In the tranquil chambers of Soto Zen temples, amidst the gentle waft of incense and the soft echoes of sutra recitations, there resides a practice so simple yet profound that it embodies the very essence of Zen: Shikantaza, or “Just Sitting.”

At the heart of Soto Zen doctrine lies the unwavering commitment to practice “just sitting” in accordance with the pristine teachings passed down by the Buddha-ancestors. The term “Shikantaza” itself holds the key to its essence: “Shikan” conveys the notion of being solely concerned about, while “taza” beckons one to simply sit. Thus, Shikantaza encapsulates the art of being solely concerned about just sitting.

What does it truly mean to engage in Shikantaza?

In its simplest form, it is the practice of single-minded meditation, undertaken daily as a pathway to realization. For the Soto Zen practitioner, there is a profound understanding that true insight is not found in lofty theories or elaborate rituals, but rather in the simplicity of silent contemplation.

Central to Shikantaza are two fundamental aspects:

  1. Devotion to Zazen: Shikantaza emphasizes the primacy of zazen, the seated meditation, while eschewing other auxiliary practices. From the burning of incense to the recitation of sutras, the practitioner devotes themselves entirely to the act of sitting.
  2. Oneness of Practice and Realization: Unlike approaches that view meditation as a means to an end, Shikantaza embraces the idea that practice and realization are inherently intertwined. Drawing upon the teachings of Zen Master Dogen, practitioners are reminded of the Buddha’s own steadfast commitment to zazen, transcending the notion of practice as a mere stepping stone to enlightenment.

In the pursuit of Shikantaza, there arises the concept of “Shinjin Datsuraku,” the shedding of body-mind. As articulated by Dogen in “Shobogenzo Genjo Koan,” the practice of Zen entails a profound journey of self-discovery, culminating in the relinquishment of the self to the myriad manifestations of existence. It is through the act of sitting that the body-mind naturally falls away, paving the way for the emergence of the true Dharma.

Zen Master Nyojo further elucidates this principle, affirming that the essence of Zen lies not in elaborate rituals, but in the simplicity of Shikantaza. In the act of sitting, one transcends the confines of the self, bearing witness to the authentic expression of the Buddha-nature.

Beyond Shikantaza lies the concept of “Sokushin Zebutsu,” the realization that the mind itself is Buddha. Here, the practitioner is invited to directly apprehend Buddhahood within their own body-mind, recognizing that enlightenment is not a distant goal to be attained, but a present reality to be embodied.

In the serene embrace of Shikantaza, practitioners discover a pathway to profound insight and self-realization. Through the simplicity of sitting, they come to embody the timeless wisdom of the Buddha-ancestors, finding liberation in the quietude of the present moment.

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