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...