Zazen as Enactment Ritual
Shikantaza Zazen is -not- awareness and concentration, mindfulness, focusing on or following the breath, a matter of sitting standing or lying down, relaxing, feeling peace or equanimity, being “in the Zone” or “in the moment,” nor a meditation where one “begins to feel the effects after 30 minutes” or any length of time, nor a matter of time at all.
Master Dogen’s Shikantaza is an “enactment ritual,” an embodiment of the sacred, whereby the mere taking of the mere taking of the pose of a Buddha is a Buddha brought to life, with not one thing to be added or taken away, not one drop lacking, no other action to do or place to be apart from the mere act of sitting. No amount of time is required, for a moment of sitting or 10,000 years is all Buddha all along. (Here is the finest description of what Shikantaza is, if you ask me, by Taigen Leighton: http://www.ancientdragon.org/dharma/articles/zazen_as_enactment_ritual). Yes, one let’s thoughts go, does not grab on to thoughts. Yes, one sits dropping away all judgments. Yes, one assumes as stable and balanced a posture as one can. Yet there is no goal, no state to reach or feeling to feel, nothing more needed beside sitting, which is the only act in need of doing in the whole world in that moment. It is not a matter of length of time, it is not a matter of good feelings which result, it is not a matter of reaching any goal. It is not a matter of sitting or moving. Shikantaza Zazen is -not- meditation.
That said, one sits for a time in such way (for any time between a moment and 10,000 years), with such feeling deep in the bones, in order to realize just why Shikantaza is not a matter of sitting or time. In dropping all demands, including all demands for peace and equanimity (and as counter-intuitive as it sounds) a peace and equanimity may (not always) manifest by the very act of dropping all demans. (Note: However, this is not our ordinary worldly sensation of feeling “peace and equanimity,” strange as it sounds, for it is a “peace and equanimity” so peaceful and equanimous that is does not even require one to feel peacful and equanimous all the time. It is a peace and equanimity perfectly at home with life’s less than peaceful times which we cannot accept. It is a Big P Peace so peaceful that it does not even depend on our feeling peaceful in any one moment. A Koan). This is a Buddha’s Non-Resistance which does not resist even the fact of our very humanly resisting life sometimes. That is True Peace and Non-Resistance. One sits knowing that nothing more is required, that there is nothing more to do in order to make a Buddha, that the one act and place to be in all the world is just right here, sitting.
By such radical dropping of all demands, one embodies the Peace and Equanimity of a Buddha living in the messy world.
This is why Master Dogen always described Shikantaza in the most over the top ways (even more than my hot air above):
Sitting with legs crossed for twenty-one days, sitting cross-legged for one time — this is turning the wheel of the wondrous dharma; this is the buddha’s proselytizing of a lifetime. There is nothing lacking. This is the yellow roll and vermillion roller [of all the Sutras and Commentaries]. The buddha seeing the buddha is this time. This is precisely the time when beings attain buddhahood.(Zanmai-O-Zanmai)
So, please stop thinking of Shikantaza as some ordinary following of the breath, mindfulness, relaxation technique, concentration meditation.