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.
Norman Fisher once said (quoting from fallible memory, here) something like, “meditation is what happens when you’re meditating.” Seems like a good definition of shikantaza.
Just like life. 😀
I must admit to having some trouble with Anderson’s strong attachment to the “just” “Just” “JUSTice” tone in his writings. Then again there was a description at the end of Being Upright of his discovery of a dead man in Golden Gate Park. There was a gun near the body. He tells of taking the gun and feeling tremendous remorse for years. Not about the body but about taking the gun! He never reported the body as far as I recall in the book. Seemed like some adjusting needed there.
Oh, I remember that passage and how disturbed I was by it. I believe that his community was also quite disturbed by it, as well, and he stepped down from the abbot’s position.
Wow! I didn’t know there was fall-out. Slowly, slowly, I grow disenchanted with many Zen “teachers”…
My memory could be faulty around this – it’s been over a decade since I read Anderson’s book and I no longer own a copy.
As for teachers . . . I think many of us have an “incorrect” relationship with our teachers. Specifically, we bring the expectation that they should be like minor (or major) deities. But they’re human beings and they WILL make mistakes, including, alas, grievous mistakes. What’s interest and revealing is what they do AFTER the mistake. If they persist in the affliction, get away. If they correct their life, then growth occurs.