Lesson
17

Shikantaza

In shikantaza — "just sitting" — the attention is not focused on any set object. Objectless awareness, fully concentrated — that's shikantaza.

Hung-chih Cheng-chueh likens this state to an autumn pond or autumn sky. With the cool and crisp air of autumn, the waters settle, becoming so still and clear that one can see the fish drifting lazily in their depths; the sky so high and clear that one can see the birds gliding gently high up in the blue. He also compares it to the autumn moon, which shines so clear and high that everything in the land is illumined by its cool and gentle light.

in certain traditions Shikantaza is referred to as silent illumination. It has been called the method of no method. “Just sitting” is misleading as shikantaza is not something that comes easily. It’s not just hanging out, sitting on a cushion and letting your mind roll on.

Shikantaza ... is not a step-by-step path. Rather it is nothing other than the realm of peace and happiness, the simultaneous practice and realization of true awakening.      Dogen Zenji


This just sitting is not a meditation technique or practice, or anything at all. “Just sitting” is a verb rather than a noun, the dynamic activity of being fully present. Taigen Dan Leighton

Shikantaza is a very demanding and challenging practice. (In the tradition of Rinzai and Soto schools, when practitioners have completed koan study they move on to shikantaza.) Shikantaza requires substantially building up the capacity to pay attention and get out of the way of your experience rather than getting sucked into it and losing sight of what you’re doing. 

Shikanataza should be taught personally and individually by the right teacher.   Yasutani Roshi

Shikantaza it is not a beginner’s practice and is beyond the scope of this course. While we can teach form and guide your effort in an online course, such a subtle formless and effortless approach benefits greatly from the guidance of a teacher.

In principle, silent illumination is very simple. But, because we are so complicated, it becomes a difficult teaching to master.    Master Sheng Yen

When we sit for even for a minute or two of shikantaza that’s a minute or two of enlightenment itself. For Dogen, enlightenment is fully expressed in the ongoing practice of just sitting.

If you have ever wondered what kind of practice old Zen masters are doing, sitting so long and serenely year after year, the answer is: they are just sitting. The spiritual maturation resulting from this practice is as subtle as it is profound. It shapes our spiritual character the way a river shapes the rocks it encounters on its journey to the sea .   Daido Loori