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Dogen’s Shikantaza – Jundo Cohen Roshi

Why Shikantaza is Complete, Boundless and Unlike Any Other Way of Zazen, Period, End of Story — by Jundo

I can sometimes come across as a ‘Shikantaza-fanatic,’ insisting that Master Dogen’s way of ‘Just Sitting’ is totally unlike any other flavor of Zazen or meditation, even those (such as “Silent Illumination” or “Dzogchen”) it very much resembles.The reason for such a wild claim is simply the very nature of Shikantaza itself::

You see, Shikantaza is to be sat with a sense that there is nothing else but Shikantaza, nothing more needed or which can be needed outside the act of sitting Shikantaza itself. Shikantaza is a ritual enactment of Buddhas sitting as Buddhas, embodying the peace and satisfaction of “nothing more to attain but this” which only Buddhas can know. It is a “non-self fulfilling prophesy” which becomes complete when we sit it with the conviction that it is complete. The mere act of sitting itself is to be known in the bones as the completion of the universe, the fruition of life. No kidding, no exaggeration. There is not one drop outside of sitting to be desired, nothing lacking, nothing more to attain. Simply sitting this sitting is whole and absolute satiation of all desires, the one action needed in all space and time in that time of sitting. It is the only place to be or where one can be in the world.

Now, if you think that I am laying the superlatives on thick, you should hear what Master Dogen himself had to say about it: For example, as ‘Ol Dogen described (in Zanmai-O-Zanmai) “To sit in the meditation posture is to transcend the deepest and most intimate teaching of the buddha ancestors. Thus, buddha ancestors practice this way without needing to do anything else. … Sitting in this Zazen posture … Nothing is lacking. The yellow scrolls and red rolls of all the sutras are all here. In this moment of sitting, buddha sees buddha and all beings attain buddhahood.” (

One should let the thoughts go, with the mind and body upright yet not rigid. One sits in a balanced posture, one allows the breath to take a natural rhythm. But beyond that basic form, nothing more is sought or demanded. In sitting, one may experience various degrees of peace, clarity, stillness or concentration, and the walls of self and other may soften or fully drop away. Yet, as counter-intuitive as it sounds, none of that is necessary, and nothing like that can be the goal or point at all. Such states and attainments which do arise are never the purpose of sitting, are something like side effects, are never pursued.

For this reason, Shikantaza is simply unlike any other form of “meditation,” let alone most of ordinary human life filled with needs and pursuits, where something is missing or broken and something must be attained or fixed. In Shikantaza, there is nothing more that need be attained, not one flaw to fix, which is not fully resolved in the mere act of sitting. This sitting is just sitting that is sitting as sitting, free of any “I” that needs “something more” apart from sitting. When Master Dogen returned from China, such was the special twist which he placed upon the meditation forms which he had learned. (Thus his rejection of Zhanglu Zongze’s “Guidelines for Seated Meditation” and other popular Silent Illumination meditation manuals of the time).

But here is the catch, the trick, the “non-method” to the madness: Such very freedom from need and abandoning of pursuit is the attainment of a most special state of peace and satisfaction which can only come from dropping all need for pursuit! It is the freedom and peace which only a Buddha can know.

The wonder of Master Dogen’s “Just Sitting” is that this very completion and radical dropping of all need to attain is the key to that Peace and “Seeing the Nature” which can only be realized in the very completion and radical dropping of all need to attain. Clarity will be known. Wisdom and Compassion manifests which carries off the cushion. Wonderful insights may be had, as well as timeless moments of oneness or even bliss. Openings, whether shallow or boundless, as well as very deep states of Samadhi concentration, may all happen. However none of that is and must not be the point at all. There can be no other point beside sitting, and sitting is the point that sweeps in all of time and space as its own singularity.

For this reason, any form of Zazen or meditation (even if superficially resembling aspects of Shikantaza) which aims for concentrations states, peace, bliss, feelings of oneness, Kensho (Seeing the Nature”) experiences, mystical insights or anything at all — you name it —- cannot be Shikantaza. Period. Recently, some folks have posted various meditation instructions, books and descriptions from other traditions. They are wonderful traditions. But to the extent that their emphasis or aim is on reaching any other state or experience, rather than on the wholeness of sitting itself, then such meditation is not Shikantaza Zazen. Case closed.

There are descriptions around of meditations they call “shikantaza” or “just sitting,” but unless there is present such radical attitude of Master Dogen, it is not “Shikantaza” or “Just Sitting” despite the name. It will lack the power of Shikantaza, Sorry to be a fanatic for our special Soto Ways.

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