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to do[edit]

  • Maybe there should be something about the subject-object dualism. This "disappears" while meditating.
  • Also something about stages of meditation would be nice, maybe a short explanation of the ten oxherding pictures?

((Ten Oxherding Pictures is more prevalent in Rinzai, shikantaza is more Soto.))

I heartily second the inclusion of the ten oxherding pictures. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽
yeah, it would make the theory a lot more accessible Hippocrates
  • explanation of emptiness
Does emptiness make an important appearance in the theory of Shikantaza? If so, I should incorporate a reference on the sunyata page. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽
I don't know exactly. It is a mahayana idea and zen is also mahayana. But this answer isn't very precise. If you think it's essential to be clear about it i can ask a zen-monk (I had an e-mail conversation and paid him a visit a little while ago). I thought it could be illustrative, since this is experienced by advanced practitioners. Hippocrates
(There are some (David Kalupahana) who would dispute sunyata as a Mahayana concept, but the bulk of scholarship is on your side. :) ) I'm pretty sure I don't recall seeing a lot about sunyata in the Waddell/Abe Shobogenzo anthology, though of course there's considerable conceptual overlap. (Sunyata is, as logically argued by its primary exponents, identical with pratitya-samutpada, and thus can be said to appear throughout Buddhism.) I know that Keiji Nishitani, whose lineage goes back to Soto (I think; I could be wrong here) as well as to western Existentialism places heavy emphasis on sunyata, but I'm not sure whether that's an inheritance from Soto or something he picked up studying Buddhist history...[[User:Kukkurovaca| --

I can't make a comment on the discussion page, I'll place it here. When I learn how to do a proper citation I'll add it to my most recent edit. <ARRust (talk) 23:52, 29 May 2011 (UTC)> WII'llकुक्कुरोवाच]]|Talk‽ 19:04, 15 Nov 2004 (UTC)

Western existentialism talking about sunyata..? (do you know which philosopher?) Hippocrates
  • practice is enlightenment (see below for some info)

different translation of shikantaza?[edit]

Nat, check this website: [[1]] It says the following: 'The za in shikantaza is the same as in ‘zazen’, and means ‘sitting’. But the ideograph that is before ‘za’, that which is written ta, is very interesting. ‘Ta’ means ‘hitting the centre’ or ‘touching the centre’, in the same way as when we practise archery, and you shoot the arrow; you touch the centre. This is the meaning of ‘ta’ here, in shikantaza.' I must admit I've no knowledge of Japanese, yet I've never saw it translated as "nothing but doing sitting". Hippocrates

I don't know anything about Japanese either, but these are Chinese characters, and I do know a little about that, although not a great deal. 打 (da) literally means to hit something (as in "don't hit me") but it is commonly paired with a noun or verb describing an activity to mean "to do". I.e., "打 (da) ball" means to play a ballgame, etc. 打座 (da zuo) is a standard phrase in Chinese that means to do sitting meditation. I suspect that when the guy you cited above says "hitting the centre", he is being poetic, and, in that sense, I don't doubt that he's right. - Nat Krause 09:41, 13 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Then, maybe we should discuss whether the reader is best served by a strict literal, or a somewhat poetical explanation. Hippocrates
If we are to take the phrase literally, shikantaza (or zhi guan da zuo in Chinese) means "Just be concerned about (sitting) meditation". Shikan (zhi guan) means "just concerned (yourself) about" while taza (da zuo) is , as Nat said, the Chinese term for sitting meditation. Estavali (talk) 00:12, 7 June 2009 (UTC)

What do people think of this (potential) addition?[edit]

I'm not sure if this is just my opinion or if most Buddhists would agree with this Hippocrates

Empirical explanation of central buddhist concepts[edit]

Meditative practice stands in close relationship with central buddhist concepts. Some people actually "see" them work. The [marks of conditioned existence], a central Buddhist doctrine, will be explained from the viewpoint of the meditator.

  • Anicca: "impermanence"

This first aspect points at the continuous flux of life. Everything is always in motion. Nothing is stable and permanent. Shikantaza is practiced from this point of view. The meditator doesn't discriminate between experiences. Everything is accepted exactly as it is, because ultimately nothing lasts. Knowing there's no real foundation one could hold onto, the actual practice also is of this nature. There's no focussing on any specific experience or thought (as is usual in most meditative practices, for example anapana sati). Because of this the meditation is experienced as a mental state of openness and acceptation.

  • Dukkha: "sorrow"

This is perhaps on of the most difficult concepts to understand from the perspective of practice. Gautama Buddha says the fundamental problem of life are our desire's (see Four Noble Truths). These create attachments. This implicates that we like some, but dislike other experiences. The meditator learns to be fully aware of the experience as it is. It isn't possible to add or substract anything any more. In this way no new attachment is created and older ones slowly fade away. Over a period of time (some teachers say it takes approximately four years of intensive practice) it is held to be possible to transcend all attachments. Thereby aquiring the original and natural state of mind - see enlightenment (Buddhism). In which all experiences reveil themselves as emptiness (sunyata).

  • Anatta: "no self" (better translation would be 'not-self, otherwise one may inadvertently lead others to nihilistic ideas. Whatever arises is seen to be 'not a permanent self'.Guoshow 11:35, 27 July 2007 (UTC) /\)

Buddhism teaches the concept of Anatta. Although every human has the idea of a soul, or a deep feeling of "me" or "self", Buddhism claims there's no stable essence in a human. This can be explained as follows. When incorporating shikantaza in one's life, gradually experiences are welcomed more and more. A great awareness develops itself, which makes it possible to look very carefully at every experience. Which reveils itself as emptiness - as explained before. Then it turns out that even the idea, or this deep "feeling" of a soul every human has, is merely an idea. A thought. Even this idea reveils itself as empty. Which means that the complete identification with this idea no longer holds. Then at once all boundaries break, suddenly there's no difference between the thought of "me" and the sound of a singing bird.

Is Shikantaza simple?[edit]

I think there needs to be something about the lenght of training sessions, people getting beated with sticks, the master-student relationship. Yet, maybe most of this belongs to the soto article. The "people getting beated with sticks" is a part of the meditation, it's a sort of correcting method - making the practioner sit more just.(I inserted the japanese signs already, and corrected some small errors.) Kukkurovaca: I agree with most of your alterations, yet I do think there should be something about the "formal" or as I called it "scientific" character of Soto-zen and shikantaza. Hippocrates 17:45, 4 Nov 2004 (UTC) ((I've been sitting for a few years and have yet to be hit with a stick. The practice has been mainly abandoned in the US))

I deleted the following: 只管打座 not quite knowing what it was. Are these some japanese signs my computer doesn't recognize? Hippocrates 21:08, 3 Nov 2004 (UTC)

In no special order: It's entirely probable that those are japanese characters (I'm hoping that's the case); generally speaking if you see characters your computer can't interpret it's because someone's using obscure unicode characters from a native character set. Cf. my signature. Now, I don't know anything about Japanese, the computer I'm using right now can't understand anything obscure (including my signature), and in short I can't testify to the accuracy of those characters.
Now, I'm not sure what you mean by the "formal" or "scientific" but I can assure you that the word "scientific" in association with a religious practice is (a) almost always a bad idea and (b) certainly not going to be Wikipedia-kosher. We can find ways to talk about how shikantaza is special without appealing to scientificity. For now, tell me more about what you mean by "formal."
You're right that we need something about practices supporting shikantaza, including the beating with sticks. I only removed the comment earlier because it broke the fourth wall, as it were. I would elaborate on this myself, but it's not a part of the tradition that I know well. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽

((Nothing supports shikantaza- that is why it is called shikantaza. But we are often assigned counting the breath in Soto practice as beginners, graduating to simply following the breath in and out and then hopefully the student can let go into just sitting.))

Shikantaza is often presented as down to earth, very empirical and not mysterious. Like one would be doing some surgical operation. It's also cleared of all sorts of esoteric tendencies, anyone could be doing this - you don't urgently need special tools/ statues/ pictures/etc except for a quiet room and a zafu. (by the way, to me this is a very paradoxal aspect, because the "method" isn't easy to grasp - It's difficult to learn, even with a teacher...which makes it quite esoteric!) Hippocrates

((But it is not that intersting things do not occur along the path to shikantaza. All sorts of bizarre things pop up while we are on the cushion. We simply try not to grasp and cling to them. Thoughts come and go, we let them pass like clouds))

I'm familiar with some of the theoretical arguments and have read some of the core Shobogenzo fascicles, so I know a little about what you're talking about. I should point out that empiricality is no barrier to mysticism--in fact, all mysticism is empirical, because it is a form of religion that rests upon personal experience as a means of practice. Of course, not everyone agrees with William James on this point, but it's pretty solid. Certainly Shikantaza is one of the most methodologically simple (though, as you point out, not therefore easy) forms of meditation. But I don't see what simplicity has to do with scientificity or formality, or why calling it "simple" isn't sufficiently clear. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽ 23:15, 4 Nov 2004 (UTC)
I think this paradoxal aspect of Shikantaza should be explained. You write for example: "While the practical method of shikantaza is almost as simple as can be imagined...". This is true and at the same time not true. For an experienced practitioner the method is straightforward and simple. Yet, for a beginner this "practical" method is almost impossible to understand. It demands literature study (and/or teaching) and actual practice to understand it thoroughly.

((I would tend to disagree with the part about needing to read Dogen, literature etc. In Japan, a newcomer is simply thrust on the pillow with no instruction. The student squirms, literally and figuratively, for a while, and as they query the Sensei in sanzen, they are gradually instructed. We are often told not to seek in words and phrases, but to simply sit and see what happens.))

Secondly, what I call "scientific" (but still, a better word is needed) is the down-to-earth way of speaking about the practice by zen-masters. As well as the search for very good explanations of the whole idea of meditation and this specific practice. Here also, it would be too short to just say "simple". That doesn't cover everything (and could be interpreted wrongly, like it's something children can do easily) Hippocrates
Well, I don't see difficulty and obscurity as contradicting simplicity--it seems to me that as long as we make clear that simplicity doesn't correlate to ease of implementation, it should be adequate. And of course I agree it's important to highlight the complex theoretical and suplementary apparatus surrounding the practice. I think perhaps, as to the expression of what you refer to as scientific or down-to-earth, we might do better by saying what it is not--for example, I think shikantaza might be characterized as a non-esoteric mystical experience. (I.e., a special kind of transformative religious experience which is not characterized by specialized, complex practices--tantra being the characteristically esoteric mode of practice in the Buddhist context.) -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽
      • Hey, all- glad to find the talk space connected with the Shikantaza article, thanks ARRust for that. Let me first confess that my concern is with the information I need to sit the lotus. Here's my best description of shikantaza, and it is simple:

"Dogen said: "To study the way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self."

Simply by being where we are, we can come to forget the self. The sense of place engenders an ability to feel, and each thing we feel enters into the sense of place- even before we know it.

This being where we are with each thing, even before we know it, is shikantaza."

The study behind it is nobody's cup of tea, but let me point to a sermon in the Pali Cannon:

"(Anyone)…knowing and seeing eye as it really is, knowing and seeing material shapes… visual consciousness… impact on the eye as it really is, and knowing, seeing as it really is the experience, whether pleasant, painful, or neither painful nor pleasant, that arises conditioned by impact on the eye, is not attached to the eye nor to material shapes nor to visual consciousness nor to impact on the eye; and that experience, whether pleasant, painful, or neither painful nor pleasant, that arises conditioned by impact on the eye—neither to that is (such a one) attached. …(Such a one’s) physical anxieties decrease, and mental anxieties decrease, and bodily torments… and mental torments… and bodily fevers decrease, and mental fevers decrease. (Such a one) experiences happiness of body and happiness of mind. (repeated for ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind).

Whatever is the view of what really is, that for (such a one) is right view; whatever is aspiration for what really is, that for (such a one) is right aspiration; whatever is endeavour for what really is, that is for (such a one) right endeavour; whatever is mindfulness of what really is, that is for (such a one) right mindfulness; whatever is concentration on what really is, that is for (such a one) right concentration. And (such a one’s) past acts of body, acts of speech, and mode of livelihood have been well purified."

(Majjhima-Nikaya, Pali Text Society volume 3 pg 337-338, ©Pali Text Society)

Both the "impact" referenced in the sermon above and the "hit" or "strike" in Shikantaza for me refer to the impact on the overall fascial stretch of the sense of balance associated with the occurrence of consciousness. A missing piece for Westerners would be the notion of reciprocal innervation as mentioned by John Upledger in one of his books: fascia and ligaments are paired throughout the body, and when the fascia on one side stretch, they generate nerve impulses that cause muscles to contract to relieve the stretch; as the muscles contract to relieve stretch, the fascia on the other side of the body is stretched, and a reciprocity of stretch and activity takes place. Thus, the activity of an upright posture consists of fascially-triggered reciprocal muscular contraction, and as consciousness takes place the balance associated with consciousness impacts the fascial stretch and generates alignment and feeling. The sense of place, as I state in my short description of shikantaza, incorporates sensory contact even before the contact is consciously known. Thus we have:

"When we let go of our minds and cast aside our views and understandings the Way will be actualized. One sage clarified True Mind (Reality) when he saw peach blossoms and another realized the Way when he heard the sound of tile hitting a bamboo. They attained the way through their bodies. Therefore, when we completely cast aside our thoughts and views and practice shikantaza, we will become intimate with the way… This is why I encourage you to practice zazen wholeheartedly."

(“Shobogenzo-zuimonki”, sayings recorded by Koun Ejo, translated by Shohaku Okumura, 2-26, pg 107-108, ©2004 Sotoshu Shumucho)

I personally am in favor of sticking to descriptions of shikantaza and definitions of shikantaza from the literature in the Wikipedia reference, and leaving the philosophy of Buddhism to another part of the Wikipedia site. It's a very physical thing to me, and the closer we can keep this description to the practice that is spontaneous the better off we'll be.

One other note- my practice in writing is to stick to the positive and substantive, because I am first and foremost trying to teach myself, and there's a mechanism involved in it that is like hypnosis (needs positive suggestion to take place). That's just my experience, but I'd like to put that forward as the way to proceed that will be most useful in the long run.

Mark A. Foote (talk) 18:09, 30 May 2011 (UTC)

— Preceding unsigned comment added by Mark A. Foote (talkcontribs) 18:05, 30 May 2011 (UTC)


Hippocrates: Hello Kukkurovaca. I made an account on your suggestion. Thanks for the tips. I'm new here, you probably already recognized.... :). bye.

Excellent. By the way, I may have sounded curt before, as is my wont, but your edits were quite useful, and appreciated. Happy stuff. (BTW, if you don't want to have to bother to sign your name, stick three tildes ("~") at the end of your message, or four if you also want a timestamp.) -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽ 20:51, 3 Nov 2004 (UTC)

I'm in the process of cleaning up a whole mess of edits by an anon. I'm putting some material here that doesn't belong in the body of the article but may do well in another article. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽

I'm sticking the "history" section in the Soto article for now. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽


Do people think the bit about a blank mind not being the point would profit from a cross-reference to the Samatha-Vipassana distinction? -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽

yes, maybe. Yet there's a chance things only get more complicated. Or become theoretically unclear, because Vipassana is not the same as Shikantaza. The differences are subtle and hard to describe (it's all such introspective stuff). Hippocrates
Actually, it's important to distinguish between Vipassana as a sort of school of meditation as opposed to the actual concept of discernment/insight/whatever as a phase of the meditative experience, because the samatha-vipassana distinction persists throughout Buddhism, not merely in Theravada. -- कुक्कुरोवाच|Talk‽ 19:20, 17 Nov 2004 (UTC)
Yes, in this sence it could be helpful. Maybe link it to the distinction koan-shikantaza..? Hippocrates

Useful info[edit]

  • practice is enlightenment

In Zen terms we say honsho myoshu. Honsho means intrinsic enlightenment; myoshu, subtle practice. We say practice and enlightenment, or realization, are one. How is it one thing? When you sit, your zazen is the zazen of the Buddhas. Your zazen is sitting Buddha, or Buddha's zazen. So your practice is realization itself, enlightenment itself. Your zazen becomes anuttara samyak sambodhi itself. Have this kind of faith. Usually when you do zazen, zazen becomes a cause to create some kind of effect, such as enlightenment, frustration, anger, or whatever arises. That is the wrong way to do zazen. Your practice is not something by which you attain some place else or something else. Your practice itself is a fulfillment of honsho myoshu, the originally enlightened life.

((Svaha! Our enlightened activity is the same as the Buddha's! Mahakasyapa wiggles his toes in our shoes! Another point, Shikantaza is NOT meditation, according to Dogen. There is no object on which to meditate. Thank you for your fine page!))


Yes I think this is probably the most vital point about Shikantaza. Everything else that is said or written about Shiakantaza is just a result of practice, and therefore if you add extra information about Shikantaza you may confuse people and they might start trying to do things that they read. This defeats the purpose of practice and may cause more problems. Yes you are right Dogen did say practice and realization are the same thing and this is what makes Zen so different from other Buddhist sects which lack the self sufficient that zen practice emphasises. This should be included as a vital root to Shikantaza and realaization!

Vishal 25 Feb 2007

People seem to have lost interest in this very good article. Because they think it can't be improved? I think it can. The differences of opinion between various authorities cited (as well as others not cited) are massive. Highlighting these differences by starting citations with phrases like "In contrast," or "On the other hand" might help readers recognize that the authorities are not dealing with facts, but only with their own opinions. The note above mine on "people...might start trying to do things that they read. This defeats the purpose of practice...etc." Vishal, do you think there's any possible way of stopping them from doing that? You seem to have a singular "purpose of practice" in mind. What is it? <ARRust (talk) 18:19, 29 May 2011 (UTC)>

I have started implementing my first paragraph above near the start of the article. Any opinions of the changes I have made? <ARRust (talk) 20:32, 29 May 2011 (UTC)>

In trying to enter a reference, I got a Cite Error and a reference to a page on that. The page was no help at all in trying to correct my error. Can someone help. I guess I should say this on the Cite Error page as well. <ARRust (talk) 19:56, 30 May 2011 (UTC)>

Another 2 cents on the four points in the "To-Do" list[edit]

Hi, ARRust- can't help you on the cite error 'cause I've only done it once and it worked- if I add something more I'll keep my eyes open and let you know if anything strikes me as connected to your error.

Rereading the four points on the to-do list, I wouldn't address any of those under the topic of shikantaza, myself. The stages of meditation I think are more of a Theravadin tradition concern, even though they were one of the most frequently repeated aspects of the Gautamid's teaching. The ox-herding pictures are profound, as is Fuxi's poem:

“An empty hand grasps the hoe handle Walking along, I ride the ox The ox crosses the wooden bridge The bridge is flowing, the water is still.”

(“Zen’s Chinese Heritage”, Andy Ferguson, pg 2, ©2000 Andrew Ferguson)

Nevertheless, I think we run aground if our explanation of shikantaza doesn't return to ordinary experience, to a natural well-being that requires no special states or training. Likewise, why point to duality, why bring in the subject of emptiness; I prefer a simple hands-on statement like Kobun Chino Otogawa's:

Sitting shikan taza is the place itself, and things. (from the Jikoji site, here:

The discussion about "practice is enlightenment" might be more appropriate in a biography of Dogen, which I'm sure they have somewhere on Wikipedia. I'm not sure that anyone else in the history of Ch'an and Zen has made such a statement, which is why I think it belongs to a biography of Dogen. Sounds like a description of shikantaza for sure, but unless someone can put that into laymen's terms in a way that relates the kind of practice and enlightenment described to ordinary life, I think we would mislead people.

Mark A. Foote (talk) 21:49, 6 June 2011 (UTC)

Zen masters deride Yasutani's description[edit]

The article says, "some of the Zen masters in Loori's book The Art of Just Sitting deride Yasutani's description." I find this unlikely - zen masters in my experience don't waste time "deriding" each others' teachings. Deride: To harshly mock; ridicule. The reference is to a whole 256-page book. Writers I have found who mention Yasutani's description of shikantaza do so without comment in amongst the other descriptions.[2][3] I was taught shikantaza with a story similar to Yasutani's and I can see that the end product is the same however the teacher introduces the practice. Unless someone can give me a quote from the book that is about these other zen teachers' "derision" of Yasutani's description, I think I shall delete that sentence soon. --Nigelj (talk) 18:53, 5 September 2013 (UTC)