What is Soto Zen Practice?

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jundocohen
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What is Soto Zen Practice?

Post by jundocohen » Thu Jan 11, 2018 10:46 am

Hi,

In our lineage of Soto Zen Buddhism, in the way of Master Dogen, one Practices a simplicity that is all Completion.

The centerpiece is daily sitting of Shikantaza Zazen that is unlike any other activity typically undertaken in life, for one sits with radically not one more thing to attain in life, not one other place to be, not one thing lacking that is unfulfilled by the mere act of sitting itself during the time of sitting. One sits with the conviction that, during the time of sitting, there is not one other action required in all the universe, no other place to be in all the universe, beside this sitting here and now. There is thus such a sense of Completion, Wholeness, At Homeness and Nothing Lacking in Life that sitting itself is Buddha, one sits as Buddha, for such Completion and Wholenesss is the Completion and Wholeness known of a Buddha.

Shikantaza Zazen must be sat, for the time it is sat, with the student profoundly trusting deep in her bones that sitting itself is a complete and sacred act, the one and only action that need be done in the whole universe in that instant of sitting. The student must taste vibrantly that the mere act of sitting Zazen, in that moment, is whole and thoroughly complete, the total fruition of life’s goals, with nothing lacking and nothing to be added to the bare fact of sitting here and now. There must be a sense that the single performance of crossing the legs (or sitting in some other balanced posture) is the realization of all that was ever sought, that there is simply no other place to go in the world nor thing left to do besides sitting in such posture. ... Zazen is the one task and experience that brings meaning and fruition to that time, with nothing else to do. Every inch of sitting is a Total Arrival. This fulfillment in “Just Sitting” must be felt with a tangible vibrancy and energy, trusting that one is sitting at the very pinnacle of satisfaction of all life's needs and wants.

Almost all experienced teachers agree on the basics besides: One should sit in the Lotus Posture (or, these days, some other balanced way such as Burmese or Seiza or in a chair), focus on the breath or the body or just be openly aware, letting one’s thoughts go without grabbing onto them. If finding oneself caught in trains of thought, return to the breath or posture or spaciousness. Sit daily for a certain length of time, but without objective or demanded pay-off. Do not seek anything from your Zazen, whether “enlightenment” or to become “Buddha” or anything at all. Just Sit! But beyond that, Shikantaza is a taste of the end of all searching, Enlightenment is obtained which can only come in the freedom of not seeking. The mind is satisfied, the body is at home, and so we say "bodymind drops away." The hard borders and frictions between the self and all the rest of the world that seems sometimes in opposition, instead soften and sometimes fully drop away.

Why?

The ability to be at rest completely, to realize the preciousness and wholeness of life in this moment is a skill we have lost in this busy world. We chase after achievements, are overwhelmed with jobs that feel undone, and feel that there are endless places to go and people to see. The world can seem a broken and hopeless place. Thus, it is vital that we learn to sit each day with no other place in need of going, no feeling of brokenness nor judgment of lack, nothing more in need of achieving in that time but sitting itself. We sit with the sense that there is nothing to fix or place in need of getting, because this “not needing” is a wisdom that we so rarely taste. How tragic if we instead turn our Zazen into just one more battle for achievement, a race to get some peaceful place, attain some craved prize or spiritual reward. Or, on the other hand, how equally tragic if we use Zazen just as a break from life, a little escape, never tasting the wholeness and completeness of life. By doing so, Zazen becomes just one more symptom of the rat race, and the prize is out of reach. If one makes Buddha and Enlightenment somehow distant ... even lifetimes away ... by one's own thoughts of lack and distance, then you make it so. Instead, true peace comes not by chasing peace, but by resting now in peace and Total Arrival.

There's a somewhat counter-intuitive trick to Zazen: I sometimes compare Shikantaza to the children’s puzzle of “Chinese finger-cuffs” which are escaped, not by forceful effort and pulling harder, but by non-resistance and letting go; by dropping the hunt for “enlightenment”, by giving up the chase, by allowing all to rest in the complete wholeness and acceptance of Just Sitting, by quenching all thirsts in the sheer satisfaction of sitting alone, one realizes a freedom and way of being which otherwise alludes us in this world of endless chasing and constant dissatisfactions. All things in life become "as they are" without our judgments and resistance ... and the suffering of Dukkha is dropped away. We cease judging ... with sunny days now just sunny, rainy days rainy, all things in life taken just as it is with a Peace and Satisfaction that only a Buddha can know. All problems, questions, complexities and frictions of the world seem to become light, illuminated, to become clear or drop fully away. We flow with the Impermanency of life, we see through birth and death, coming and going, to some Wholeness which is beyond and right through all apparent time and change.

And then we rise from the cushion ...

... and begin Master Dogen's next lesson in his way which he called "Practice-Enlightenment" in which Practice, and acts of life itself, is Enlightenment fully realized:

Rising from the cushion, we may bring this sense of "nothing in need of fixing, nothing to add or take away" with us in our bones, even as we grab a hammer and get to work fixing the problems of life. Master Dogen taught us that every action in our daily life can be encountered as a sacred act. We bring the stillness of the cushion into the motion and calamity of life. Getting on with our busy day of places to go and goals to fulfill, a part of us is now beyond going and goals (nonetheless, we go and try to do what needs to be done). Working hard in the office or doing housework at home, we equally experience that there is no job yet undone (nonetheless, we roll up our sleeves and get to work). Seeing this world with all its problems and suffering, we experience that there is nothing to fix (yet we get busy to fix what we can and make this world better). One now learns to walk life's mountain, up and down, but encountering each step by step as Total Arrival for All the Mountain, top to bottom is Buddha all along. It is as if we now encounter the world two different ways that are truly one: working for goals on the one hand, yet on the other, all goals dropped away; busy and pressed for time, yet tasting something beyond all measure of time. ... When the doctor hands us the diagnosis we feared, when our loved one dies or leaves us, one may also experience a Wisdom free of coming and going, all life or death. Even as tears of grief pour down our cheeks, we may simultaneously bask in the warm embrace whereby there can be no separation, grateful for it all.

Always at Home, Nothing to Fix, in a world which is a house in need of constant repairs! This is the Path of the Bodhisattva who has vowed to save all beings.

Along the way, we do our best to live in a gentle, healthy and helpful manner by the Precepts, avoiding violence and anger, jealousy and other harmful words thoughts and acts, all divided thinking. We learn to see through this "little self" with all its selfish demands, judgments and wants. Shikantaza Zazen is the centerpiece of our doing so.

This is our Way of Soto Zen.

Gassho, J
Teacher at Treeleaf Zendo, a Soto Zen Sangha, an online practice place for folks who cannot commute to a Zen Center due to health, living in remote areas, work or family needs. The focus is Shikantaza 'Just Sitting' Zazen http://www.treeleaf.org

Caodemarte
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Re: What is Soto Zen Practice?

Post by Caodemarte » Thu Jan 11, 2018 11:21 pm

Thank you.

If it is not over gilding the lilly, could you add a little bit about the dynamic quality of shikantaza that other Soto teachers like Taigen Daniel Leighton in “Zen Questions: Zazen, Dogen, and the Spirit of Creative Inquiry” and others have alluded to?

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jundocohen
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Re: What is Soto Zen Practice?

Post by jundocohen » Fri Jan 12, 2018 1:55 am

Caodemarte wrote:
Thu Jan 11, 2018 11:21 pm
Thank you.

If it is not over gilding the lilly, could you add a little bit about the dynamic quality of shikantaza that other Soto teachers like Taigen Daniel Leighton in “Zen Questions: Zazen, Dogen, and the Spirit of Creative Inquiry” and others have alluded to?
Not much more to add, and I think Taigen would agree, but the still sitting of Zazen is a Stillness that embodies all the small stillnesses and greatest movement of the whole world. It is the center of the storm that is the stillness of the whirling storm itself right to the farthest outside edge. Rising from the cushion, getting on with this busy life, hopefully it becomes Stillness in motion as well.

Gassho, J
Teacher at Treeleaf Zendo, a Soto Zen Sangha, an online practice place for folks who cannot commute to a Zen Center due to health, living in remote areas, work or family needs. The focus is Shikantaza 'Just Sitting' Zazen http://www.treeleaf.org

Caodemarte
Posts: 420
Joined: Mon Dec 11, 2017 7:02 pm

Re: What is Soto Zen Practice?

Post by Caodemarte » Fri Jan 12, 2018 2:52 am

Thanks.

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