Revisiting "Opening the hand of thought"

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  • shikantazen
    Member
    • Feb 2013
    • 361

    Revisiting "Opening the hand of thought"

    Rereading opening the hand of thought book recently seemed to have helped relieve some of the confusion I had regarding shikantaza practice.

    I don't know why but I seemed to have overlooked the below essential piece of instruction when I read the book earlier.

    Doing correct Zazen means taking the correct posture and entrusting everything to it

    Zazen is not thinking; nor is it sleeping. Doing Zazen is to be full of life aiming at holding a correct zazen posture with our flesh and bones; our posture must be full of life and energy. In Zazen we have to vividly aim at holding the correct posture yet there is no mark to hit. We just sit in the midst of this contradiction where although we aim, we can never perceive hitting the mark.
    My confusion probably arose because I previously meditated in other traditions and there was always an object and meditation is bringing the mind back to the object from thoughts. Since shikantaza was being labelled as objectless, somehow I thought the book was saying that we need to just wake up from thought but once we wake up there is no object to focus on. So it was like constantly checking on myself if I am lost or awake and bringing myself back. Or else the other option, to just sit doing nothing and let myself get kicked back to present moment from thought. But it is not objectless as I thought. There is an object; the object here being "aiming at holding the posture" which is equivalent to just sitting. I think there is a big difference between telling someone just sit versus telling them the above (about posture).

    Am I in the right direction? Is my understanding correct?

    Here are other quotes from the book:

    People who practice zazen must understand intellectually beforehand just what it is, and then when actually sitting zazen, must just aim at the correct posture – not with their heads, but with their muscles and bones. Finally they must drop everything and entrust everything to the correct zazen posture.

    Letting go of Thoughts

    Briefly, our attitude in zazen is aiming at maintaining the posture of zazen with our flesh and bones, and with our mind letting go of thoughts.

    Actually, zazen is not just being somehow glued to ZZ’ (perfect posture). Waking up from sleepiness and thoughts and returning to ZZ’ is itself zazen.
    Gassho,
    Sam
  • Jundo
    Treeleaf Founder and Priest
    • Apr 2006
    • 39221

    #2
    Hi Sam,

    We have had this conversation before! More than a couple of time!

    Over the last 1.5 years that I studied Zen, here are the main/popular ways "Shikantaza" was taught by different teachers/lineages Breath following Group: Focus your attention on "following the breath", usually at the hara. Count your breaths initially and then move onto following the breath without any


    Sorry, I do not believe that your analysis is very precise [but maybe getting warmer! ]. 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).

    Suzuki Shunryu Roshi encouraged placing the attention on the breath, but if you listen to him, he is really describing an objectless, goalless sitting too. Breath is not a tool. Zazen is not a method to get somewhere faster. Here he is explaining this ...

    Enjoy the videos and music you love, upload original content, and share it all with friends, family, and the world on YouTube.


    [By the way, I also recommend following the breath for a few minutes when first sitting, or on those days when the head is simply a runaway hurricane of thoughts and emotions. But then, when a bit of balance is found, returning to open, spacious sitting on everything and nothing at all]

    I do not know anyone who teaches "simply sit, let go of control" as "anyway you sit is fine", as you say. Useless does not mean "useless" in the sense of killing time, "nothing in need of change" does not mean that there are not revolutionary changes ... for true realization of "nothing in need of change" is a radical change and addition to our lives. You misunderstand "sitting sits itself" as some kind of thumb twiddling. You are "fine the way you are" means that you are already Buddha and had better start acting like it, not merely "you are fine the way you are". "Whatever happens is okay" is true ... whatever happens IS OKAY! ... although, simultaneously, whatever happens is NOT OKAY if it means being lost and wallowing in thought, filled with greed, anger and ignorance etc.

    I would suggest that most of the good teachers are teaching far more than you describe and something far more radical. It is the method of dropping all methods, hitting the goal by vibrant, energetic sitting dropping all goals.

    On the other hand, some seem to teach what they call "Shikantaza" or breath counting\following as just some method to attain deep concentration, an adjunct to Koan Zazen or the like. You and I discussed that on another thread today, and that is unfortunate.

    Hi Everyone, I've been reading TNH's sutra commentaries. I'm taking it at a slow pace. The first interpretation in the book was on the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. It really has changed how I get through my day!! It's been a great assistance to be aware of my breath on that level and to center myself when things


    Neither too loose, nor too slack. Neither wallowing in thoughts or stirring them up, neither sitting in a spaced out fog. There may be times for all that too (it is all part of Zazen), but when catching ourselves doing so, we let the thoughts go, return to vibrant "Just Sitting".

    In fact, our Zazen does have an "object of focus" (although, as in all forms of Zazen, it is actually an "objectless object", for as we drop thoughts of this and that the hard barriers between subject and object may soften, sometimes even fully drop away).

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS - If you think Zazen is a "method", then you are doing the method of Zazen wrong. If you think Zazen is about having a goal, and seek the fastest way to hit the goal ... you will miss the goal by a mile.

    Does that sound like a Koan? IT IS!
    Last edited by Jundo; 10-14-2014, 04:03 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

    Comment

    • Jundo
      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
      • Apr 2006
      • 39221

      #3
      I will add one more aspect to this (and which I have told you before), which unfortunately does not always get emphasized enough by some Soto Zen Teachers to beginners (although, if you listen carefully to what Suzuki and Uchiyama are saying above, they are saying the same) ...

      One must sit with the attitude [felt in the marrow of the bones] that sitting itself is the Whole and Complete Act, the one thing to do ... the only thing in need of doing ... in that moment in all reality ... no other place to go, no other action in need of doing in such moment. Sitting is not an instrumentality or technique to the realizing of something ... and thus in dropping all thought of instrumentality toward realization, one realizes what can only be realized in such way. (Thus, Zazen is so much unlike our usual actions in daily life where we run to here and there, and need to "do and accomplish something" in order to fill some holes in our life that need filling. Zazen is the potholes of life Wholly Holey Holy filled by the flowing Dance of Wholeness ... a name I prefer to "Emptiness" ... all along beyond human standards of "complete vs. incomplete", "filled" or "empty" ... ).

      ...

      Some of the descriptions like "there is nothing to do, just sit there" can easily be misunderstood as some advise to just sit there twiddling one's thumbs like a numb headed bump on a log" (what is traditionally described as sitting "like one is lost in the ghost cave"). ... I know about these misunderstandings, because I get asked about them all the time by people confused by the meaning of "just sitting" and "nothing to change" and "goallessness"). It is for this reason that Dogen really hyper-amped up this "sacred, only place to be in all time and space in this moment ... a moment of Zazen is a moment of Buddha sitting Buddha" aspect of Shikantaza. One must really sit with the attitude that it something sacred with nothing lacking, a whole and complete action perfect in that moment. It is anything but being a "numb bump on a log".. As Taigen Leighton writes in that essay on Dogen's Shikantaza ...

      This just sitting is not a meditation technique or practice, or any thing at all. ... Dogen describes this meditation as the samadhi of self-fulfillment (or enjoyment), and elaborates the inner meaning of this practice. Simply just sitting is expressed as concentration on the self in its most delightful wholeness, in total inclusive interconnection with all of phenomena. Dogen makes remarkably radical claims for this simple experience. "When one displays the buddha mudra with one's whole body and mind, sitting upright in this samadhi for even a short time, everything in the entire dharma world becomes buddha mudra, and all space in the universe completely becomes enlightenment."[13] Proclaiming that when one just sits all of space itself becomes enlightenment is an inconceivable statement, deeply challenging our usual sense of the nature of reality, whether we take Dogen's words literally or metaphorically. Dogen places this activity of just sitting far beyond our usual sense of personal self or agency. He goes on to say that, "Even if only one person sits for a short time, because this zazen is one with all existence and completely permeates all times, it performs everlasting buddha guidance" throughout space and time.[14] At least in Dogen's faith in the spiritual or "theological" implications of the activity of just sitting, this is clearly a dynamically liberating practice, not mere blissful serenity.
      Why? There is a non-method to the madness! There is a goal in the goalless!

      Our small self, the body-mind, is always filled with countless desires ... the desire to be somewhere else, be getting somewhere, achieving some prize, some distant goal. Our body-mind is always judging this or that as somehow inadequate to what the body-mind wants, its likes and dislikes, needs, regrets and dreams.

      Thus, when there is sat an instant of Zazen as wholeness in just sitting, the only place to be and act to do in that instant, in all of reality, to fulfill life as life ... the Buddha and all the Ancestors just sitting in that instant of sitting, no other thing to attain or which ever can be attained ... no other place to go or in need of going ... all holes filled, whether full or empty or in between ... all lack and excess resolved in that one sitting, with not one thing to add or take away ... judgments dropped away, "likes and dislikes" put aside ... nothing missing from Zazen (even when we might feel that "something is missing", for one can be fully content with the feeling of lack!) ... the sitting of Zazen and all life experienced as complete and whole as just the sitting of Zazen ... the entire universe manifesting itself on the Zafu at that moment ...

      ... in other words, when the "little self" is thereby put out of a job by the experience of "just sitting" as whole and complete with nothing more to be desired or needed ... then the hard borders between the "little self" and the "not the self" (which is usually being judged and "bumped into" and divided into pieces) thus naturally soften, fully fade away ... only the wholeness of the dance remaining ...

      ... then "Zazen is in itself body-mind dropped off".


      Human beings simply do not know how to act an action pierced as naturally complete just by the act of the action itself, how to live life that is whole just by the act of living life.
      To sit such way ... and to let Zazen sit Zazen such way ... is vitally important.

      Gassho, Jundo
      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

      Comment

      • MyoHo
        Member
        • Feb 2013
        • 632

        #4
        Hi Sam,

        Thank you for your post and thoughts. It is a great book with lots of great stuff but it is still just a book like so many others. There is no " how to" guide or manual that, when followed and applied precisely, leads to success. There is no magic cookbook with failsafe recipies. This is why " just sitting" is so hard to to compared to many other flavours of practice. I think Jundo said it all in his answer but maybe I might add a point of view from my humble attempts in practice?

        Dogen said the original truth is all arroud us. Thinking about this and listening to a great talk by Taigu on the Genjokoan, I found that where you place your attention while sitting can be many. The whole world or even universe is constantly and tierlessly teaching us and showing the way. This is why there is no magic manual that works for everyone. In my case, listening to everything arround me and at the same time to whats inside me, reveals something that can only be described as a huge cosmic symphony. I dont know if you like modern classical music ( the incomprehensive bashing of a piano and such) or Jazz? In that kind of music you must let go of your traditional ideas of melody and rithm. It sounds like incomprehensible noise without a clear order or rithm untill you cultivate a taste for it and really pay attention. If you keep looking for sweet, midle of the road music in a modern classical piece, you get bored and frustrated by the terrible noise.

        When I sit, I listen to all sounds of the world and try to join in with the rithm of my breath. Soon there no longer is a me or you, an inside or outside. You are just part of this one whole, great and amazing no-thing. Airplanes, fighting neighbours, a bird singing, a car passing in the street and yes, also all those thoughts that come in our mind are noises too. Now your thoughts are just musical notes of the astounding and eternal symphony composition that is reality. Dropping the urge to make sense of it all, without judging or distinguishing whats what inside and outside, the whole thing turns out to be you all allong.

        Nobody goes to a concert in search of one single note. Dont do that bro. Sit and go to your breath with open heart and open ears. Maybe this is why we sit with our eyes open? Becase we don't single out one thing but work on becoming one with all that is out there and in there, all at the same time only to find there is no such thing. Sitting is all there is, there is nothing to come next.

        Hopeless stumbling in the dark, I know but maybe it helps a bit?

        Gassho

        Myoho
        Mu

        Comment

        • Ugrok
          Member
          • Sep 2014
          • 323

          #5
          Very nice description, MyoHo. I exactly feel this with the sounds when sitting goes well. Just the pure joy of being with it all. Thanks !

          Gassho,

          Ugrok

          Comment

          • shikantazen
            Member
            • Feb 2013
            • 361

            #6
            Thanks Myoho. Listening to sounds is a great practice.

            As I stated earlier, for me the missing piece (in understanding that book & shikantaza) was the posture part. "Doing Zazen is to be full of life aiming at holding a correct zazen posture with our flesh and bones"

            It has been only a couple of days sitting this way but this instruction seems to make a big difference in my sitting. Just wanted to report that here. Would like to hear other opinions as well, especially from those who are sitting in the way described in the book.

            Gassho,
            Sam

            Comment

            • Jundo
              Treeleaf Founder and Priest
              • Apr 2006
              • 39221

              #7
              Believing that focusing on the posture or the breathing is the Heart of Zazen, or even very important, is rather like feeling that removing one's hat or putting on nice music is the Heart of Love Making or even very important ...

              Helpful or lovely procedural steps, perhaps, that may even set a mood, but far from necessary, and even farther from the true Heart of the Matter.

              Love making is much more than removing a hat or putting on Sinatra or Norah Jones. Zazen is much more than posture.

              I hope the analogy is fine for grown ups.

              As Myoho said, this world is as a Great Symphony.

              Gassho, J
              Last edited by Jundo; 10-14-2014, 03:28 PM.
              ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

              Comment

              • MyoHo
                Member
                • Feb 2013
                • 632

                #8
                Not at all Jundo, clear but not too much.

                And Sam, dont forget the silence between the notes, thats music too!

                Gassho

                Myoho
                Mu

                Comment

                • Jundo
                  Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                  • Apr 2006
                  • 39221

                  #9
                  Originally posted by Jundo
                  Believing that focusing on the posture or the breathing is the Heart of Zazen, or even very important, is rather like feeling that removing one's hat or putting on nice music is the Heart of Love Making or even very important ...

                  Helpful or lovely procedural steps, perhaps, that may even set a mood, but far from necessary, and even farther from the true Heart of the Matter.

                  Love making is much more than removing a hat or putting on Sinatra or Norah Jones. Zazen is much more than posture.

                  I hope the analogy is fine for grown ups.

                  As Myoho said, this world is as a Great Symphony.

                  Gassho, J
                  Let me put this in another way ... focusing on the breath or holding the posture or the like is just an anchor. Do not mistake the anchor for the ship, let alone the Voyage.

                  Gassho, J
                  ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                  Comment

                  • Meikyo
                    Member
                    • Jun 2014
                    • 197

                    #10
                    Thank you all for this! So fundamental and important!

                    Gassho
                    ~ Please remember that I am very fallible.

                    Gassho
                    Meikyo

                    Comment

                    • shikantazen
                      Member
                      • Feb 2013
                      • 361

                      #11
                      Jundo,


                      As I already told I am just clarifying the source of my confusion. I am not here trying to redefine shikantaza or trying to say focus on posture is the only method. For me this is a big revelation and clarification for the confusion I had especially regarding the book. I am just happy about it. That's all.

                      I have already told you, your explanations confuse me and I don't find them of much use. We already had that discussion. You also see that I am trying to avoid your posts in this thread and trying to get some advice from some senior students here. Why are you still forcefully trying to give me advice and trying to paste the same old long posts repeatedly to me? I don't know if you just love to talk or if you really want to understand and help. I have read those long posts hundred times but they don't make sense to me. I understand this is your forum. But what is the need to get into every thread and bulldoze your way from the start? How about if you let others reply, let the discussion flower and if you see it is going the wrong route may be clarify in the end? What you say will anyway have more weight as you are a teacher. Just my 2 cents.

                      Gassho,
                      Sam

                      Comment

                      • Myosha
                        Member
                        • Mar 2013
                        • 2974

                        #12
                        Dear Sam,

                        Metta to all.


                        Gassho,
                        Myosha
                        "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

                        Comment

                        • Jundo
                          Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                          • Apr 2006
                          • 39221

                          #13
                          Originally posted by shikantazen
                          Jundo,


                          As I already told I am just clarifying the source of my confusion. I am not here trying to redefine shikantaza or trying to say focus on posture is the only method. For me this is a big revelation and clarification for the confusion I had especially regarding the book. I am just happy about it. That's all.

                          I have already told you, your explanations confuse me and I don't find them of much use. We already had that discussion. You also see that I am trying to avoid your posts in this thread and trying to get some advice from some senior students here. Why are you still forcefully trying to give me advice and trying to paste the same old long posts repeatedly to me? I don't know if you just love to talk or if you really want to understand and help. I have read those long posts hundred times but they don't make sense to me. I understand this is your forum. But what is the need to get into every thread and bulldoze your way from the start? How about if you let others reply, let the discussion flower and if you see it is going the wrong route may be clarify in the end? What you say will anyway have more weight as you are a teacher. Just my 2 cents.

                          Gassho,
                          Sam
                          Sam, you seek advice from many teachers, and I offer mine. Yes, the advice does not change because our Practice here is so.

                          Good luck to you. May you find what you seek.

                          Gassho, J
                          ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                          Comment

                          • pinoybuddhist
                            Member
                            • Jun 2010
                            • 462

                            #14
                            Our sensei does tend to be on the long-winded, copy-paste-previous-words side. I've gotten used to it by now, and... well, I think it's kind of like if you were in a class and the teacher is talking and he says, "and if you turn to page X, 3rd paragraph..." as a point of reference. Plus some of us really like to get into even the footnotes and bibliography cause we're such geeks . So...neither right nor wrong... sometimes really long and confusing, sometimes easier to get. And even the long, confusing parts are just the Dharma gate of confusing parts. Can we grok that?

                            Gassho,
                            Raf

                            Comment

                            • Shinzan
                              Member
                              • Nov 2013
                              • 338

                              #15
                              May I offer another viewpoint on shikantaza?
                              If you were camping in the woods and heard a noise in the dark, wouldn't your attention go directly to that noise? What's that?! In that instant, stillness arises.
                              For me, bringing that energy of "What's that?!" to my awareness, to the content of my consciousness, is zazen. On the cushion or off. Anxious mind or calm mind.

                              Just my experience.
                              _/\_ Shinzan

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