For the most part, we are not just sitting; we are nursing delusions one after another. There is often this feeling that I am doing shikantaza. When we have this feeling, then shikantaza is not at all shikantaza. Instead, there is some kind of maneuvering, some kind of action of one’s self. Do not be fooled by words and ideas.
from Appreciate Your Life: The essence of Zen practice by Taizan Maezumi Roshi
Eminent students [of the Dharma], long accustomed to groping for the elephant, pray do not doubt the true dragon.*
I like my misconceptions. Actually, it’s more accurate to say I don’t dislike them enough. In fact, they are so weakly challenged for their right of passage through my inner world that they tend to leave quite a mess behind. None of this genteel “guests” in the Guesthouse à la Rumi. And yet, strangely, I like them for the momentary respite they give me from reality.
Then on Monday, Barry at Ox Herding wrote a lovely post on reality to which I commented that “if reality is
not optional, then suffering is inevitable.” So there you have it. Grope on that elephant all you want; reality will win out when you sit atop it and the tree trunks start moving.
*Maezumi, Hakuyu Taizan, Commentary on Fukanzazengi. In Loori, John Daido (ed.), The Art of Just Sitting: Essential writings on the zen practice of shikantaza.
PS: Barry has graciously offered his new book The Path of Zen to everyone. It’s simply beautiful… and very real! Please click here to obtain a copy. A deep bow of gratitude for all your teachings, Barry!
Edit: “if reality is optional, then suffering is inevitable.” Not surprising I’m always confused!
Come said the muse,
sing me a song no poet has yet chanted,
Sing me the universal.
In this broad earth of ours,
Amid the measureless grossness and the slag,
Enclosed and safe within its central heart,
Nestles the seed of perfection.
By every life a share or more or less,
None born but it is born, conceal’d or unconceal’d the seed is.
In the cold, damp shelter of our primitive ancestors, lit only by the flickering of a campfire, at day’s end there was a time for recollection and stillness that would help to fuel the next day’s events. Since the beginning of human history, the still point has served as the birthplace of all our activity. Virtually every creature on this great earth practices the backward step of quieting down and entering this still point. Birds, beasts, bugs, and fish all seem to find time in their daily existence to relax and recreate – to bring forth the flower from what Whitman called “the seed of perfection.”
John Daido Loori – Editor’s Preface
The Art of Just Sitting
Hummingbirds like to hang out in the front garden. There, the bee balm and honeysuckle keep them well-fed enough to dismiss my plastic containers of fake nectar. Sometimes, however, they hover over the little red fake flowers and I can watch them, entranced by the buzz of the wings. It amazes me that wings can move so fast and the sparkles doesn’t fly off the feathers. To keep themselves fed they may have to visit as many as 1,000 flowers a day. Perhaps the fake nectar helps although I doubt the average hummingbird gets a complex if it sips sugar syrup rather than flower nectar. Its only intention after all is to just do what it does.
In the term shikantaza, the word shikan is sometimes translated as “just,” or “only.” Ta Means “hit,” and za means “sit.” It literally means “hit sitting,” but the ta really intensifies “sitting.” So it means “sitting.” Shikan means “just,” but it also means “by all means do it,” or “get on with it.”
Tenshin Reb Anderson, in Just Sitting (The Art of Just Sitting edited by John Daido Loori), emphasizes the intention of shikantaza – stopping conceptions of what it should be and experiencing, immediately and directly. Just sit. As with his book Being Upright, I like Anderson’s affinity for another slant on the word “just.”
In English, just also means “valid within the law, legitimate, suitable, or fitting.” It means “sound, well-founded.” It means “exact, accurate.” It means “upright before God, righteous, upright before truth.”
It may feel uncomfortable or even contrary to load onto shikantaza these concepts that carry a tinge of “right” and “wrong” in the sense of judgment, but I don’t know that practice can be separated from the ethics or ethos of practice. However, Anderson takes it in an interesting direction.
What I’m saying here is just reminding you of what you already know, what you already intend. Mostly, what I will be doing besides reminding you will be simply adjusting you, just “justing” you. That’s all. That’s all I can do. I’m not correcting you, I’m adjusting you. Of course, I can’t really adjust you: you’re already adjusted. But sometimes I may feel that you’d look a little more “just” if you sat like this, rather than like that. If I see your mudra over here, I may think, “You’d be a little more just if it were over there.”
I try to steer clear of any kind of judgment in the adjustment: I just adjust. And then it’s for you not to think about being judged, but rather whether you feel more just after the adjustment.