A few questions

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  • Madrone
    Member
    • Oct 2011
    • 27

    A few questions

    1. What is the relationship between shikantaza and the four noble truths? Is this form of meditation to help give us insight into our suffering and its causes, or is it something else?

    2. While meditating I keep catching my mind sticking to certain thoughts and I "use" the blue sky / clouds metaphor that Jundo describes. But as the thought passes a second thought keeps coming up, asking "what am I returning to"? I don't have an answer for that thought, and I sit with not having that answer and let that cloud pass too. Shikantaza is a mystery to me, and I am not sure if I am doing it right.

    3. I start out mediation with a decent posture, but often catch my upper body leaning back (beats me why I do that) and adjust my posture. Then a distracting thought comes up saying that I should not be paying attention to my posture, etc. etc. Does this happen to you?

    I hope you are having a nice day. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

    Madrone.
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39456

    #2
    Re: A few questions

    Originally posted by Madrone
    1. What is the relationship between shikantaza and the four noble truths? Is this form of meditation to help give us insight into our suffering and its causes, or is it something else?
    Hi Madrone,

    In a nutshell, I believe Shikantaza to be a very powerful medicine for Dukkha ('suffering' in Buddhist meaning), and thus right at the Heart of the Four Noble Truths. It is not so much about "insight" into suffering and its causes (although we certainly develop such insight through this practice), but more about fully bridging the gap which is at the root of suffering. I speak about this in detail here ...

    viewtopic.php?f=21&t=2942

    viewtopic.php?f=21&t=2941

    and more here ...

    viewforum.php?f=21

    2. While meditating I keep catching my mind sticking to certain thoughts and I "use" the blue sky / clouds metaphor that Jundo describes. But as the thought passes a second thought keeps coming up, asking "what am I returning to"? I don't have an answer for that thought, and I sit with not having that answer and let that cloud pass too. Shikantaza is a mystery to me, and I am not sure if I am doing it right.
    Shikantaza is not about having no thoughts, or stopping all thought. Although there are flavors of meditation that can do so (as well as many drugs and anesthesia), that is not what Shikantaza is. In a nutshell, Shikantaza is about not latching or grabbing on to thoughts as they come, nor getting trapped in long trains of thoughts and runaway emotions ... all while sitting and fully, radically allowing all things to be "just as they are". Such is how one returns to "what is there returning to?". When one notices that one had gotten caught by long trains of thought, one simply returns ... 10,000 times and 10,000 times again ... to such open, spacious awareness and wholeness-allowing.

    You will know if it is "right" when it starts to feel very whole, balanced and right (so 'whole,balanced and right', in fact, that it is whole, balanced and right' even on those days when it feels off and wrong! ) :shock:

    3. I start out mediation with a decent posture, but often catch my upper body leaning back (beats me why I do that) and adjust my posture. Then a distracting thought comes up saying that I should not be paying attention to my posture, etc. etc. Does this happen to you?
    First, to repeat ... thoughts themselves are not "distracting". In other words, have the thoughts, adjust the posture and then just drop the thoughts, let it go, don't worry about it. The point is not to stop all thoughts.

    There is no problem in adjusting posture many times during a sit. Adjust ... find a balanced place in that moment ... and forget about it! Please review Taigu's many fine talks on posture in our "Always Beginners" series ...

    viewforum.php?f=20

    ... as well as this book ...

    viewtopic.php?p=30208#p30208

    I hope that is helpful. Perhaps we may say that Shikantaza is such Whole, Complete sitting that nothing need be attained ... and thus all is Attained.

    Gassho, Jundo
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    Comment

    • Adrian
      Member
      • Apr 2011
      • 69

      #3
      Re: A few questions

      Thanks to Madrone for the questions and to Jundo for his responses.

      I've been doing 20 minutes sitting daily for 14 months now after having not succeeded in the 20 years since I'd tried sitting meditation at first. I'm not sure if it was Zen teaching that got me going or if I'd just started to keep it up at a time when I was reading books by US Zen masters. Someone asked me if I was doing Shikantaza and I didn't really know, so asked Jundo and he encouraged me to keep doing whatever it was.

      I guess it is Shikantaza. I've watched Jundo and Taigu's videos and try to do what they say, but I'm not sure I try very hard. Sometimes the thoughts are very active and at other times I'm quite serene. When I try to focus I concentrate on the straight line between the floorboards in front of me. I think I got that idea from a Japanese roshi.

      Like Madrone, when I brush away uninvited thoughts I don't really know what I'm returning to, though I do have an intellectual grasp of non-duality and sometimes it seems to be an experience too. Often it's just the space between the previous and the next thought. However, I don't worry too much about it - well, to be honest I don't think I worry at all. I think I've done enough worrying and straining at the leash for one lifetime.

      In fact, there have been times when I've used my sitting zazen time to actually reflect and think things through - not Shikantaza I know, but effective when there's been something I've had to deal with.

      I wonder if my sitting is too lazy to be called zazen or shikantaza. I wonder if, in "just sitting", I'm really just doing that. Should "just sitting" in fact be more than "just sitting"?

      Jundo, the links you provided were great, but I read through them and beyond when I should have been doing the dishes or being with my wife. Oh dear! She's pretty tolerant though (now - not when she was younger).

      Gassho
      Adrian

      Comment

      • Madrone
        Member
        • Oct 2011
        • 27

        #4
        Re: A few questions

        Jundo and Adrian, thank you for replying to this string.

        Jundo, I am watching the videos you mentioned. In the meantime, I have another question: you mentioned this, "Shikantaza is not about having no thoughts, or stopping all thought. Although there are flavors of meditation that can do so (as well as many drugs and anesthesia), that is not what Shikantaza is. In a nutshell, Shikantaza is about not latching or grabbing on to thoughts as they come, nor getting trapped in long trains of thoughts and runaway emotions ... all while sitting and fully, radically allowing all things to be "just as they are". Such is how one returns to "what is there returning to?". When one notices that one had gotten caught by long trains of thought, one simply returns ... 10,000 times and 10,000 times again ... to such open, spacious awareness and wholeness-allowing."

        I keep thinking about the word "radically" in your response. Does this mean abandoning all ideas good, bad, right, wrong, etc. fall away, or something different?

        There seem to be some bigger questions that I can feel but cannot articulate (yet). I really appreciate the chance to discuss all this here. Thank you.

        Madrone

        Comment

        • Jundo
          Treeleaf Founder and Priest
          • Apr 2006
          • 39456

          #5
          Re: A few questions

          Originally posted by Madrone

          I keep thinking about the word "radically" in your response. Does this mean abandoning all ideas good, bad, right, wrong, etc. fall away, or something different?
          Hi Madrone,

          The Buddhist Teachings contain some very clear views on what is "good, bad, right, wrong." For example, greed, anger, ignorance ... and the related violence, attachment, excess of all kinds ... are generally "bad" or "wrong" directions (although, the Precepts and life allow for many gray areas even there by necessity in life's complexity). Their opposites are generally good and positive directions.

          As well, human beings need to make daily choices on what is "good, bad, right, wrong" ... otherwise, we would just as easily as not put our hand on a hot stove, walk off a cliff, head north when needing to go south, run stop signs. Human beings and human societies need "right and wrong" to function.

          Yet, hand in hand with this, the Buddhist Teachings present a view which is Right and Good for, wonderfully, tossing our small human judgements of "good, bad, right, wrong" into Emptiness ... we everything is Just As It Is. Killing in Anger is wrong ... yet, from in the Heart of Emptiness, there was never a separate self to kill or be killed from the first!

          The trick perhaps is to see all of the above At Once, As One ... "good, bad, right, wrong" and "good, bad, right, wrong" fully dropped away! Living from both perspective/non-perspectives As One. So many of the Koans are just about that ... and that's very Good!

          Nansen Kills the Cat
          (The Gateless Gate, Case 14)

          The Case

          Once the monks of the eastern and western Zen halls were quarrelling about a cat. Nansen held up the cat and said, "You monks! If one of you can say a word, I will spare the cat. If you can't say anything, I will put it to the sword." No one could answer, so Nansen finally slew it. In the evening, when Joshu returned, Nansen told him what had happened. Joshu, thereupon, took off his sandals, put them on his head and walked off. Nansen said, "If you had been there, I could have spared the cat."


          Gassho, Jundo (Cat Lover)
          ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

          Comment

          • Madrone
            Member
            • Oct 2011
            • 27

            #6
            Re: A few questions

            Originally posted by Jundo
            Originally posted by Madrone

            Nansen Kills the Cat
            (The Gateless Gate, Case 14)

            The Case

            Once the monks of the eastern and western Zen halls were quarrelling about a cat. Nansen held up the cat and said, "You monks! If one of you can say a word, I will spare the cat. If you can't say anything, I will put it to the sword." No one could answer, so Nansen finally slew it. In the evening, when Joshu returned, Nansen told him what had happened. Joshu, thereupon, took off his sandals, put them on his head and walked off. Nansen said, "If you had been there, I could have spared the cat."


            Gassho, Jundo (Cat Lover)
            I slept on it and I still do not understand this story. Is it because I am a dog lover?

            Jundo, If I take a stab at this cat will you tell me what if anything I am missing?

            We have judgments about good, bad, right, wrong and we need those judgments to have a functioning society. Got it.
            But there is no self to have these judgments because the idea of self is empty (which was explained to me earlier as constantly changing), and it is possible to see things Just As They Are through shikantaza (and I suspect other elements of practice). And when you see things Just As They Are, you find that these judgments drop away. But you must return to society and use these judgments. You don't want to be limited by them; you want the skill to see things both ways all day.

            But I still don't get the story.

            Thanks very much!

            Comment

            • disastermouse

              #7
              Re: A few questions

              Originally posted by Jundo
              Shikantaza is not about having no thoughts, or stopping all thought. Although there are flavors of meditation that can do so (as well as many drugs and anesthesia), that is not what Shikantaza is. In a nutshell, Shikantaza is about not latching or grabbing on to thoughts as they come, nor getting trapped in long trains of thoughts and runaway emotions ... all while sitting and fully, radically allowing all things to be "just as they are". Such is how one returns to "what is there returning to?". When one notices that one had gotten caught by long trains of thought, one simply returns ... 10,000 times and 10,000 times again ... to such open, spacious awareness and wholeness-allowing.
              This should really be a thread stickied at the top of the forum. It's a very simple, difficult to misunderstand introduction to Shikantaza, IMHO.

              Because no one can tell you exactly what Shikantaza is, but reminders about what it isn't are invaluable - at least to my personal practice.

              Chet

              Comment

              • disastermouse

                #8
                Re: A few questions

                Originally posted by Madrone
                We have judgments about good, bad, right, wrong and we need those judgments to have a functioning society. Got it.
                But there is no self to have these judgments because the idea of self is empty (which was explained to me earlier as constantly changing), and it is possible to see things Just As They Are through shikantaza (and I suspect other elements of practice).
                A couple issues here. Self is actually radically empty, not just 'empty' because 'it's' constantly changing. Oddly, there are moments in meditation of complete timelessness, not because thought isn't moving or because there are no thoughts. Rather, it's because movement is stillness. The movement of time is itself timelessness. The experience of this isn't a thought you can have or an insight. It just is.

                If you're trying to see things as they are, you'll never see things as they are. You're looking for truth in a specific location and truth doesn't have specific location.

                IMHO, IMHO, IMHO....

                Chet

                Comment

                • Jundo
                  Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                  • Apr 2006
                  • 39456

                  #9
                  Re: A few questions

                  Originally posted by Madrone
                  Originally posted by Jundo
                  Originally posted by Madrone

                  Nansen Kills the Cat
                  (The Gateless Gate, Case 14)

                  The Case

                  Once the monks of the eastern and western Zen halls were quarrelling about a cat. Nansen held up the cat and said, "You monks! If one of you can say a word, I will spare the cat. If you can't say anything, I will put it to the sword." No one could answer, so Nansen finally slew it. In the evening, when Joshu returned, Nansen told him what had happened. Joshu, thereupon, took off his sandals, put them on his head and walked off. Nansen said, "If you had been there, I could have spared the cat."


                  Gassho, Jundo (Cat Lover)
                  I slept on it and I still do not understand this story. Is it because I am a dog lover?
                  Hi Madrone,

                  Try not to be overly analytical about old Koan stories like this, but let me give something to chew on.

                  Of course, a Buddhist monk ... well versed in the Precept on not taking life ... would not be likely to kill a cat. He would have to suffer the Karma from his deadly act. Some doubt for that reason that Nansen would even have done such a thing literally. I, however, think he may have.

                  You see, perhaps the monks fighting over ownership of the cat ... me, mine, my ... actually killed life in that way before Nansen ever had a chance ... actually divided the world before Nansen could divide the cat. By swinging his sword, Nansen actually cut the cat ... into One.

                  Master Dogen wrote ...

                  Dogen added, “If I had been Nansen, I would have said, ‘If you cannot speak, I will kill it; even if you can speak, I will kill it. Who would fight over a cat? Who can save the cat? On behalf of the students, I would have said, ‘We are not able to speak, Master. Go ahead and kill the cat!’ Or, I would have said for them, ‘Master, you only know about cutting it (the cat) into two with one stroke, yet you do not know about cutting it into one with one stroke.’”

                  Ejo asked, “How do you cut it into one with one stroke?”

                  Dogen said, “The cat itself.”

                  http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/common_ ... 01-06.html
                  Gassho, J
                  ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                  Comment

                  • Adrian
                    Member
                    • Apr 2011
                    • 69

                    #10
                    Re: A few questions

                    Originally posted by Jundo

                    You see, perhaps the monks fighting over ownership of the cat ... me, mine, my ... actually killed life in that way before Nansen ever had a chance ... actually divided the world before Nansen could divide the cat. By swinging his sword, Nansen actually cut the cat ... into One.

                    Gassho, J
                    This worries me a bit. It reminds me of Japanese Zen's support for the invasion of China and subsequent SE Asian states. Killing people for their own good. I know this is far from what Jundo had in mind, but it could come across that way. Zen in Japan has still not come to terms with its guilt.

                    Comment

                    • Jundo
                      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                      • Apr 2006
                      • 39456

                      #11
                      Re: A few questions

                      Originally posted by Adrian

                      This worries me a bit. It reminds me of Japanese Zen's support for the invasion of China and subsequent SE Asian states. Killing people for their own good. I know this is far from what Jundo had in mind, but it could come across that way. Zen in Japan has still not come to terms with its guilt.
                      Hi Adrian,

                      Yes, I understand your concern. The aspect of "dropping all thought of right and wrong" and "ultimately, no death or killing possible" can fall into amorality and tolerance of violence if we are not careful. For such reason, the Precepts point us to a very clear path of "Right" and "Good" which is anything but amoral ... pointing us away from violence, anger, greed, jealousy and all their like.

                      Of course (as seen in our annual study for Jukai of the Precept on Killing), there are many gray areas and some room for disagreement even amid the very clear (such as questions on killing termites to save a building, on eating meat as the Buddha originally tolerated in India, on killing for self-defense to protect one's family or own life). However, generally, the path is very clear (though I term the Precept one of "refraining" from taking life, and emphasize the focus on "sentient beings", and not a total, and perhaps impossible, prohibition).

                      viewtopic.php?f=7&t=4269

                      Now, killing a termite, a cow or a cuddly cat is not the same as killing a human ... even for a Buddhist. Granted, we see them as pets today, but in the past their role was that of mice hunters and scavengers ... and arguably, they were seen around Buddhist temples as not much more cuddly than mice themselves, or racoons and the like. Our own cat at Treeleaf certainly is responsible himself for the death of several mice, birds and snakes this year alone (and despite my repeated attempts to teach him Buddhism and get him to sit Zazen) ... Thus, killing a cat may ultimately save many lives!

                      http://www.treeleaf.org/sit-a-long/with ... -katz.html

                      Perhaps Nansen's act of teaching was "worth it" for the lesson it has left us ... or perhaps (as some suggest) he never really killed the cat at all, but only threatened to do so (like Solomon threated to cut the baby in half).

                      In any event, many Koans are meant to shock us out of our usual, complacent ways of thinking and assumptions. This certainly is one. For a bit more on this and other Koans, I recommend this thread ...

                      viewtopic.php?p=33804#p33804

                      Gassho, Jundo
                      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                      Comment

                      • Adrian
                        Member
                        • Apr 2011
                        • 69

                        #12
                        Re: A few questions

                        Thank you, Jundo, for your patient response and for the links.

                        I have a lot to learn.

                        (Retiring in 3 months, so will have more time. )

                        Comment

                        • Kyonin
                          Treeleaf Priest / Engineer
                          • Oct 2010
                          • 6742

                          #13
                          Re: A few questions

                          Originally posted by Madrone
                          1. What is the relationship between shikantaza and the four noble truths? Is this form of meditation to help give us insight into our suffering and its causes, or is it something else?

                          2. While meditating I keep catching my mind sticking to certain thoughts and I "use" the blue sky / clouds metaphor that Jundo describes. But as the thought passes a second thought keeps coming up, asking "what am I returning to"? I don't have an answer for that thought, and I sit with not having that answer and let that cloud pass too. Shikantaza is a mystery to me, and I am not sure if I am doing it right.

                          3. I start out mediation with a decent posture, but often catch my upper body leaning back (beats me why I do that) and adjust my posture. Then a distracting thought comes up saying that I should not be paying attention to my posture, etc. etc. Does this happen to you?

                          I hope you are having a nice day. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

                          Madrone.
                          Hi Madrone.

                          I think that maybe you are being over analytical about Shikantaza. At some point we are all overwhelmed by the thought that we have to learn and put as much effort as we can. But in this process we forget that sitting is just that.

                          If the mind wonders while you are sitting, let it wonder. Just be aware of it and kindly return to the blue sky metaphor.

                          A wise old guy around here says that if the mind wonders off a thousand times, that's a thousand times you get your attention back.

                          In my experience, in time that 1000 times get lower and lower...

                          Hope this helps.
                          Hondō Kyōnin
                          奔道 協忍

                          Comment

                          • disastermouse

                            #14
                            Re: A few questions

                            Originally posted by chocobuda
                            Originally posted by Madrone
                            1. What is the relationship between shikantaza and the four noble truths? Is this form of meditation to help give us insight into our suffering and its causes, or is it something else?

                            2. While meditating I keep catching my mind sticking to certain thoughts and I "use" the blue sky / clouds metaphor that Jundo describes. But as the thought passes a second thought keeps coming up, asking "what am I returning to"? I don't have an answer for that thought, and I sit with not having that answer and let that cloud pass too. Shikantaza is a mystery to me, and I am not sure if I am doing it right.

                            3. I start out mediation with a decent posture, but often catch my upper body leaning back (beats me why I do that) and adjust my posture. Then a distracting thought comes up saying that I should not be paying attention to my posture, etc. etc. Does this happen to you?

                            I hope you are having a nice day. Thanks for taking the time to read this.

                            Madrone.
                            Hi Madrone.

                            I think that maybe you are being over analytical about Shikantaza. At some point we are all overwhelmed by the thought that we have to learn and put as much effort as we can. But in this process we forget that sitting is just that.

                            If the mind wonders while you are sitting, let it wonder. Just be aware of it and kindly return to the blue sky metaphor.

                            A wise old guy around here says that if the mind wonders off a thousand times, that's a thousand times you get your attention back.

                            In my experience, in time that 1000 times get lower and lower...

                            Hope this helps.
                            Not only that, but it is exactly because the mind wanders that we can practice. The mind wandering (and taking it back to 'here') IS perfect practice - the timeless satori stuff - that's just a momentary lapse into concentration practice - LOL!

                            As with all things I say, IMHO,

                            Chet

                            Comment

                            • threethirty
                              Member
                              • Dec 2011
                              • 170

                              #15
                              Re: A few questions

                              thank you everyone for this topic I now have a more complete idea of the topic. I love that koan story, and Dogen's dissatisfaction with it _/_

                              -Jusitn
                              --Washu
                              和 Harmony
                              秀 Excellence

                              "Trying to be happy by accumulating possessions is like trying to satisfy hunger by taping sandwiches all over your body" George Carlin Roshi

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