Saturday, December 02, 2006


For the past few sessions we've been developing techniques based on the principle of Advaitya - or "without separation".


Three stages are identified in cultivating this state of awareness. I feel they're best used as guidelines - do not think that you advance by achieving 'higher' states. A firm foundation is essential to true advancement.

  1. Dharana - concentration; focusing the awareness through the sense and mental faculties while silencing the activities of the mind and emotions external to the focus.  
  2. Dhyana - meditation; tranquil contemplation of the focus, cessation of the 'I'-process integrating the perceiver, perceived, and act of perception. 
  3. Samadhi - dwelling in superconscious states

The transition between these states is gradual and follows from residing in the preceding state. That is to say, once you begin with and sustain concentration from moment to moment, you will gradually slide into meditation. Entering dhyana and samadhi tends to occur fleetingly at first. There is no need to get frustrated or discouraged - simply return to the object of concentration and begin again. With time and practice this method quickly becomes easier and consciousness is absorbed into the states.


To begin with, use simple and emotionally neutral objects to focus on. Concentrate on all their attributes while giving equal attention to the perceiver (you and your awareness) and the dynamic of perception. Observe the interaction of 3 these elements in a concentrated fashion and establish yourself in dharana. From then on it's a question of time, patience, and vigilance. When you observe your overall state of awareness changing, relax and go with it. From these objects, we've moved on to using the breath as a focal 'object'. This is a subtle approach to opening up another space of techniques which we'll examine soon.  

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

The Six Realms

The six realm theory of existence is a keystone principle in many Buddhist schools, especially the Vajrayana. Drawing from ancient cosmology, the six realms are a series of states which characterise and condition their inhabitants as Gods, Titans, Humans, Animals, Hungry Ghosts, or Hell-dwellers.

The practical worth of this system lies in its ability to parallel may of the mental states we enter throughout our lives, moment to moment. Each realm predisposes its inhabitants to particular behaviours: some make the practice of clear awareness and consciousness less hindered, while others flood beings with excesses of pain or pleasure distorting their natural flow of awareness.

Take it as a metaphor for self-evaluation; as most principles of its kind, it operates as a recipe to liberate the practitioner from conditioned states (As always, do not adhere too closely to the workings of this system or it will become habitual and hinder you more than it helps).

Here are some articles to start from:
The Japanese Buddhist Statuary
Buddha Dharma Education & Buddhanet

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

.:Notes: Sessions 4-6

Shikantaza is a useful technique in itself, but  is also useful when entering other forms of focus. When you establish yourself in shikantaza, allow your focus to concentrate itself at a certain point or upon a certain object or action. This may sound paradoxical, but it happens quite readily with a little nudge of intent behind it. Remember not to  force it.
This is a difficult practice, and while some are able to enter such a concentration with ease, others encounter many obstacles and much frustration. An interesting exercise to  facilitate this practice
is to link it with a light version of an ancient qi circulation technique commonly called "the microcosmic orbit". Proceed by first sitting in a confortable position and breathing slowly into the abdomen. Next, extend and relax your awareness to enter the shikantaza.

Once this state is formed, lightly bring your focus to your breathing and follow the leading front of air down to the abdominal cavity on inhalation. Suspend the in-breath for a moment. Upon exhalation, notice and follow the wave of relaxation moving outward from the abdomen and diaphragm.

In qigong and similar arts, visualization accompanies this breathing - here, refrain from any active visualization, rather, allow the awareness cultivated in shikantaza to observe the effects of the breathing in the region of the lower abdomen, cradled by the pelvis. Watch this for a considerable time.

The next stage involves the circulation of 'qi' or in our case awareness.  On an in-breath, draw your awareness into the lower regions of your abdomen, referred to as the 'lower dantien' in the figure above. After the suspension of the in-breath, exhale slowly and move the awareness gently and evenly along the spinal column. Note, this is contrary to the figure due to its portrayal of the 'fire path' of the orbit. This is the 'wind-path' circulation. Once your focus has passed over the head begin another in-breath to escort it down the front of the body back to the lower dantien to complete the circle. Repeat the circuit 5-10 times. If you feel discomfort, do not use this method. At all times, your awareness and your focus should be in the 'mode' of shikantaza, ie passively but attentively watching what arises and what dissolves.

Conclude the circuit on an in-breath to the lower dantien and an out-breath following the relaxation from the diaphragm as above.  Repeat this for around 20 breaths or until the momentum stops. Finally, enter the initial technique of shikantaza to stretch back into your surroundings. Hang out there for a while and be attentive to any differences.

Practicing a series of techniques like those above and paying special attention to the transitions is a starting point for skillful meditation and prevents the practioner from developing unseen 'habits' by relying too heavily on a single style.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

.:Notes: Session 2 & 3

In our recent practices, the feedback regarding the development of shikantaza has been quite positive.

Members report that habits from other meditational styles - such as focusing on a particular point/chakra sometimes intefere with the effortless awareness principle. This is a normal result which can be dissolved by a relatively chilled out approach to the style. The more one worries about getting rid of habits, the more mental energy ends up feeding it. If you find yourself being drawn to a particular focal point, relax, this is not 'bad' shikantaza. It is more likely the conditioning of the body and mind that predisposes your awareness. Give the focal point as much attention as it needs without consciously regulating it while allowing your awareness to flow around everything else in your field of experience. Gradually, the stiffness of the habit will ease.

Two key elements of Buddhist 'philosophy' are directly dealt with in this style: Karma and Emptiness...

The karmic flow of cause and effect is best understood by observation - by a high degree of effortless immersion in the practioner's immediate locale and quelling of the 'I' process (I see this, I feel that...) elemental patterns in the nature of things tend to present themselves.

The principle of Emptiness is witnessed in a similar manner. Emptiness in this tradition is the interconnectedness of things. It is viewed that things have no inherent nature of their own and are thus 'empty' - they are results of karma and conditions. It's easy to think about this too much and meditations such as the shikantaza are far better at elucidation.

Note, however, that these principles aren't going to be explained (at least in a conventional sense) by the meditation. Remember the process is not a discursive one and quite non-linear. Don't let them bother you unless you're a fan of philosophy. The ideas aren't really necessary.

That's it for now.

We'll be having our meetings on Saturdays from 1100-1200hrs in the Interfaith House. If you can't make it, you can always use this web-log to keep track and ask questions.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

.:Notes: Session 1

Saturday's brief introduction to shikantaza revealed this technique's effectiveness in bringing awareness to thought patterns and ways of seeing most often taken far too much for granted. This is a good starting point for the practioner to understand the filters active upon their senses and mental faculties. From there, the Zen method proceeds to dissolve these conditioned behaviours, not by active deconstruction, but by simple, uncharged awareness. Even if this isn't your aim, shikantaza is certainly worth the practice time.

We discussed the technique's application to both routine and focused tasks where it brings a much more efficient use of mental energy and results in a relaxation that allows a considerable increase in overall awareness. Traditionally, this result has been used in many martial arts such as aikido, kyudo, and kendo.

The initial stage is to rest one's awareness on the body. This is the first great obstacle for many due to the strength of our own, mentally fabricated self-perception and all the emotional associations they carry. This text, Mindful of the Body - a study guide by Thanissaro Bhikkhu might be of help. Once these reactions are subdued the body becomes a very handy object of meditation (which is difficult to forget anywhere).

Another off-shoot contributed by Mitko is of special interest to the quantum theory fans out there; Stanely Sobottka's (Professor Emeritus, Virginia U.) A Course in Consciousness.
You can download the pdf directly here. Even if you're not into the physics (which is only concentrated in the first of three parts) it's definitely a good read.

Remember you can post any questions or comments on the web-log and either PJ or myself will respond.

Friday, September 01, 2006


The first method to be introduced is perhaps one of the most straightforward yet challenging. Drawn from the Soto (T'sao Dong Ch'an) lineage of the Zen tradition (founded by Dogen Zenji in the 1200s), Shikantaza (or mo-chao) is the art of 'just sitting' with the mind in a state of non-thought, a state Dogen found was distinct from not-thinking. The foundation of the process is that enlightenment is not a goal to be strived towards but a constant and integral state of being which the execution of pure mindfulness and non-attachment shall reveal.

A few chapters of the Zen master's most notable work, the Shobogenzo, are directly applicable here. The translation of the zazengi along with notes and introduction may be found here. I dug up a more practical guide to the practice given by a master Sheng-yen from an old Ch'an newsletter which may be found here.

Try it out at your leisure and look out for the e-mail regarding the time of the meeting.
Until then...

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Yogic Meditations and a Happy Return

The methods and understandings of the yoga are frequently preferred as a meditative approach, especially by the more discursive thinkers. Santosha offers many resources to start exploring and even feature some Buddhist sutras in their philosophy section. It's even combined with retail.

PJ, the original founder of the club, will be posting on this site in future. Our combined efforts should be able to churn out something remotely readable. Naturally, we encourage your questions, comments, and points of discussion.