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Shikantaza: Wikis


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Shikantaza (只管打坐?) is a Japanese term for zazen introduced by Rujing and associated most with the Soto school of Zen Buddhism, but which also is "the base of all Zen disciplines."[1]. According to Dōgen Zenji, shikantaza i.e. resting in a state of brightly alert attention that is free of thoughts, directed to no object, and attached to no particular content--is the highest or purest form of zazen, zazen as it was practiced by all the buddhas of the past.

The modern Japanese Zen master, Hakuun Ryōko Yasutani says: "Shikantaza is the mind of someone facing death. Let us imagine that you are engaged in a duel of swordsmanship of the kind that used to take place in ancient Japan. As you face your opponent you are unceasingly watchful, set, ready. Were you to relax your vigilance even momentarily, you would be cut down instantly. A crowd gathers to see the fight. Since you are not blind you see them from the corner of your eye, and since you are not deaf you hear them. But not for an instant is your mind captured by these impressions." (Introductory Lectures on Zen Training, Kapleau)

The term is believed to have been first used by Dōgen's teacher Tiantong Rujing, and it literally means, "nothing but (shikan) precisely (da) sitting (za)."[2] In other words Dōgen means by this, "doing only zazen whole-heartedly" or "single-minded sitting."[3][4] Shikantaza implies "just sitting", and according to author James Ishmael Ford, "Some trace the root of this word to the pronunciation of the Pāli vipassana, though this is far from certain."[5]


Silent illumination

Shikantaza's origins can be traced to early Daoist meditations known as "sitting forgetfulness" which was mentioned in the Zhuang Zi. In the book, it was stated that a man named Yan Hui described to Confucius how he forgot and cast aside knowledge. The concept of meditating on everyday chores to attain the Dao is also described in the story of the butcher in Zhuang Zi. [6][7] The first Chan master to write about what is more or less termed shikantaza was the Caodong master Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091—1157), who wrote on "silent illumination" (默照禪[8]; Chinese: Mòzhào chán Japanese: Mokusho Zen). Additionally, the practice of silent illumination is said to be traced back to at least Bodhidharma.[9]

Later in the thirteenth century, Dōgen Zenji (the founder of the Soto school) used much of Hongzhis' writings on silent illumination to help shed light on what he termed shikantaza. From thereafter the practice of shikantaza has been primarily associated with the Soto school. It should be noted that while silent illumination is in theory a "methodless method"—it is also important to realize that, "his (Dogen) practice of shikantaza took a somewhat different approach."[10] Even still, Ch'an Master Shengyan feels comfortable in stating that shikantaza is in fact quite similar to silent illumination.[11][9] Silent illumination comes from the integrated practice of shamatha (calming the mind) and vipashyana (insightful contemplation) called yuganaddha (union), and was the hallmark of the Chinese Caodong school of Ch'an. It therefore means one is practicing with both a calm mind and "questioning observation."

In Japan, vipassana and shamatha are sometimes used in addition to shikantaza as complementary practices.[12]. The term can be broken down as follows: shi = shamatha, kan = vipashyana, ta = center/essence, and za = sitting.

In practice

Concerning the Rinzai school, John Daido Loori writes, "..[A]fter students finish koan study, they then take up the practice of shikantaza."[13] Haku'un Yasutani agrees, stating, "The Rinzai and Obaku Schools emphasize koan study; the Soto school emphasizes shikantaza. But even when koan study is stressed, shikantaza is not abandoned. All of the great masters of these three schools emphasize the importance of shikantaza."[14] According to Merv Fowler, shikantaza is described best as, "quiet sitting in open awareness, reflecting directly the reality of life."[15] Shikantaza is often termed a goalless meditation in quiet awareness, "not working on any koan, or counting the breath. It is an alert condition, performed erect, with no trace of sluggishness or drowsiness.[16] Fred Reinhard Dallmayr writes, "Regarding practice, Dogen counseled a distinctly nonattached or nonclinging kind of action, that is, an activity completely unconcerned with benefits or the accomplishment of ulterior goals: the activity of 'just sitting' or 'nothing-but-sitting' (shikantaza) whereby self-seeking is set aside in a manner resembling a resolute 'dropping off of body and mind.'"[17]

According to Master Shengyen, "While you are practicing just sitting, be clear about everything going on in your mind. Whatever you feel, be aware of it, but never abandon the awareness of your whole body sitting there. Shikantaza is not sitting with nothing to do; it is a very demanding practice, requiring diligence as well as alertness. If your practice goes well, you will experience the 'dropping off' of sensations and thoughts. You need to stay with it and begin to take the whole environment as your body. Whatever enters the door of your senses becomes one totality, extending from your body to the whole environment. This is silent illumination."[18] In his work Fukanzazenji, Dogen writes of, "finding a clean, dry place, if possible cool in summer and warm in winter. He goes on to describe the use of a zafu, or small round pillow one sits upon, and the zabuton, or larger square, flat cushion under the zafu, which supports the ankles and knees. He then describes the basic posture—sitting erect, with hands in the lap, eyes cast downward—as 'the method used by all Buddha ancestors of Zen.'"[19]


  1. ^ Ford, 224
  2. ^ Fischer-Schreiber, 321
  3. ^ Akishige, 18
  4. ^ Shaner, 158
  5. ^ Ford, 29-30
  6. ^ Hansen, [1]
  7. ^ 什么是禅 [2]
  8. ^ Muller, A. Charles, ed.: The Digital Dictionary of Buddhism, ed. of 04/03/2008, Chinese Readings Index (Pinyin System) [3]
  9. ^ a b Kraft, 38-40
  10. ^ Hoofprint of the Ox, 152
  11. ^ Song of Mind, 150
  12. ^ Illuminating Silence, 103
  13. ^ Loori, 137
  14. ^ Maezumi, 97
  15. ^ Fowler, 96
  16. ^ Austin, 76
  17. ^ Dallmayr, 178-179
  18. ^ Attaining the Way, 163
  19. ^ Ford, 32


Further reading



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