Lewis Richmond on Shikantaza: Just Sitting, Going Nowhere

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jundocohen
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Lewis Richmond on Shikantaza: Just Sitting, Going Nowhere

Post by jundocohen » Sun Jul 01, 2018 2:57 am

Chikudo Lewis Richmond, a teacher in the Suzuki Lineage and a successor to Sojun Mel Weitsman, has an excellent article on Shikantaza in the latest Lion's Roar.

It begins: "The Zen practice of just sitting, says Lewis Richmond, doesn’t help us to reach our destination. It allows us to stop having one. But how do you “go” nowhere?"

He writes:
The practice of “just-awareness” is the essence of Zen meditation. The Japanese word for this, shikantaza, is usually translated as “just sitting,” but Dogen, the founder of the Soto school of Zen, specifically taught that zazen is “beyond sitting or lying down.” Shikantaza is more than the mere physical posture of sitting, although it certainly includes that. Fundamentally it is the practice of just being here, being present—except that we are not rocks or stones, but aware beings—so I think “just-awareness” more fully captures the essence of the term. But awareness of what? That is the first question.

Most people new to zazen think that it’s a skill that can be learned, like tai chi. We come to zazen instruction and are told to sit a certain way, hold the hands just so, keep the eyes open, and pay attention to the breath. It seems rather easy; we look forward to becoming more accomplished in it. But Dogen admonishes us, “Zazen is not learning to do concentration.” He seems to be implying that our ambitions to improve are not quite on the mark.

We can be forgiven for thinking that if we do the same thing over and over, we will improve. But is “just being here” a skill to be learned? Do we ever get better at that? I don’t think so. From the first moment of life to the last, we’re always just here.

...

It’s not some kind of yogic concentration practice, such as Gautama Buddha himself practiced early in his spiritual career. When he was young, Gautama went around to various yoga teachers and learned how to develop trance states and psychic powers. He became very accomplished at these; he “improved.” But in the end he felt that all these practices missed the fundamental point. No matter how good we get at something, eventually we grow old, become sick and die; all our powers come to naught. Gautama’s conclusion was that all of these concentration practices really didn’t work, because in the end they’re just states of consciousness to go into and come out of; they don’t really address the ground of being or the cause of human suffering.

...

“Emptying the mind and dwelling in emptiness is not Zen.” So stopping one’s thinking is not the goal, though many meditators may think that.

Once someone asked my teacher Suzuki-Roshi, “What do I do about all my thinking in zazen?”

“What’s wrong with thinking?” Suzuki replied.

Dogen’s own instruction on this point is the famous injunction, “Think not-thinking.” Probably most people who hear that think it means we’re not supposed to think, that thoughts are somehow a hindrance, and that the goal is a completely thought-free mind. But Dogen doesn’t say, “Don’t think.” He says, “Think”; he uses a verb. We’re being asked to think something, to make some kind of effort. But think what? How do we think not-thinking?

Suzuki-Roshi used a beautiful phrase in explaining this point; he said that “think not-thinking” was “real thinking.” This is an awareness that tracks exactly what’s going on. So when you watch a plum blossom, he would say, you exactly track the flowering of the blossom—no more, no less. That isn’t like our usual thinking. Usually we’re thinking about some big problem in our life, or what we did yesterday, or are going to do tomorrow.

Dogen So means that we’re not trying to stop our thinking, but we’re also not paying particular attention to it or trying to do anything with it. Instead there’s a kind of deep acceptance or tolerance about everything. Thus we come to rest not in the track of our thinking, but in that which thinks. But who or what is that? We are back to some deep ineffable question at the root of our existence, our just-awareness. This means that in the midst of our childlike ease and joy, there is also some unusual and subtle effort—an inquiry that is beyond ratiocination or cogitation.

...

Without that effort—that deep questioning that drove Gautama to leave the comfort of his princely position and wander the world as a homeless monk—zazen can quickly devolve into a boring, enervated plopping down on a cushion. One Japanese Zen teacher liked to call this kind of too-passive sitting “shikan-nothing.” Shikan-nothing isn’t quite it either.

So what is “it”?

The best, and most sincere, answer is that we actually cannot say. There is something inexplicable about it—not because it is secret, but because our human condition itself is inexplicable. And that’s all right. All of us naturally want a spiritual practice we can understand or conceive of, and most of conventional religious practice is like that—prayer, ritual, chanting, visualization and so on. These are all practices that can be conceived of and understood. Zazen is a different sort of practice—mysterious and yet as simple and familiar as our own hand.

https://www.lionsroar.com/going-nowhere/
Oh, this article hits the mark beyond 99% of the descriptions out there that purport to be "Shikantaza." Lovely. I would just drop in my own usual Jundo bit:

"Just Sit as the one action to do, that needs to be done or which ever could be done, the one place to be or where one could ever be, in the whole of time and space during that moment of sitting."

Nine Bows to Richmond Roshi.

Gassho, J

SatTodayLAH
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

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Re: Lewis Richmond on Shikantaza: Just Sitting, Going Nowhere

Post by lindama » Sun Jul 01, 2018 3:44 am

Wonderful article! Lew Richmond has a big heart and compassion, it comes through here. I've seen him twice teaching with Lama Palden, Zen Heart Vajra Heart. This was back in 2011, I don't know what became of the project. I suspect that individual responsibilities came to bear/bare.



this seems to capture him for me ... "the human condition itself is inexplicable". My teacher would say similar.
So what is “it”?

The best, and most sincere, answer is that we actually cannot say. There is something inexplicable about it—not because it is secret, but because our human condition itself is inexplicable. And that’s all right. All of us naturally want a spiritual practice we can understand or conceive of, and most of conventional religious practice is like that—prayer, ritual, chanting, visualization and so on. These are all practices that can be conceived of and understood. Zazen is a different sort of practice—mysterious and yet as simple and familiar as our own hand.
Previous to that, I saw Lew at Lama Surya Das dzogchen retreat about 2000? or so, right after he recovered from a serious coma/stroke which should have killed him. I remember he kept saying, I shouldn't be here... and, I remember that he seriously became a musician after that... saxaphone, if I remember. I cooked for Surya Das for a while back when.... Surya had lots of zen friends....

and, that brings me to my sangha where our musician died in his sleep, July 3, 2003, we were at sesshin, he went to play with his band ... he had a cajun band and re-wrote the sutra service likewise. He always said.... "there are two kinds of people, those who know they're going to die, and those who don't.... I wanna be with those who know they gonna die." Ride on Richie..... :111:

linda

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Re: Lewis Richmond on Shikantaza: Just Sitting, Going Nowhere

Post by jundocohen » Sun Jul 01, 2018 3:59 am

lindama wrote:
Sun Jul 01, 2018 3:44 am
Wonderful article! Lew Richmond has a big heart and compassion, it comes through here. I've seen him twice teaching with Lama Palden, Zen Heart Vajra Heart. This was back in 2011, I don't know what became of the project. I suspect that individual responsibilities came to bear/bare.
Unfortunately, the "Zen Heart Vajra Heart" website has been taken down, and it does not look like any news for a few years, so I guess it did not work out. Well, all things are impermanent, including such projects. I will write him and ask.

http://www.zenheartvajraheart.com/

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

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Re: Lewis Richmond on Shikantaza: Just Sitting, Going Nowhere

Post by lindama » Sun Jul 01, 2018 4:06 am

Lew is on Lama Palden's website, there is some collaboration ... last I heard, he also has his own zen sangha....

http://sukhasiddhi.org/preparing-to-share-the-dharma/

copied from the link above... couldn't agree more
Lew Richmond: Between the 4-year teacher training that I taught with Lama Palden which completed in 2009, and two 3-year trainings with some Zen colleagues training Zen priests, I have put 10 years into training Buddhist leaders, so obviously I am very committed to it. I think all of us involved in these trainings realized that traditional Asian-style Buddhist training is not sufficient to prepare Buddhist leaders for the practical, interpersonal, and psychological skills needed to be effective in Western society.

I have found it very nourishing to work with Lama Palden as a woman and as an adept of another lineage. I have learned a lot in doing that, and continue to learn. I love the Sukhasiddhi community for its naturalness, kindness and good humor — essential qualities for authentic Buddhism. I also like the fact that its energy celebrates the feminine in Buddhism — a correction sorely needed now, in my view. This CDL group manifested all these good qualities, and I enjoyed getting to know each one of the participants. I expect them all to do well and look forward to seeing them grow and flourish.

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Re: Lewis Richmond on Shikantaza: Just Sitting, Going Nowhere

Post by jundocohen » Sun Jul 01, 2018 4:14 am

Lovely. Sharing and learning from each other, the sameness and difference, is a wonderful way.

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

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Re: Lewis Richmond on Shikantaza: Just Sitting, Going Nowhere

Post by jundocohen » Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:44 am

PS - By the way, we add a Tibetan Practice, Tonglen, in our Sangha because it was recommended by, and is helpful too, folks with physical disabilities and others. I am conservative in mixing and matching, but there are some good things to learn from each other. We have Metta Practice too, which is not originally Mahayana.

However, when sitting Shikantaza, there is only Shikantaza and not one more drop in the whole universe!
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

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Anders
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Re: Lewis Richmond on Shikantaza: Just Sitting, Going Nowhere

Post by Anders » Mon Jul 02, 2018 5:53 am

jundocohen wrote:
Sun Jul 01, 2018 10:44 am
PS - By the way, we add a Tibetan Practice, Tonglen, in our Sangha because it was recommended by, and is helpful too, folks with physical disabilities and others. I am conservative in mixing and matching, but there are some good things to learn from each other. We have Metta Practice too, which is not originally Mahayana.

However, when sitting Shikantaza, there is only Shikantaza and not one more drop in the whole universe!
Metta practice has been in the Mahayana curriculum from the outset. Basically all early Buddhist practices were inherited by the Mahayana, though perhaps some of them fell into disuse over the centuries.

I have a warm spot for metta practice though. It is, imo, a practice that is eminently safe, has unusual therapeutic value, affects behaviour and works well for beginners by feeling good prior to the effects of shamatha kicking in.

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Re: Lewis Richmond on Shikantaza: Just Sitting, Going Nowhere

Post by Dan74 » Mon Jul 02, 2018 6:43 am

Posts offering general criticism of the Dogen and Soto school approach have been moved to

viewtopic.php?f=27&t=379&start=40

This thread is specifically to share about Lewis Richmond. A specific critique is welcome but more general ones should go into that thread, pleas
e.

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