Opening the Hand of Thought - Chapter 3

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  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39065

    Opening the Hand of Thought - Chapter 3

    Hi,

    We now come to Chapter 3, "The Reality of Zazen".

    Uchiyama Roshi was very much about "returning to the posture", even though that is always impossible to do perfectly. We return to the posture imperfectly, and that very effort is somehow perfectly imperfect.

    Let me just mention what I usually say about the object of attention during Zazen:

    Every form of Shikantaza has to place the attention somewhere. There are many small variations in Shikantaza, teacher to teacher. One has to place and focus (and simultaneously not place/focus) the mind somewhere!

    So, for example, Uchiyama Roshi was a "bring your attention back to the posture" guy. Nishijima Roshi was a "focus on keeping the spine straight" fellow, and there are others who emphasize focusing on the breath or the Hara (also called the "Tanden", the traditional "center of gravity" of the body, and a center of Qi energy in traditional Chinese medicine) ...



    ...

    Dogen once advised to place the mind in the left palm. Some merely emphasize the wall or floor one may be facing. All are forms of Shikantaza ... so long as the objectless nature of sitting is maintained even if focused on an object.

    In fact, all forms of Shikantaza have an "object of meditation", a place to focus or place the mind to build a degree of concentration and quiet the thoughts (hopefully to soften the border and pass through "object" and "subject"), while dropping all effort to attain and releasing all judgments. At Treeleaf, ... as our central "objectless" object of meditation, I recommend open, spacious sitting centered on everything and nothing at all ... sitting with open, spacious awareness ... sitting with the whole world but without being lost in trains of thought (which I also sometimes describe as having the mind focused on "no place and everyplace at once"). That open stillness is our "object of concentration" (I emphasize such because it makes it clearer that Zazen is not a tool, and makes it easier to take our Practice off the cushion and into the rest of the world, than simply following the breath or focusing on a part of the body).
    I sometimes also feel that emphasizing the feelings of posture too much might mislead some people into concluding that Zazen is about attaining some particular physical sensation of balance of body. I think Uchiyama makes it clear that it is really not about that. However, focusing on the breath or posture, perfectly imperfectly, is a powerful approach.

    Gassho, Jundo

    SatToday
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE
  • Mp

    #2
    Thank you Jundo,

    For me I have found that the perfectly imperfectness of my zazen has taught me about the perfectly imperfectness of life. That just like sitting with what is (balanced posture, unbalanced posture, busy mind, quiet mind), with what arrises, is no different that what is and what arrises in my life. Being open and gracious to those moments, accepting them for what they are, but also at the same time, doing my best to make change where needed. =)

    Gassho
    Shingen

    #sattoday

    Comment

    • Ryo Do
      Member
      • Dec 2015
      • 30

      #3
      Couldn't agree more with the perfect imperfection and this chapter resonated deeply with me. For many many years, I have been very much the "samadhi type" of meditator, enjoying (and, I must admit, often chasing after) the deep quiet contentment and joy that come from deeper concentration states. But, well, states are just states, and the peace I found in sitting didn't spill over to my daily life so easily.
      What's more: after some time I not only found myself unable to reach deeper concentration anymore but I also found that by pushing too hard and trying to get any hindrances or disturbances out of my way on the long run all the repressed stuff returned and I kind of slipped into a "dharma depression" with deep restlessness at night, lack of energy during the day, to the point that I had to seek out professional help.
      Now I'm trying hard to find my way back into a daily practice while at the same time seeking to avoid my earlier pitfalls, and the description Uchiyama gives of relentlessly coming back to ZZ' (nice sound too) and the waking up this implies were a kind of key insight for me. "Don't believe everything you think" - I've heard this very often, but never really believed it applied to me personally, that is to me as a person (latin word for mask)... I mean, come on, I'm the center of my (the?) universe, so it can't be me who's in the way...
      Oh yes: sat today!
      Ryo Do
      Last edited by Ryo Do; 01-17-2016, 07:23 PM.

      Comment

      • ForestDweller
        Member
        • Mar 2015
        • 39

        #4
        For me, one who lives in a Forest and who lives with chronic pain, I very much appreciated Jundo's encouraging words of "openness and spaciousness . . . centered on everything and nothing at all" as a variant of particular body form or object of concentration. Because I sit amidst the glory of the natural world, it is constantly bringing me into contact with its living forms, arising, sometimes departing, always changing. This, to me, is the "everything and nothing" Jundo speaks of. Because of pain, if I tried to maintain "perfect" posture, I would soon be so distracted that my shikan taza would suffer. Some gentle movement, shifting, and because I am alone, swaying, keeps my physical body grounded enough to stay with it. So, thank you Jundo, for the verification that one size does not fit all - the myriad forms of zazen. CatherineS -- ^^ForestSatToday^^ minus 23 degrees

        Comment

        • Rick
          Member
          • Aug 2013
          • 38

          #5
          Thanks, Jundo. I really enjoyed this chapter (particularly the "waking up to life" section and figure 11). I plan on reading the whole chapter a second time tomorrow.

          Gassho,
          Rick
          sat today

          Comment

          • Byrne
            Member
            • Dec 2014
            • 371

            #6
            What helped me most with my practice was the guest/host analogy wherein the permanent "host" is our Buddha self and the impermanent "guests" are our illusionary thoughts and feelings. Externally, I like Uchiyama's approach to the whole body. Also, Jundo's dripping faucet apology made a lot of sense. I also have pain issues. Around the time I first began my interest in Buddhism 20 years ago, I was in a serious accident and fractured my spine in three places. I was able to recover remarkably well (I credit yoga for that) but holding still with a straight spine for more than 30 minutes can be problematic. I have to periodically stretch and move my back when I sit. The concept of returning to ZZ' is very appropriate for my circumstance. My zazen is very imperfect, just like all of yours.

            Gassho

            sat today

            Comment

            • Joyo

              #7
              Originally posted by Shingen
              Thank you Jundo,

              For me I have found that the perfectly imperfectness of my zazen has taught me about the perfectly imperfectness of life. That just like sitting with what is (balanced posture, unbalanced posture, busy mind, quiet mind), with what arrises, is no different that what is and what arrises in my life. Being open and gracious to those moments, accepting them for what they are, but also at the same time, doing my best to make change where needed. =)

              Gassho
              Shingen

              #sattoday
              Exactly! I am still learning this one more and more all the time =)

              Gassho,
              Joyo
              sat today

              Comment

              • Risho
                Member
                • May 2010
                • 3179

                #8
                Thank you for the excellent posts. I think that resonates with me too Shingen; during zazen being able to drop and come back from thise sticky thoughts of vengeance and why me and I am so right all translate to "off the cushion" where I can drop them in the heat of the moment

                Gassho

                Risho
                -sattoday
                Email: risho.treeleaf@gmail.com

                Comment

                • Kyotai

                  #9
                  I liked the diagram figure presented in this chapter. That a permanent state of non thought is not the aim. Not attaching, bringing oneself back to the line from which one is pulled again and again is zazen.

                  Practicing zazen for me makes this line more accessible in daily life. Often it is nearly effortless. Very difficult to see without practice. Thoughts manifest into whatever the mind will allow, which leads down a difficult path. Sitting chops through these thoughts before they gain any steam.

                  This chapter highlights how delusions and desires of the mind take hold and can become someone's truth or reality. Zazen for me, is taking a step back, watching this unfold and gently guiding the mind back to reality. It is not being swept away by a wondering mind but gently tending to it.

                  Gassho, Kyotai
                  Sat today

                  Comment

                  • Jakuden
                    Member
                    • Jun 2015
                    • 6142

                    #10
                    This is a great chapter, the diagram description of Zazen really provides a clarity to the text... I go off to c" and then c"" much more than I'd like to admit . The last part of the chapter describing our thoughts as the "scenery" in Zazen reminds me of our Myosha and his frequent wise comment, "distinctions are great fun"

                    Gassho,
                    Jakuden
                    SatToday

                    Comment

                    • Jinyo
                      Member
                      • Jan 2012
                      • 1957

                      #11
                      I agree - this is a really good chapter. It seems to be exactly as is taught here and I like the fact that Uchiyama emphasizes the
                      importance of instruction.

                      Gassho

                      Willow/Jinyo

                      Sat today

                      Comment

                      • Risho
                        Member
                        • May 2010
                        • 3179

                        #12
                        I've really been in a psychological rut this year; I'm not in a bad place, just sort of sitting and riding it out; so I haven't been posting as much, but this sangha, and practicing together and reading together helps me stay on the path.

                        I love the Tenzo Kyokun. I think it so relevant, especially considering that we are practitioners outside of monastery walls.

                        I think that when we pay attention to what we do, strive to be better, and handle all of the little details, really take care
                        of our work as if it were our child, magical things happen in our lives. Handling the details, zoning in, not zoning out, is really a key point in life. It's a lesson that I"ve learned from practice. Shikantaza is zoning in.

                        I know, "Tenzo Kyokun, how is it related to this chapter?" It's about living the life of the true self that Uchiyama Roshi so eloquently describes.

                        When you get to a level of mastery in whatever it is that you do, you know when to lead, you know when to follow, you know
                        when to help others, you know when to help, you have no ego that worries about not knowing. You live this work, and it
                        is what matters. The work working you. You don't own these things; you may have helped them come to fruition, but what I do
                        can only be done because I stand on the shoulders of giants in Computer Science who made these tools available to me.

                        I honor those ancestors by developing new things but not forgetting that they, too, were there with me while I created whatever
                        it is that I created. But nothing was really created because its potential was there all along.

                        It's easy to fall into a role of "expert", but the true master is the best student. The master knows that the more they learn,
                        the less they know, and this irony continually drives them to go deeper and deeper into their art, whether that art be artistic expression,
                        song, computer expression, medicine or what have you. It becomes the truth that matters, not the whims of the small self that always wants to be right.

                        The level of art comes when you've mastered the basics, realize it's always the basics, and that the basics can never be mastered.

                        Applying this same ethic to zen, and discovering it through zen, also is magical. We realize that this sitting just for sitting; we realize (and I'm stealing
                        this phrase) zazen sitting us, that we never sit zazen. And if we do, we're doing it wrong, although that wrong is right because
                        it is part of the path. Zen is the core (well a core, but my core practice) because it helps us zoom into and go meticulously through the details, which mainly happens to be the details
                        of where we are hung up so we don't have to keep acting out negative, reactive habits.

                        Most importantly we start realizing that it is us, we are not it. We lose the self-importance while realizing that, "yeah we of
                        course exist", but we are much more than this uniform that we are wearing to fit a role in the world.

                        It humbles us by reminding us again and again, very painfully at times, that these negative emotions, while self-justifying are life energy sappers.

                        Gassho,

                        Risho
                        -sattoday
                        Email: risho.treeleaf@gmail.com

                        Comment

                        • Byrne
                          Member
                          • Dec 2014
                          • 371

                          #13
                          Originally posted by Risho
                          I've really been in a psychological rut this year; I'm not in a bad place, just sort of sitting and riding it out; so I haven't been posting as much, but this sangha, and practicing together and reading together helps me stay on the path.

                          I love the Tenzo Kyokun. I think it so relevant, especially considering that we are practitioners outside of monastery walls.

                          I think that when we pay attention to what we do, strive to be better, and handle all of the little details, really take care
                          of our work as if it were our child, magical things happen in our lives. Handling the details, zoning in, not zoning out, is really a key point in life. It's a lesson that I"ve learned from practice. Shikantaza is zoning in.

                          I know, "Tenzo Kyokun, how is it related to this chapter?" It's about living the life of the true self that Uchiyama Roshi so eloquently describes.

                          When you get to a level of mastery in whatever it is that you do, you know when to lead, you know when to follow, you know
                          when to help others, you know when to help, you have no ego that worries about not knowing. You live this work, and it
                          is what matters. The work working you. You don't own these things; you may have helped them come to fruition, but what I do
                          can only be done because I stand on the shoulders of giants in Computer Science who made these tools available to me.

                          I honor those ancestors by developing new things but not forgetting that they, too, were there with me while I created whatever
                          it is that I created. But nothing was really created because its potential was there all along.

                          It's easy to fall into a role of "expert", but the true master is the best student. The master knows that the more they learn,
                          the less they know, and this irony continually drives them to go deeper and deeper into their art, whether that art be artistic expression,
                          song, computer expression, medicine or what have you. It becomes the truth that matters, not the whims of the small self that always wants to be right.

                          The level of art comes when you've mastered the basics, realize it's always the basics, and that the basics can never be mastered.

                          Applying this same ethic to zen, and discovering it through zen, also is magical. We realize that this sitting just for sitting; we realize (and I'm stealing
                          this phrase) zazen sitting us, that we never sit zazen. And if we do, we're doing it wrong, although that wrong is right because
                          it is part of the path. Zen is the core (well a core, but my core practice) because it helps us zoom into and go meticulously through the details, which mainly happens to be the details
                          of where we are hung up so we don't have to keep acting out negative, reactive habits.

                          Most importantly we start realizing that it is us, we are not it. We lose the self-importance while realizing that, "yeah we of
                          course exist", but we are much more than this uniform that we are wearing to fit a role in the world.

                          It humbles us by reminding us again and again, very painfully at times, that these negative emotions, while self-justifying are life energy sappers.

                          Gassho,

                          Risho
                          -sattoday
                          Risho,

                          I really enjoy your posts in general and this one really spoke to me.

                          Gassho

                          Sat Today

                          Comment

                          • Risho
                            Member
                            • May 2010
                            • 3179

                            #14
                            Thank you

                            Gassho

                            Risho
                            -sattoday
                            Email: risho.treeleaf@gmail.com

                            Comment

                            • Hoseki
                              Member
                              • Jun 2015
                              • 649

                              #15
                              Hi Folks,

                              My browser crashed at work before I could finish posting so this is a condensed version of an already brief post. I think what really stood out for me in the chapter was the sense that one has to trust Zazen to do its thing. That if you just keep coming back to the posture (or breath or openness etc...) Zazen will be doing its non-work. So I have this poetic image of a flower opening in the morning sun. Just a quite unfolding.

                              But my own practice is more like an heavily intoxicated person trying to walk a straight line. Sometimes it fells like I'm only in the center of the line while I'm weaving from left to right. But other times and over the course of the sitting the oscillations become narrower.

                              Gassho
                              El Duderino (Adam)
                              Sattoday

                              Comment

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