Discussion Forum Discussion Forum

Zen

Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being

Toggle
Author: Adam_West
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

Hi all!
Having written my thoughts on my view of effective meditation on a different forum, I thought I would get your thoughts on the matter. Implicit in my discussion of Shikantaza and effective meditation practice, as I see it, is the assumption of the Buddha Nature or Complete Perfection model, as apposed to a deficit model - or something to do, change or transform in order to “get it done”. The Buddha Nature model assumes non-duality and that we are already that, here and now (and is inclusive of the totality of life as it is here and now, hence nothing to change). It further assumes, as I see it, that we need only get out of our own way (in terms of habitual affective, cognitive and behavioural patterns) which are the source of our ‘apparent’ obstructions to noticing that-which-is.
I very much look forward to hearing everyone’s views and positions informed by their personal lived experience of meditation and study. However, I find dogma and unsupported belief uninteresting, so I hope we can keep it in the realms of personal experience, intuition, logical deduction and textural reference.
Thanks guys!
In kind regards,

Adam.


RE: Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being
Answer
4/9/09 10:57 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: Adam_West

Shikantaza: My thoughts on the practice of just sitting as an effective means to noticing that which is

In Shikantaza, we sit in a comfortable erect posture. Then we allow our awareness to be in its natural state - Zen Mind, Original Face, and realize this to be our ordinary everyday mind as it is. What exactly this means is we 'allow' our mind to just be aware in an entirely uncontrived manner. This can be surprisingly difficult for the beginner because most people are unconscious of subtle tensions and "efforts to do, to suppress or not do" something with their mind which are deeply habitual - thinking, analyzing, fantasizing etc. If we can 'just sit' and just be aware of what is, focusing on nothing in particular and allowing our minds to rest, let go and just be aware and rest as THAT - as-we-are - we will notice a sense of awareness opening up, of brightness, of peace and ease. If allowed further, we will notice energy and bliss at some deeper dimension of awareness as Being itself. Taken further we get an increasing, yet subtle sense of infinity and loss of identification with the separate self arising from sensory stimuli.

Implicit to this discussion is a distinction between awareness and mind. I am defining awareness as our basic fundamental nature - the Tao itself. Mind in this context, is defined as cognitive activities or functions arising out of the brain and possibly astral levels of being. Mind may be considered a tool like the body. The body rests and just sits there; the mind rests and just sits there unengaged. Awareness as the fundamental nature of 'you' sees both the mind and the body, but is neither mind nor body, nor is it dependent on mind and body for its existence and function. Awareness is prior to mind and body. Awareness is essential and unchanging; mind and body are epiphenomena existing in awareness.

RE: Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being
Answer
4/9/09 10:59 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: Adam_West

[cont. from above]

The simple meditation practice of Shikantaza is this:
Just sit and be aware. The key then is to just be aware with no effort to be aware - no doing, just be natural awareness as it is. If you find yourself trying to be natural awareness as it is, then that is contrived and you have engaged the mind. Simply LET GO, relax, and be aware of what is, but of nothing in particular. In letting go and naturally being aware of what is you will find that natural still point. Allow the mind to ease off and open up. This can be practiced at all time during the day. Just be naturally aware, openly at ease, and spontaneously engaging - whether sitting or otherwise.

This is true Vipassana. Uncontrived. To see the natural state of reality as it is.

We should allow ourselves to notice mind throughout this period of sitting, as with other particulars that arise; as mind is part of reality, and not to be rejected, as rejection is an act of mind, not awareness. Rejection is based on the false premises of mind. In so doing we will notice when we find ourselves having fallen into doing in which we 'try' to be open and relaxed, when this happens we are no longer in an uncontrived state of natural abiding. The whole process requires concentration; that is, being brightly aware of what is. Concentration in this sense simply means being naturally aware and not being distracted by having our attention divided by activities of mind. As concentration wanes, awareness may become dull and one my space out, or more often, one's thoughts will re-assert themselves and we will go off on a tangent of thought. When we notice this we allow the stream of thought to drop by letting go again of the activities of mind, and just rest brightly aware of what is.

RE: Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being
Answer
4/9/09 11:01 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: Adam_West

[cont. from above]

So, it really is simple, just sit and be aware.

A further point. Do not concentrate on sensory stimuli in particular, as that is contrived, it is effort of mind to do something. See this subtle distinction. Awareness is brightly aware as its natural state, there is not effort - no doing. Just be aware of what is - environment and awareness itself - no artificial distinction between external and internal - just the continuum of awareness. This, however, does not mean we are practicing awareness of awareness, that again is a contrived condition, a use of mind to focus on awareness. In such a case we would be privileging one object of awareness over another, and that is a use of mind. Rather, we are just being aware, just sitting. Discrimination in terms of intention, demarcation, effort, judgment are all discursive faculties of mind. Awareness operates entirely through direct knowing or clearly apprehending the nature of what is - it simply sees it for itself. No recourse to the inferential faculties of mind.

So, Shikantaza or Dzogchen practice is simple on the surface, but there is much subtly and depth to it. Just sitting does not give it explanatory justice.
A final point on the body. Since the body is peripheral to awareness, it does not matter if the eyes are open or closed. Traditionally, they are open. There are merits and problems with both options. My recommendation is conclude this question by what feels natural to you. We do not wish to maintain unnatural, contrived states of body and mind in our practice. Awareness is the practice... drop all else.

In kind regards,

Adam. :-)

RE: Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being
Answer
4/10/09 3:35 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
I seem to remember some very good responses, to essentially this same topic of choiceless, just-sitting practice, here: http://dharmaoverground.wetpaint.com/thread/1654315/Fundamental+Non-discrimination

Is this a somehow different conversation that you're trying to bring up here Adam, and if so, how is it different?

RE: Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being
Answer
4/10/09 4:53 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: Adam_West

Hey Vince!

Nice of you to drop in! Yes, I too recall. I am interested in your present views, as I noticed on your blog a couple of months back, I think, you talking about how your practice has since evolved such that, it seemed inclined to naturally resting and noticing essentially what-is. At the time you seemed to be implying that practices beyond that resting were appearing somewhat redundant to you. I'll see if I can find said entry. If I recall correctly then, there is a divergence in your past view stated on that thread (standard Theravada), to a more recent view consistent with Dzogchen stated on your blog. Perhaps it was just a passing phase where you were especially influenced by Kenneth on that day? Do you have any substantive thoughts on the implications of the Buddha Nature model for meditation following from your experience in meditation?

I am especially interested to hear from Keneth who seems to have started out in the Theravada belief-set and whose personal realization appears to have lead to its apparent transcendence; while Daniel, who undoubtedly has gone all the way, has a different realization, at least in terms of practice. Remarkable stuff!! :-)

There's so much interesting stuff when we talk from meditation practice rather than dogma. My perceptions have grown out of 14 years of daily meditation practice, and they continue to grow exponentially. Truly fascinating!

In kind regards,

Adam.

RE: Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being
Answer
4/10/09 6:29 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Hi Adam,

Yes, I think that was largely a phase of my practice. More and more I see choiceless awareness practice as one of many possible skillful ways to practice. It certainly isn't the only way, and it has it's strengths and weaknesses. As an example, while I was on retreat recently w/ Jack Kornfield he specifically told me that choiceless awareness practice will not lead to a quick development of the practice. Instead one has to power the concentration and/or investigation. He suggested that if I really wanted to "plunge toward awakening" that I would need to polish the lens of concentration, through shamatha practice and/or do intensive investigation, like the self-enquiry method of "who am I?", which is what I did on this most recent retreat. He also mentioned that his teacher Ajahn Chah was much more of a choiceless awareness kind of dude and constantly was focusing on just knowing and letting go. Teachers like Mahasi Sayadaw and Pa Auk Sayadaw are on the other end of spectrum, and clearly all of these teachers would disagree with one another.

RE: Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being
Answer
4/10/09 6:32 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
So, my view now, after having tried many different practices for considerable periods (mahasi noting, shamatha, self enquiry, & choiceless awareness) is that each are useful and valuable. I think it can actually be a little lop-sidded to get honed in on only one practice and not explore the vastness of the dharma. As Jack Kornfield often says, "there are many facets to the crystal of the awakened mind." Each practice, I think, helps bring into focus different facets and dimensions of that crystal, so I'm in the process of exploring each of them.

I don't think everyone needs to do that, or that it is necessary for enlightenment, but I personally find that approach really meaningful and fulfilling. To each their own.

RE: Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being
Answer
4/10/09 7:06 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Vince,

Thanks for this! I've been experimenting with different types of practice as well, but haven't been sure which practice will really deepen my practice from my current vantage point. I think Jack's advice is as good as it gets in this case. I'll keep up rocking the shamatha practice.

Jackson

RE: Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being
Answer
4/10/09 9:19 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
As far as "Buddha nature" goes, in my experience deity yoga may easily be the most efficient and direct route, especially when stripped from arcane conceptual forms and ritual protocols. More options worth mentioning: compassion (e.g. as in tonglen) and attitude adjustment (e.g. as in lojong).

W/r/t shikantaza and dzogchen: shikantaza takes place in a specific context, namely Zen training as a whole, and even if "awareness is practice" you don't want to drop the whole training; Dzogchen practice, on the other hand, IS a whole context - with a half-dozen methods of meditation, none of which is called "dzogchen", and physical practices, sadhanas etc. In short, we can't discuss these as simply techniques, because they're not, and neither do their originators discuss them as such.

RE: Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being
Answer
4/10/09 11:48 AM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Adam, you've framed the debate nicely. I think of it as development vs. realization: getting it done vs. realizing that nothing need be done. Each of these viewpoints is lord of its own realm. As soon as you admit the existence of time, you see the suffering within and around you and you are bound to try to remedy that. Realization of the timeless, on the other hand, leaves nothing undone in the moment of realization. It's always already done. The developmentalist will point out that it is impractical to spend every waking moment communing with the timeless and therefore development must be attended to. The "now-ist" will say that this is beside the point, as the timeless perspective is always available.

I can't imagine any possibility of reconciling these two perspectives, as to look through either lens in any given moment precludes the possibility of looking through the other. Thousands of years of debate have brought us no closer to a unified field theory of dharma. The best that humans have been able to come up with is a stratified teaching, e.g. Tibetan Buddhism, that values both approaches.

Personally, I agree with the Tibetans that both approaches are invaluable, and have set for myself the goal of mastering the lot. To argue for either to the exclusion of the other is an affront to my aesthetic sense; balance is good, and both the extreme developmentalist and the extreme non-dualist appear lop-sided to my eyes.

To say that these two lenses are irreconcilable is not to say that they are incompatible or in conflict. To the contrary, I find that they go together as naturally as inhalation and exhalation; they complement and complete one another.

RE: Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being
Answer
4/10/09 3:27 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
Author: Adam_West

Hi Vince!

Thanks alot mate, I really appreciate the candid sharing of your process through the exploration of the Dharma. I too, have spent many years in different traditional practices, both in and outside of Buddhism. Many, many different practices. I completely agree with your assessment of the multifaceted nature of practice and Being. I guess you could say that over the years I have become a minimalist. Hahaha.... perhaps I have just become lazy! I guess one of the essential realizations that has developed in my practice has been that I am essentially that. And as such, there is little I need to do in order to realize that, once it is already realized. Hence the minimalist just sitting. Instead, in practice there seems to be an allowing of the deeping of direct experience of that.

I do not dispute the effectiveness of many different methods. I used them to good effect myself over years, with minor kensho follow from most of them. Mostly it seemed like it was the intensity and consistency of practice that gave results, rather than method per se. Indeed, I am thinking of putting to the test an intense experiment in concentration-investigative practice that may result in, as you say, an expadited break through of further obstructions.

Much to think about!

Thanks again for sharing your perspective!

In kind regards,

Adam.

RE: Shikantaza as the Internalization of the Buddha Nature Model of Being
Answer
4/10/09 9:17 PM as a reply to Wet Paint.
My take, the same piano works for classical, jazz, r&b, etc.. doesn't change the nature of sound one whit. But the conditions of training and the affect on conditions of the training follow curves. You plonk out the notes, then you repeat, then the body just does it while you feel it and tweak it beyond belief, then it is just the pure joy of letting it happen to you.