Our Transformative Practice

All Things Come and Carry Out
Practice-Enlightenment Through This Self

Dōgen Zenji’s Shikantaza

© Can Stock Photo / coffeekai

There are many ways to realize enlightenment. One is to train under a true Zen master, listening to their teaching; the other is to do zazen whole-heartedly. In the former case you give full play to the discriminating mind, while in the latter, practice and enlightenment are unified. To enter the Way neither of these two methods can be dispensed with — both are necessary. 1
— Dōgen Zenji, Gakudō-yōjinshū

When we sit facing the wall, even though the wall is affecting our eyes, we don’t think, “I am the subject and the wall is an object.”

The wall is actually there. But this subject/object separation is not there.

So sitting in the zendo facing the wall and letting go of thought is something special — a very precious thing — reaching all of our activities.

In almost all of our activities there’s a separation. There’s a subject — me — and an object. And we make a separation and try to interact in the ways that suit us.

How can I make this my possession?
Or how can I achieve this good thing for me?
Or how can I get rid of this meaningless thing?

That is how we usually do. This is our life.

But in our zazen, sitting in the zendo, that separation between subject and object falls away. And even though the wall is really there, the wall is not an object of this person sitting.

And through our tradition of practice, our zazen allows us to change, to transform our way of life.
— Shōhaku Okumura-roshi

And we don’t really hear a bird singing or the calls of insects as a subject would. And they are not an object. But this person sitting and those insects making sounds are single-minded doing and together in the lotus position.

Even so, things happening inside ourselves, within our mind, become objects. All different kinds of thoughts, coming and going, become the objects of this person sitting. And I start to interact with those things.

I don’t like this thought
Or I hate this memory
Or I love this idea
Or I want to get things tomorrow.

That kind of thing is happening within my mind. And when we are doing such a thing, our mind is divided into two pieces. One side is subject, and the other side is object. And within our mind there is a separation between subject and object.

And we start to think, “So what are we doing now in zazen?”

When we are aware this separation and interaction is happening, we stop doing it and return to just sitting. To stop doing this is called letting go of thought, or in my teacher’s expression, “opening the hand of thought.”

We return to this oneness or the reality before separation between subject and object. Then we are simply part of life’s interconnected network.

But our zazen is not a method to see the reality of this interconnectedness.

The Lotus Sutra says only a Buddha together with a Buddha can fathom the true reality of all beings. Only a Buddha together with a Buddha means no human beings.

So the subject of this practice is not Shōhaku, this independent person, but all beings.

This entire network practices through this single person’s body and mind. So this sitting is not my personal action, even though I use my personal body and mind. That separation falls down.

But if we think “our interconnectedness,” we already make a separation. So in our zazen we don’t think even about interconnectedness, but just being there.

So zazen or Dōgen Zenji’s shikantaza, just sitting, is just being there within this network. We wholeheartedly participate in this interconnectedness.

And through our tradition of practice, our zazen allows us to change, to transform our way of life. Instead of conveying ourselves toward all things, we start to hear and see how all things are. And this body and mind, together, is part of all things.

— • —

Edited from a Dharma talk Shōhaku Okumura delivered at Great Tree Zen Temple in September, 2016.

[1] Ed Brown & Kazuaki Tanahashi, Moon in a Dewdrop: Writings of Zen Master Dogen, ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi (San Francisco: North Point Press, 1985) pp. 31-43.


Copyright 2017 Sanshin Zen Community

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