The basic principles of Soto Zen Buddhism
Updated: Mar 14
The essential doctrine of Soto Zen Buddhism
One should practice “just sitting” according to the correct Dharma purely transmitted by the Buddha-ancestors.
”Shikan” implies “to be solely concerned about.” “Taza” means “to sit.” So shikantaza means “to be solely concerned about just sitting.”
Shikantaza is just a single-minded meditation alone on a daily basis.
Realization lies in practice.
Shikantaza has two aspects of emphasis:
1. Emphasis on zazen and rejection of other practices - from incense-burning to reading sutras (full devotion to zazen)
2. Rejection of zazen as a means to an end (oneness of practice and realization). We do practice as a means to an end, that practice would end its role when the goal is accomplished. However, in Fukanzazengi Zen Master Dogen points out the example of Shakyamuni Buddha who sat upright zazen for six years, although he was wise enough to know the Buddha Dharma at birth. He also mentions Bodhidharma, who sat facing a wall for nine years after coming to China though he had already attained the mind-seal. Dogen stresses that Buddha-ancestors do not practice zazen as a means to an end.
Shinjin Datsuraku: Shedding Body-Mind
In “Shobogenzo Genjo Koan,” Dogen explains it as follows:
To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be proved by the myriad things. To be proved by the myriad things is to let the body-mind of the self as well as the body-mind of others be shed.
To practice the Buddha Way is to study the self and to forget the self. “To forget the self” does not mean to deny the self but “to be proved by the myriad things”, that is, to be authenticated by everything.
Zen Master Nyojo said,” Practicing Zen (zazen) is shedding body-mind. It can only be done through shikantaza. Incense offering, bowing, chanting nenbutsu, repentance, and sutra reading are not pivotal.”
When we sit zazen, our body-mind naturally drops off and the true Dharma manifests.
Sokushin Zebutsu: The Mind Itself is Buddha.
In addition to shikantaza, is one of the most important phrases in Soto Zen Buddhism.
Sokushin Zebutsu is to directly realize Buddhahood with this body-mind. In other words, it is not to change the former state of body-mind into some other special state but just to follow the realization of the other (one’s teacher).
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