Is Shikantaza......

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Is Shikantaza......

Postby Greg_the_poet » Tue Jul 03, 2012 2:23 am

Is Shikantaza basically the same as Vipassana? I.e allowing whatever to occur occur without judgement or attachment to feelings or bodly sensations?

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Re: Is Shikantaza......

Postby tomamundsen » Tue Jul 03, 2012 2:27 am

Shikantaza is the union of shamatha and vipassana.

From Dogen's Fukanzazengi:

The zazen I speak of is not meditation practice. It is simply the dharma gate of joyful ease, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment.

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Re: Is Shikantaza......

Postby dharmagoat » Tue Jul 03, 2012 2:45 am

tomamundsen wrote:Shikantaza is the union of shamatha and vipassana.

I understand shikantaza to be a refinement of vipassana, which in turn is built on the foundation of shamatha.

Also from Dogen's Fukanzazengi:
Once you have adjusted your posture, take a breath and exhale fully, rock your body right and left, and settle into steady, immovable sitting. Think of not thinking. Not thinking - what kind of thinking is that? Nonthinking. This is the essential art of zazen.
Do not think "good" or "bad." Do not judge true or false. Give up the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness; stop measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views. Have no designs on becoming a Buddha. How could that be limited to sitting or lying down?

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Re: Is Shikantaza......

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Jul 03, 2012 8:12 am

If you ask that question on a Zen forum the teachers there will usually say 'definitely not'. They will distinguish between the vipassana approach of being 'mindful of sensations and breathing' and the Zen approach of 'watching thoughts come and go'. Conversely, if you ask about Zen on a Vipassana forum the people there will also say 'definitely not'. They seem to think it very important to stick exclusively with their teaching and not mix traditions.
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Re: Is Shikantaza......

Postby tomamundsen » Tue Jul 03, 2012 9:02 am

Every zen teacher I've ever heard asked the question always said that zazen/shikantaza is both shamatha and vipassana. There is definitely a difference between shikantaza and vipassana. I did vipassana a handful of times a few years ago with a Therevada group. In vipassana, there is a duality where there is an observer watching bodily sensations. In shikantaza, you're not actually even watching the thoughts come and go. There is no such duality in shikantaza. You drop off body and mind.

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Re: Is Shikantaza......

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Jul 03, 2012 12:16 pm

well, to be pedantic, the word 'vipassana' is a Pali term, and is associated particularly with the Theravadin 'forest meditation' tradition. The Mahayana version of the term would be Sanskrit, i.e. 'vipaśyanā', which, while it means the same thing (namely insight) is much less encountered in Mahayana and Zen literature, who are generally (from my knowledge) more inclined to speak in terms of prajñā (wisdom).

Of course for anyone not acquainted with all the nuances, the physical position of 'sitting cross-legged on a cushion' is to all intents identical, but there are nevertheless real differences in philosophy.
Sometimes spirituality is a liberation, and sometimes it's an alibi ~ David Brazier

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Re: Is Shikantaza......

Postby Astus » Tue Jul 03, 2012 12:32 pm

Vipassana is indeed a Pali word, and just as any Theravada teaching, it has little relevance to Japanese Zen. The vipasyana (kan) practice of the Tendai school has some relevance, but not direct relationship. Shikantaza is not a path, not a method to apply, but just (shikan) sitting (taza).

BTW, the practice of vipassana is not specifically related to the Thai forest tradition. In fact, the modern vipassana groups (bearing this name) are from Burma.
1 Myriad dharmas are only mind.
Mind is unobtainable.
What is there to seek?

2 If the Buddha-Nature is seen,
there will be no seeing of a nature in any thing.

3 Neither cultivation nor seated meditation —
this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.

4 With sudden enlightenment to Tathagata Chan,
the six paramitas and myriad means
are complete within that essence.


1 Huangbo, T2012Ap381c1 2 Nirvana Sutra, T374p521b3; tr. Yamamoto 3 Mazu, X1321p3b23; tr. J. Jia 4 Yongjia, T2014p395c14; tr. from "The Sword of Wisdom"

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Re: Is Shikantaza......

Postby DGA » Tue Jul 03, 2012 1:51 pm

Astus wrote:Vipassana is indeed a Pali word, and just as any Theravada teaching, it has little relevance to Japanese Zen. The vipasyana (kan) practice of the Tendai school has some relevance, but not direct relationship. Shikantaza is not a path, not a method to apply, but just (shikan) sitting (taza).

BTW, the practice of vipassana is not specifically related to the Thai forest tradition. In fact, the modern vipassana groups (bearing this name) are from Burma.


This is all correct. I'd like to add one complication: in North America at least, nearly all Soto Zen teachers are familiar with the discourse of Vipassana meditation (they'd have to be as they surely get questions like this one with some frequency), and hence are in the practice Tom describes of couching zazen & shikantaza in that context. This recent juxtaposition may give some people the (false) impression it is a longstanding connection.
DGA's PhD dissertation, a history of "mindfulness," is available here:

https://www.academia.edu/25482900/WHAT_ ... _OF_STRESS

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Re: Is Shikantaza......

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Jul 03, 2012 11:01 pm

It's more like 'the mixing pot' of the modern world. All these traditions were barely aware of each other for millenia in the ancient world. Now they're all sharing stages at conferences and having articles and books published alongside each other. Not that this is a bad thing.

I am reminded of an anecdote I read a few years back. There was a formal meeting arranged between a senior Tibetan lama and a Zen Roshi. It was a rather ceremonial occasion, with attendants and translators. When the meeting commenced there was an awkward silence. After some time, the Zen master picked up an orange from the fruit bowl on the table and picked it up. 'What is this?' he demanded.

There was a period of hushed conversation going forth on the Tibetan side for a few minutes. Then the Lama spoke through his translator. From what I recall, what he said was something like:

'What's his problem? Don't they have oranges in Japan?'
Sometimes spirituality is a liberation, and sometimes it's an alibi ~ David Brazier

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Re: Is Shikantaza......

Postby Meido » Wed Jul 04, 2012 12:28 am

tomamundsen wrote:Every zen teacher I've ever heard asked the question always said that zazen/shikantaza is both shamatha and vipassana.


I know shikantaza is usually thought of as a Soto thing, but FWIW from the Rinzai point of view (as I've experienced it): Tom's statement above is certainly correct. We would say that shikantaza - in its fruition - is an expression of true Zen samadhi encompassing the qualities of shamatha and vipashyana. It is the fulfillment of vipashyana because of the seeing of the true nature (kensho); it is the fulfillment of shamatha because of the stabilization/continuous arising of that recognition. At that point it can be said that shikantaza does indeed manifest "the oneness of practice and enlightenment".

Which is not to say that "just sitting" as a method of practice is not one of the many that might be given to a beginning student, even before the recognition of kensho. That depends on individual capacity and needs.

~ Meido
Nowadays there is much talk about the sublime and the profound, or conversely criticism of the Two Vehicles, belittling their authority. [Proponents of] the partial, the round, the exoteric and the esoteric schools contend with each other, yet they have not even accomplished the confirmation of the Two Vehicles, let alone that of the Bodhisattva Vehicle. And as for the One Buddha Vehicle, how could they conceive of it even in their dreams? What use to them are the partial, round, exoteric and esoteric teachings? - Torei

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Re: Is Shikantaza......

Postby DGA » Wed Jul 04, 2012 5:12 pm

jeeprs wrote:It's more like 'the mixing pot' of the modern world. All these traditions were barely aware of each other for millenia in the ancient world. Now they're all sharing stages at conferences and having articles and books published alongside each other. Not that this is a bad thing.

I am reminded of an anecdote I read a few years back. There was a formal meeting arranged between a senior Tibetan lama and a Zen Roshi. It was a rather ceremonial occasion, with attendants and translators. When the meeting commenced there was an awkward silence. After some time, the Zen master picked up an orange from the fruit bowl on the table and picked it up. 'What is this?' he demanded.

There was a period of hushed conversation going forth on the Tibetan side for a few minutes. Then the Lama spoke through his translator. From what I recall, what he said was something like:

'What's his problem? Don't they have oranges in Japan?'


The two protagonists in that story were Kalu Rinpoche and Seung Sahn Sunim, to the best of my knowledge.
DGA's PhD dissertation, a history of "mindfulness," is available here:

https://www.academia.edu/25482900/WHAT_ ... _OF_STRESS

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Re: Is Shikantaza......

Postby Wayfarer » Thu Jul 05, 2012 12:40 am

thanks! I read it somewhere a long while back and couldn't remember the details.
Sometimes spirituality is a liberation, and sometimes it's an alibi ~ David Brazier


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