time and measure. Or, the student may fail to distinguish Shikantaza sufficiently from other meditation forms, which seek some gold ring as their prize. Failing to understand how and why Shikantaza is a taste of the end of all searching, the student eventually gives up, running hungrily to the next method or guru or self-help book. The point is missed that, in not seeking to obtain “enlightenment” nor grabbing after “peace” or “joy”, a certain Peace, Joy and, yes, Enlightenment is obtained which can only come in the freedom of not seeking.

    In fact, there's a somewhat counter-intuitive trick to Zazen: I sometimes compare Shikantaza to the children’s puzzle of “Chinese finger-cuffs” which are escaped, not by forceful effort and pulling harder, but by non-resistance and letting go; by dropping the hunt for “enlightenment”, by giving up the chase, by allowing all to rest in the complete wholeness and acceptance of Just Sitting, by quenching all thirsts in the sheer satisfaction of sitting alone, one realizes a freedom and way of being which otherwise alludes us in this world of endless chasing and constant dissatisfactions.

    I am not sure why many teachers, even when purporting to teach “Shikantaza,” do not more strongly emphasize this sacred, complete, “Hallelujah to-the-marrow” fulfillment of Just Sitting. My guess is that, somewhere along the line, the message of Shikantaza was softened in its presentation to laypeople. I have sometimes witnessed Zazen explained to newcomers as “just sit there in upright posture, let thoughts go, just breathe,” with little other explanation. I have heard so many teachers advise to “just follow the breath” or “straighten the back” or “don’t grab the thoughts” or “drop all goals”, but few who doubly-triply underline guidance such as “sit Zazen with a conviction that sitting is all that is needed in life” or “sit feeling that this sitting is the total fulfillment of all the universe” or “sit with a subtle sense that, were you to die right now on the cushion, sitting alone would have made a complete life” or “sit with faith that your sitting is all Buddhas sitting.”

    Maybe the reason that the message was lost is that many practitioners (and even some teachers) cannot get beyond the belief that “Shikantaza” is just a way to get untangled from thoughts, or to feel some balance, or develop some concentration, or realize some peace and clarity. (It is all those things, but so much more.) Some may take too literally the admonition that “just sitting is all there is” without sufficient understanding of the fact that the body must resonate with energy and an awareness that “JUST SITTING HERE IS ALL THAT EVER COULD BE!” Some teachers may judge it too hard or overwhelming for new students to receive Dogen’s message about the sacredness of full blown Zazen. I tell my new students to trust in the method until it proves itself. If need be, “fake it ‘till you make it” in nurturing these feelings. “Just Sitting is Buddha” is not a mantra that should be voiced in words during Zazen, nor something that must be unfailingly felt at each and every moment of sitting. Rather, there only needs to be a subtle, yet vital sense and faith, felt deep down in the gut while sitting, that “THIS IS IT! THERE IS NO OTHER IT!”.

    One does not have to look far in Dogen’s writings to find his exaltations of Zazen as the Alpha and Omega. Nor was he one for understatement. His writings and words speak of the mechanics of sitting, crossing the legs and letting thoughts go, finding balance in body and mind. But beyond that, Dogen also never failed to lyrically highlight the marvel and mystery of sitting itself. Just a few of examples will suffice:

    From Shobogenzo-Bendowa:

    Zazen, even if it is only one human being sitting for one moment,
    thus enters into mystical cooperation with all dharmas, and completely penetrates
    all times; and it therefore performs, within the limitless universe, the
    eternal work of the Buddha’s guiding influence in the past, future, and present.
    … The practice is not confined to the sitting itself; it strikes space and resonates,
    Like ringing that continues before and after a bell. … Remember, even
    if the countless buddhas in ten directions, as numerous as the sands of the
    Ganges, tried with all their power and all their buddha-wisdom to calculate
    or comprehend the merit of one person’s zazen, they could not even get close

    From Zanmai-o-Zanmai (SZTP Translation)

    Abruptly transcending all realms, to be greatly honored within the quarters of the buddhas and ancestors—this is sitting with legs crossed. Trampling the heads of the followers of alien ways and the legions of Māra, to be the one here within the halls of the buddhas and ancestors—this is sitting with legs crossed. Transcending the extreme of the extremes of the buddhas and ancestors is just this one dharma. Therefore, the buddhas and ancestors engage in it, without any further task.

    The Buddha Śākyamuni, sitting with legs crossed under the bodhi tree, passed fifty small kalpas, passed sixty kalpas, passed countless kalpas. Sitting with legs crossed for twenty-one days, sitting cross-legged for one time — this is turning the wheel of the wondrous dharma; this is the buddha’s proselytizing of a lifetime. There is nothing lacking. This is the yellow roll and vermillion roller [of all the Sutras and Commentaries]. The buddha seeing the buddha is this time. This is precisely the time when beings attain buddhahood.

    From Zazen-shin (SZTP Translation)

    Be it known that, for studying the way, the established [means of] investigation is pursuing the way in seated meditation. The essential point of its standard is [the understanding] that there is a practice of a buddha that does not seek to make a buddha. Since the practice of a buddha is not to make a buddha, it is the realization of the kôan.

    Master Dogen often spoke specifically of “sitting with the legs crossed” or the “Lotus Posture” and the like. Some teachers will take this very literally, asserting that there is a special power to the physical form of the Lotus Posture alone. Certainly, that is the posture most common to monks in training in Dogen’s day and today. However, I feel that Master Dogen used such expressions in a less restrictive sense. Body and mind are not two, and thus an upright and balanced posture of the body facilitates an upright and balanced mind. Nonetheless, many postures such as sitting Burmese style, in a chair or in “Seiza”, can also offer great upright balance to those who cannot manage Lotus. Looking closely at Master Dogen’s words, his use of “Lotus Posture” seems less about the posture itself, and truly about the sacredness of the act of Zazen in a balanced state of body and mind. His use of “Lotus Posture” stands for all Zazen, and in fact, extends to mean both seated Zazen and all other activities of life off the cushion too. The wholeness and sacredness is not just in the position of the body alone, but is the entire endeavor, and all actions, as Buddha actions.


    We should sit each day. Sitting is indispensable and brings lessons to the heart not easily touched in the hustle & bustle of life. Zazen is only sitting and nothing else when sitting. Yet Zazen is not sitting alone. Master Dogen also taught us that, in rising from the cushion, all of our daily actions, no matter how superficially mundane, are “Zazen” in a wider way, when perceived with wisdom. It is easy to misunderstand the true meaning of phrases such as “Zazen is the only Practice.” People very often think that “Zazen as the only Practice” means that all one needs to do is sit Zazen, and there is nothing else to Practice. Dogen never meant so. Rather, the daily schedule he commanded for his monks at Eiheiji created a routine by which ordinary daily tasks were treated as sacred rituals. Dogen taught his monks that all their daily actions are rituals, from cooking to cleaning to bowing to bathing to defecating to sleeping. Each is the one action bringing life into life in that moment, a holy doing. Rising from the cushion, the householding working person or parent can likewise learn that Zazen is not limited to sitting alone. Cooking and cleaning one’s own home is a holy ritual when the heart opens. Our jobs in the office or factory are what need to be done in that moment, our “Work Practice.” Changing a baby’s diaper or a simple flat tire is a wondrous and miraculous event, and all time and space have led to right there.

    To learn this lesson that all the world is “Zazen,” we must sit Zazen each day. When it is the time for seated Zazen, it becomes “the only practice” in that moment. When sitting, there must be nothing more, nothing to compare to sitting, and the simple act of sitting fills the cosmos with completeness. In fact, during the time of sitting, there is not even a “before” or “after” to sitting, and a moment of sitting is all time. We must sit with such attitude.


    The ability to be at rest completely, to realize the preciousness and wholeness of life in this moment is a skill we have lost in this busy world. We chase after achievements, are overwhelmed with jobs that feel undone, and feel that there are endless places to go and people to see. The world can seem a broken and hopeless place. Thus, it is vital that we learn to sit each day with no other place in need of going, no feeling of brokenness nor judgment of lack, nothing more in need of achieving in that time but sitting itself. We sit with the sense that there is nothing to fix or place in need of getting, because this “not needing” is a wisdom that we so rarely taste. How tragic if we instead turn our Zazen or other meditation into just one more battle for achievement, a race to get some peaceful place, attain some craved prize or spiritual reward. Or, on the other hand, how equally tragic if we use Zazen just as a break from life, a little escape, never tasting the wholeness and completeness of life. By doing so, Zazen becomes just one more symptom of the rat race, and the prize is out of reach. True peace comes not by chasing, but by resting now in peace.

    In fact, when we truly taste to the marrow the real meaning of “nothing to achieve”, we have finally reached a great spiritual achievement! As strange as it sounds, resting in stillness without need to run is, in fact, truly getting somewhere!

    Then, rising from the cushion, we may experience the world in a new way. The wisdom of sitting is portable. We bring the stillness of the cushion into the motion and calamity of life. Getting on with our busy day of places to go and goals to fulfill, a part of us is now beyond going and goals (nonetheless, we go and try to do what needs to be done). Working hard in the office or doing housework at home, we equally experience that there is no job yet undone (nonetheless, we roll up our sleeves and get to work). Seeing this world with all its problems and suffering, we experience that there is nothing to fix (yet we get busy to fix what we can and make this world better). It is as if we now encounter the world two different ways that are truly one: working for goals on the one hand, yet on the other, all goals dropped away; busy and pressed for time, yet tasting something beyond all measure of time; cleaning a dirty house or dusty temple, yet knowing a Buddha’s Eye of equanimity free of judgment; doing what one can to solve problems, yet ultimately what problem? In doing so, whether as monk or someone’s mommy, one develops the sense that everything in one’s day is equally sacred, not lacking, thoroughly complete. Nonetheless, one does what needs doing.

    I do not mean to say that sitting alone will make your family perfect, your life without hardships, or your job like heaven on earth. Wisdom will not free you of the need to rush around to get the chores done and kids fed. It won't prevent the doctor from someday presenting you with that diagnosis you feared. It will not fix this crazy world with all its problems. However, what it will do is wondrously teach us that, for all our dissatisfactions, busy-ness, losses, sorrows, disappointments, ills and fears in life, there is simultaneously another way to experience and live beyond all that. It is hard to express, but, while experiencing this world with all its problems and faults, one simultaneously knows some ‘ever OK' without fault to fix. When the doctor hands us the frightful news, when our loved one dies or leaves us, one may also experience a Wisdom free of coming and going, all life or death. Even as tears of grief pour down our cheeks, we may simultaneously bask in the warm embrace whereby there can be no separation, grateful for it all.

    All this comes from the power of daily Shikantaza Zazen, Just Sitting with nothing lacking, grateful and whole in the simple act of sitting.

    Such Wisdom can only be known if Zen Teachers burn the message into the bones of their students: True Shikantaza Zazen is radical and thorough sitting free of all need for goals beyond sitting, in total fulfillment, flooded with the thunder and power of nothing more to seek. Then, the little self with its hungers and its needs to run and fear and get and become “more more more” is put to rest. The Goal is achieved in radical goallessness. With no other place in need of going, the Pure Land is present all along. The Gold Ring is ever in hand.

    What is sometimes missing from explanations of Zazen is the lesson that nothing can ever be missing from true Zazen.

    Gassho, J

    Last edited by Jundo; 04-25-2018, 02:22 PM.
  • Mp

    Again Jundo, a clear and supportive example of this beautiful practice, thank you. =)




    • MyoHo
      • Feb 2013
      • 632

      yes, well done. The phrase " portable wisdom of sitti g", I like very mutch. It clarifies how our practice touches all aspects of life. Our life but the life of others too. I think it is a good piece because it does not sound Zenny or artificial. What you say rings true because it is clear you speak from practice and experiance and not theoretical book knowlege. Very good.





      • Taiyo
        • Jul 2016
        • 431

        Thank you Jundo


        太 Tai (Great)
        陽 Yō (Sun)


        • Kokuu
          Treeleaf Priest
          • Nov 2012
          • 6755

          Thank you, Jundo. I am saving this to read often. Please do give a link to the article when it is published.

          In this way that we sit as already Buddhas it has something in common with Tibetan vajrayana practice. Everything is whole and complete already, there are no stages of the path to complete or jhanas to attain.



          • Jyukatsu
            • Nov 2015
            • 283

            Thank you Jundo.....wonderful description of a wonderful practice
            sitting just now at the airport
            柔 Jyū flexible
            活 Katsu energetic


            • Troy
              • Sep 2013
              • 1318

              Beautiful. Thank you Jundo




              • Jiken
                • Jan 2011
                • 753

                Very clear. It hits home.




                • Jishin
                  • Oct 2012
                  • 4819

                  Thank you. I would like to add that the lotus posture fetish is a huge detractor to just sitting.

                  Gasho, Jishin, _/st\_


                  • Kaisho
                    • Nov 2016
                    • 163

                    Thank you for this teaching.

                    Sent from my LGLS675 using Tapatalk


                    • adrianbkelly
                      • Jun 2012
                      • 214



                      Sat today


                      • Entai
                        • Jan 2013
                        • 451

                        Thank you for this. It's clear and accessible. I'll be re-reading it from time to time as a reminder.


                        泰 Entai (Bill)
                        "this is not a dress rehearsal"


                        • Hoko
                          • Aug 2009
                          • 444

                          Beautifully said. 🙏
                          I re-read this before sitting this morning; a wonderful reminder neatly articulated.
                          Thank you for writing this.


                          Sent from my SAMSUNG-SM-N920A using Tapatalk
                          法 Dharma
                          口 Mouth


                          • Jakuden
                            • Jun 2015
                            • 6142

                            Thank you Jundo.



                            • Konsetsu
                              • May 2016
                              • 77

                              Thank you for this!