Monday, December 22, 2008

Just Sitting

So Shikiku, my unofficial Zen teacher, has flown off to live in Switzerland, leaving me under the guidance of his Zen teacher, Taiun (who's actually my official Zen teacher). Shikiku, or as I call him, Arthur, will be missed, but that's the way the world turns.

Arthur, who charged me with the Monday night service at the Zen Center 5 1/2 years ago, asked me prior to his leaving to assist the Chattanooga group as I'm able, and suggested that I might incorporate passages from Zen Master Dogen's Zuimonki into occasional talks up there, as I had done several years ago when I first started the Monday nights. A good idea, and to prepare, I stated using Zuimonki again during the Monday night services.

This evening, we started with Book 1, Chapter 1. I had been under the impression that the short chapters of Zuimonki were more or less random, but in reading 1-1, I came across the following:
"Since being the Buddha's child is following the Buddha's teaching and reaching buddhahood directly, we must devote ourselves to following the teaching and put all our efforts into the practice of the Way. The true practice which is in accordance with the teaching is nothing but shikantaza, which is the essence of the life in this sorin (monastery) today. Think this over deeply."
Shikantaza literally means "just sitting." As Arthur once explained to me, the -za is "sitting," as in zazen ("sitting meditation"), and shikan- is "just." The -ta is sort of like an exclamation point, so the translation might be just! sitting, or even JUST! sitting. It is not sitting to experience enlightenment, it is just! sitting. It is not sitting to drop off body and mind, it is just! sitting. It is not even sitting to try and just sit, it is just! sitting. Anything added to "just sitting" is not shikantaza. Shikantaza is simply zazen which is practiced without expecting any reward. It is simply being yourself, right here, right now.

This emphasis on shikantaza as the very essence of true Buddhist practice is essential to Dogen and to the Soto school of Zen Buddhism. In the first chapter of his master work, Shobogenzo, titled Bendo-wa, Dogen emphasizes this same point:
"In the authentic transmission of our religion, it is said that this buddha-dharma, which has been authentically and directly transmitted one-to-one, is supreme among the supreme. After the initial meeting with a good teacher we never again need to burn incense, to do prostrations, to recite Buddha's name, to practice confession, or to read sutras. Just sit, and get the state which is free of body and mind."
It can be argued that all the rest of Dogen's teachings and writings are just an amplification of this basic concept. It's no wonder, then, that Bendo-wa is the first chapter of Shobogenzo, as it sets the theme for everything that follows.

And it also tells me that the chapters of Zuimonki may not be quite so random after all, as the same theme that introduces Shobogenzo is sounded in the first chapter of Zuimonki.

No comments: