Shikantaza is Understanding Emptiness
BY Our beloved SHUNRYU SUZUKI Roshi.
Suzuki Roshi explains that the purpose of Shikantaza — a practice commonly known as “just sitting” — is to actualize emptiness and move beyond our interpretations of reality. When we remember there is another world beyond our limited experience, we can empty ourselves of preconceived ideas and accept things as they are.
Shikantaza is to practice or actualize emptiness. Although you can have a tentative understanding of it through your thinking, you should understand emptiness through your experience. You have an idea of emptiness and an idea of being, and you think that being and emptiness are opposites. But in Buddhism both of these are ideas of being. The emptiness we mean is not like the idea you may have. You cannot reach a full understanding of emptiness with your thinking mind or with your feeling. That is why we practice zazen.
When you see a plum blossom, or hear the sound of a small stone hitting bamboo, that is a letter from the world of emptiness.
We have a term, shosoku, which is about the feeling you have when you receive a letter from home. Even without an actual picture, you know something about your home, what people are doing there, or which flowers are blooming. That is shosoku. Although we have no actual written communications from the world of emptiness, we have some hints or suggestions about what is going on in that world—and that is, you might say, enlightenment. When you see a plum blossom, or hear the sound of a small stone hitting bamboo, that is a letter from the world of emptiness.Besides the world which we can describe, there is another kind of world. All descriptions of reality are limited expressions of the world of emptiness. Yet we attach to the descriptions and think they are reality. That is a mistake because what is described is not the actual reality, and when you think it is reality, your own idea is involved. That is an idea of self.Many Buddhists have made this mistake. That is why they were attached to written scriptures or Buddha’s words. They thought that his words were the most valuable thing, and that the way to preserve the teaching was to remember what Buddha said. But what Buddha said was just a letter from the world of emptiness, just a suggestion or some help from him. If someone else reads it, it may not make sense. That is the nature of Buddha’s words. To understand Buddha’s words, we cannot rely on our usual thinking mind. If you want to read a letter from the Buddha’s world, it is necessary to understand Buddha’s world.“To empty” water from a cup does not mean to drink it up. “To empty” means to have direct, pure experience without relying on the form or color of being. So our experience is “empty” of our preconceived ideas, our idea of being, our idea of big or small, round or square. Round or square, big or small don’t belong to reality, but are simply ideas. That is to “empty” water. We have no idea of water even though we see it.When we analyze our experience, we have ideas of time or space, big or small, heavy or light. A scale of some kind is necessary, and with various scales in our mind, we experience things. Still the thing itself has no scale. That is something we add to reality. Because we always use a scale and depend on it so much, we think the scale really exists. But it doesn’t exist. If it did, it would exist with things. Using a scale you can analyze one reality into entities, big and small, but as soon as we conceptualize something it is already a dead experience.with respect yours humble servant .
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