"Shikan" means nothing but, "Ta" means to hit, "Za" means to sit.
SHIKANTAZA, or "just sitting," is alert nonselective attention which neither pursues nor suppresses thoughts, sensations, etc., but, rather, gives
alert detached attention to whatever arises in and vanishes from consciousness.
I. The meditation practices stressed by the Soto and Rinzai schools are distinctively Zen versions of the two types of Buddhist meditation:
Mindfulness Leading to Insight
Concentration Leading to Absorption.
Dogen's Shikantaza is a variation on (1) above.
The Koan exercise stressed by Rinzai is a variation on (2).
II. Distinctive of Dogen’s account of Zazen as Shikantaza is that Zazen is conceived not as a means to an end but as a practice of the end
A. Cultivation (shu) is not different from authentication (sho), practice from Enlightenment.
B. If we are practicing Shikantaza correctly, then we are practicing Enlightenment itself.
1. This is a central paradox of Zen.
a) But if we’re already Enlightened by our very buddha-nature, why do we need to practice—frequently for years?
Dogen struggled with the problem of Original Awakening, that is, an awakening fundemental or innate in everyone, and Acquired Awakening, an awakening
attained or acquired through practice. Dogen rejected both, breaking through the relativity of original and acquired, opening up a deeper ground. He
wrote: "The principle of the Buddha-nature is that it is not endowed prior to Enlightenment...the Buddha-nature is unquestionably realized
simultaneously with Enlightenment." The Shobogenzo eloaborates quite lucidly his concerns with the matter, written by him in an Enlightened state
following his own Realization under the guidance of Chinese Zen Master Ju-ching (1163-1228).
Dogen does not maintain that there is any ultimate difference between cultivation (shu) and authentication (sho) or between Original and Acquired
Enlightenment. Hence, Dogen would not want to say that he is describing "Zen consciousness" or "Enlightened consciousness" to the exclusion of
"ordinary consciousness." Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where we differ is that we place a
particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience and then proceed to make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real"
in and of itself rather than to be an "expression" (dotoku) of the "occasion" (jisetsu) in which we think or talk about the given experience. In a
sense, we have a double layered description. First, there is the prereflective, not yet conceptualized, experience--what we all share, Zen master and
the rest of us alike. Second, there is the expression or characterization of any experience within a particular situation or occasion. If the speaker
brings no personal, egotistic delusions into this expression, the occasion speaks for itself, the total situation alone determines what is said or
done. Thus, in the case of the Zen master, what-is-said is simply what-is. In the case of the deluded person, however, the "what-is" includes his
excess conceptual baggage with its affective components, the deluded ideas about the nature of "self," "thing," "time," and so on that
constitute the person's own particular distortion of what actually is.
III. Also distinctive of Dogen's account of Shikantaza is that it is the practice of "without thinking" (hishiryo): which is also called no-mind
(mushin; wu-hsin), the essence of Zen Enlightenment. Here we shall discuss "thinking," "not-thinking," and "without thinking."
A. THINKING (shiryo): This is our habitual tendency to stay in the mode of conceptualizing thought.
1. About "thinking" a) Noetic Attitude: positional (either affirming or negating); b) Noematic Content: conceptualized objects.
a) Noetic Attitude is positional (either affirming or negating): A subject is adopting an intentional stance toward an object and, specifically,
thinking about it in either a positive or negative way: "This is an X" or "This is not an X," "Do X" or "Do not do X."
(1) Consciousness is an intentional vector proceeding from a subject to an object. The subject is a cognitive agent.
b) Noematic Content: X is an intentional object pointed to and conceived through our thoughts.
2. "Thinking" can be pictured as follows:
c) Aspects of "thinking":
(1) Subject-object division present: an active subject thinks an object.
(2) Non-immediacy: We do not experience the object immediately but only at a distance, as removed subjects, and only through the thoughts we have of
(3) Non-fullness: We do not experience the object in its fullness or "suchness" but, rather, only as filtered through our thinking about it.
B. NOT-THINKING (fushiryo): About "not-thinking,": (1) noetic attitude: positional (only negating); (2) noematic content: thinking (as
1. Noetic attitude is positional (only negating): Subject is agent seeking to suppress its thinking.
2. Noematic content: The object is now the "second-order" object "thinking about X."
"Not-thinking" can be pictured as follows:
3. Aspects of "not-thinking": Same as for "thinking."
a) Consciousness is still an intentional-vector proceeding from a subject to the object. The subject is still functioning as agent, even if one trying
to bring an end to its own agency.
C. WITHOUT THINKING (hishiryo): This is no-thought (munen; wu-nien) or no-mind (mushin; wu-hsin): pure immediacy in the fullness of things as they
1. About "not-thinking,": (1) noetic attitude: nonpositional (neither affirming nor negating); (2) noematic content: pure presence of things as they
a) Noetic attitude is nonpositional (neither affirming nor negating): Consciousness is no longer an intentional vector proceeding from a subject to an
object but is, rather, an open dynamic field in which objects present themselves.
b) Noematic content: The object is no longer an object that is the target of an intentional act but is, rather, the object itself as it presents
itself within the open dynamic field of consciousness.
c) Aspects of "without thinking":
(1) No subject-object distinction: The subject has disappeared—this being the Zen interpretation of Buddhist anatta or no-mind.
(2) Immediacy: Without a subject standing back, the experience is one of immediacy within the dynamic field of consciousness.
(3) Fullness: Because the object is not filtered through an intentional act, it presents itself in its fullness.
(4) Such immediacy and fullness are genjokoan, "pure presence of things as they are."
It is a serious mistake in the understanding of Zen to refer merely to the "denial" or "cessation" of "conceptual thinking." Regardless of
whether or not it can be proven than the pre-Buddhist Sanskrit etymology of the term Dhyana can be shown to have no-thought connotations, the main
concern here is the semantic development undergone by the Chinese term ch'an in the course of the production of the Ch'an texts in East Asia.
It is quite clear that in Ch'an Buddhism, no-mind, rather than referring to an absence of thought, refers to the condition of not being trapped in
thoughts, not adhering to a certain conceptual habit or position.
The error of interpretation made by many scholars (and by Zen practitioners as well) lies precisely in taking the term "no-thought" to refer to some
kind of permanent, or ongoing absence of thought. While this assumption is routinely made, it is impossible to corroborate it in the Ch'an canon. If
we study the seminal texts carefully, we do find a description of the experience of an instantaneous severing of thought that occurs in the course of
a thoroughgoing pursuit of a Buddhist meditative exercise.
Nowhere in the Platform Sutra, Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, Diamond Sutra, or any other major Ch'an text, is the term "no-mind" explained to be
a permanent incapacitation of the thinking faculty or the permanent cessation of all conceptual activity.
The locus classicus for the concept of no-thought is the Platform Sutra, and in regards to no-thought says in so many words:
"No-thought" means "no-thought within thought." Non-abiding is man's original nature. Thoughts do not stop from moment to moment. The prior
thought is succeeded in each moment by the subsequent thought, and thoughts continue one after another without cease. If, for one thought-moment,
there is a break, the dharma-body separates from the physical body, and in the midst of successive thoughts there will be no attachment to any kind of
matter. If, for one thought-moment, there is abiding, then there will be abiding in all successive thoughts, and this is called clinging. If, in
regard to all matters there is no abiding from thought-moment to thought-moment, then there is no clinging. Non-abiding is the basis.
As we can see, after the break in thought, successive thoughts continue to flow, but one no longer abides in, or clings to, these thoughts. Nowhere is
there mention of any kind of disappearance of, or absence of thought. "No-thought" refers to nothing other than an absence of abiding, or clinging.
Other seminal Ch'an texts, such as the Sutra of Perfect Enlightenment, characterize no-thought in precisely the same manner. (source)
Genjokoan is the title of the first chapter of the Shobogenzo, and its foremost position in the text is indicative of the importance of this concept
in Dogen's thought. The word is a conjunction of genjo ("presence itself") and koan. Interpretations of this concept differ; my own accords with
the view that Dogen viewed genjo itself to be a koan. In one sense, then, genjokoan can be understood as the name of a koan which, when correctly
grasped, indicates "things as they really are." "Correctly grasping" this koan proceeds from the prereflective experience manifested by
without-thinking. A famous passage from the "Genjokoan" states:
To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be Enlightened by all things.
"Being Enlightened by all things" expresses the mental activity of Without Thinking wherein the "Self" as well as No-self (and also "other") is
"forgotten," because awareness of such distinctions is not present. No separate Self is present to perceive "other" things. Rather, the Self is
all these things, and vice versa, in THIS moment. From Without Thinking flows the only identifiable "reality, " namely the unceasing, ever-changing,
impermanent unfolding of experience. From Without-Thinking/Enlightenment, therefore, we see things as they really are (genjokoan).
For Dogen, genjokoan is none other than Prajna, or "intuitive wisdom." Furthermore, Dogen is in accord with the Mahayana tradition in arguing that
Prajna and Karuna, "compassion, the Golden Purifier" are "not-two." He also holds to the traditional Mahayana conception of right moral action as
proceeding from Prajna/Karuna. Thus Dogen sees right moral action as properly proceeding from seeing things as they really are, which is manifest to
us in moments of without-thinking.
IV. How do we practice "without thinking" during zazen?
A. What does one do?
1. Answer: Nothing, because to do something is to adopt an intentional or noetic stance as a subject.
In no way...am I suggesting that practices should not be done, only that there is no practitioner who is the doer behind them. This is true of every
activity. ... Just because there is no practitioner (and never has been)) does not mean that practice will not take place. If it is obvious for a
particular spiritual practice to occur, then it will.
SUZANNE SEGAL, A Collision with the Infinite
B. But what if thoughts arise? Aren’t these part of "thinking," and don’t they, therefore, need to be suppressed?
1. Answer: They ought not be suppressed, for that would be "not-thinking."
C. But what other options are there?
1. Answer: Releasing, disengaging, suspending. In releasing thinking, we let go of the stance of inner thinking subjects and open ourselves to the
field of immediate experience.
2. And objects, no longer "rubber stamped" by conceptualizing thought, stand forth in the field of immediate experience, presenting themselves fully
and in their true natures.
3. We release ourselves from action-taking and thereby release objects from conceptualization. In thus releasing both subject and object, we practice
immediate presence in the fullness of experience: genjokoan.
a) This being the Enlightenment that we already are.
D. See also: Hua-T'ou, the state of mind before the mind is disturbed by thought.
Interestingly enough, in a seeming contrast of approach to Suzanne Segal's comments above, Aziz Kristof, a non-traditional Advaita Zen master and
Enlightened in his own right, speaking of Dogen writes:
"His (Dogen's) concept of Shikantaza was very subtle and profound. Zazen in his understanding was no longer a tool to become the Buddha but an
expression of Truth. Zazen is Buddha! I was very inspired by this teaching. His teaching was for me a bridge between Advaita's vision of 'Awakening
Now' and seeing Enlightenment as a future goal. However, his concept of a never-ending cultivation proves that he was not fully Self-realized.
(Dogen) disliked strongly the idea that after Enlightenment there is no need for practice anymore."
Which leads us to the following:
V.SAIJOJO: Neither-nor Mindfulness Leading to Insight, neither-nor Concentration Leading to Absorption
Before he became the Buddha, at the beginning of his spiritual quest, Siddhartha Gautama studied with two teachers. The first teacher taught him the
First Seven Jhanas; the other teacher taught him the Eighth Jhana. Both teachers told him they had taught him all there was to learn. But Siddhattha
still didn't know why there was suffering, so he left each of these teachers and wound up doing six years of austerity practises. These too did not
provide the answer to his question and he abandoned these for what has come to be known as the Middle Way. The suttas indicate that on the night of
his Enlightenment, he sat down under the Bodhi Tree and began his meditation by practising the Jhanas (for example, see the Mahasaccaka Sutta -
Majjhima Nikaya #36). When his mind was "concentrated, purified, bright, unblemished, rid of imperfection, malleable, wieldy, steady and attained to
imperturbability" he direct it to the "true knowledges" that gave rise to his incredible breakthrough in consciousness known in the sutras as
Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi, beyond the beyond of the Eighth Jhana. (source)
Duality, such as the fundamental distinction between subject and object, is obliterated in deep sleep and in Samadhi, as well as in other conditions
such as fainting, but duality is only temporarily obliterated for it reappears when one awakes from sleep or regains consciousness after fainting, and
it also reappears when the yoga (meditator) arises from Samadhi. The reason why duality persists is because false knowledge (mithyajana) has not been
removed. Since false knowledge is the cause of bondage, Samadhi cannot therefore be the cause of liberation. (source)
There is a little known deep-meditation awake-state-continuum, beyond dharma-megha-samadhi and beyond the beyond of the Eighth Jhana, based in part
from Dogen's Shikantaza, neither entering into nor rising out of, that alleviates the above, entertained in essence by the Wanderling and others that
is neither Mindfulness Leading to Insight nor not Mindfulness Leading to Insight; it is as well neither Concentration Leading to Absorption nor not
Concentration Leading to Absorption and called by some as kaivalya, but, because in the end it is NOT and has no name, in things-Zen it is simply
refered to if it must be mentioned as Jishu Zammi, where Ji means "self," Shu means "mastery," and Zammi means "Samadhi,"...Samadhi of Self
Zen master Tai-yung, passing by the retreat of another Zen master named Chih-huang, stopped and during his visit respectfully asked, "I am told that
you frequently enter into Samadhi. At the time of such entrances, does your consciousness continue or are you in a state of unconsciousness? If your
consciousness continues, all sentient beings are endowed with consciousness and can enter into Samadhi like yourself. If, on the other hand, you are
in a state of unconsciousness, plants and rocks can enter into Samadhi." Huang replied, "When I enter into a Samadhi, I am not conscious of either
condition." Yung said, "If you are not conscious of either condition, this is abiding in Eternal Samadhi, and there can be neither entering into a
Samadhi nor rising out of it."(source)
KHANIKA SAMADHI is called momentary concentration (sequential momentary deep concentration) because it occurs only at the moment of noting and, in the
case of Vipassana, not on a fixed object as Samatha-Jhana meditation but on changing objects or phenomena that occur in the mind and body. But when
the Vipassana meditator develops strength and skill in noting, his Khanika concentration occurs uninterruptedly in a series without a break. This
concentration, when it occurs from moment to moment without a break, becomes so powerful that it can overcome The Five Hindrances, thus bringing about
purification of mind (citta visuddhi) which can enable a meditator to attain all the insight knowledges up to the level of Arahat.
VI The very foundation of Shikantaza is based on an unshakeable faith that:
Sitting as the Buddha sat, with the mind void of all conceptions, of all beliefs and points of view, is the actualization or unfoldment of the
inherently Enlightened Bodhimind with which all are endowed.
At the same time this sitting is entered into in the faith that it will one day culminate in the sudden and direct perception of the true nature of
this Mind-- in other words, Enlightenment.
Therefore to strive self-consciously for Satori or any other gain from Zazen is as unnecessary as it is undesirable.
The conscious thought "I must get Enlightened" can be as much of an impediment as any other which hangs in the mind. (see)
In authentic Shikantaza neither of these two elements of faith can be dispensed with. To exclude Satori from Shikantaza would necessarily involve
stigmatizing as meaningless and even masochistic the Buddha's strenuous efforts toward Enlightenment, and impugning the patriarchs' and Dogen's own
painful struggles to that end. This relation of Satori to Shikantaza is of the utmost importance. Unfortunately it has often been misunderstood,
especially by those to whom Dogen's complete writings are inaccessible. It thus not infrequently happens that Western students will come to a Soto
temple or monastery utilizing Koans in its teaching and remonstrate with the roshi over his assignment of a Koan, on the ground that Koans have as
their aim Enlightenment; since all are intrinsically Enlightened, they argue, there is no point in seeking Satori. So what they ask to practice is
Shikan-taza, which they believe does not involve the experience of Enlightenment.
Such an attitude reveals not only a lack of faith in the judgment of one's teacher but a fundamental misconception of both the nature and the
difficulty of Shikantaza, not to mention the teaching methods employed in Soto temples and monasteries. A careful reading of the encounters of
Yasutani Hakuun Roshi with ten Westerners, for example, will make it clear why genuine Shikantaza cannot be successfully undertaken by the rank
novice, who has yet to learn how to sit with stability and equanimity, or whose ardor needs to be regularly boosted by communal sitting or by the
encouragement of a teacher, or who, above all, lacks strong faith in his own Bodhimind coupled with a dedicated resolve to experience its reality in
his daily life.
Because today, Zen masters claim, devotees are on the whole much less zealous for truth, and because the obstacles to practice posed by the
complexities of modern life are more numerous, capable Soto masters seldom assign Shikantaza to a beginner. They prefer to have him first unify his
mind through concentration on counting the breaths; or where a burning desire for Enlightenment does exist, to exhaust the discursive intellect
through the imposition of a special type of Zen problem called a Koan and thus prepare the way for Kensho.
By no means, then, is the Koan system confined to the Rinzai sect as many believe. Yasutani Hakuun Roshi is only one of a number of Soto masters who
use Koans in their teaching. Genshu Watanaberoshi, the former abbot of Soji-ji, one of the two head temples of the Soto sect in Japan, regularly
employed Koans, and at the Soto monastery of Hosshinji, of which the illustrious Harada-roshi was abbot during his lifetime, Koans are also widely
Even Dogen Zenji himself, as we have seen, disciplined himself in Koan Zen for eight years before going to China and practicing Shikantaza. And though
upon his return to Japan Dogen wrote at length about Shikantaza and recommended it for his inner band of disciples, it must not be forgotten that
these disciples were dedicated truth-seekers for whom Koans were an unnecessary encouragement to sustained practice. Notwithstanding this emphasis on
Shikantaza, Dogen made a compilation of three hundred well- known Koans, to each of which he added his own commentary. From this and the fact that his
foremost work, the Shobogenzo (A Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma), contains a number of Koans, we may fairly conclude that he did utilize Koans
in his teaching.
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.