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"Shikan" means nothing but, "Ta" means to hit, "Za" means to sit.

Presented by:
the Wanderling

I. The meditation practices stressed by the Soto and Rinzai schools are distinctively Zen versions of the two types of Buddhist meditation:

  1. Mindfulness Leading to Insight

  2. Concentration Leading to Absorption.

II. Distinctive of Dogen’s account of zazen as Shikantaza is that zazen is conceived not as a means to an end but as a practice of the end itself.

A. Cultivation (shu) is not different from authentication (sho), practice from Enlightenment.

B. If we are practicing Shikantaza correctly, then we are practicing Enlightenment itself.

1. This is a central paradox of Zen.
a) But if we’re already Enlightened by our very buddha-nature, why do we need to practice—frequently for years?

Dogen struggled with the problem of Original Awakening, that is, an awakening fundemental or innate in everyone, and Acquired Awakening, an awakening attained or acquired through practice. Dogen rejected both, breaking through the relativity of original and acquired, opening up a deeper ground. He wrote: "The principle of the Buddha-nature is that it is not endowed prior to Enlightenment...the Buddha-nature is unquestionably realized simultaneously with Enlightenment." The Shobogenzo eloaborates quite lucidly his concerns with the matter, written by him in an Enlightened state following his own Realization under the guidance of Chinese Zen Master Ju-ching (1163-1228).

Dogen does not maintain that there is any ultimate difference between cultivation (shu) and authentication (sho) or between Original and Acquired Enlightenment. Hence, Dogen would not want to say that he is describing "Zen consciousness" or "Enlightened consciousness" to the exclusion of "ordinary consciousness." Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where we differ is that we place a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience and then proceed to make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself rather than to be an "expression" (dotoku) of the "occasion" (jisetsu) in which we think or talk about the given experience. In a sense, we have a double layered description. First, there is the prereflective, not yet conceptualized, experience--what we all share, Zen master and the rest of us alike. Second, there is the expression or characterization of any experience within a particular situation or occasion. If the speaker brings no personal, egotistic delusions into this expression, the occasion speaks for itself, the total situation alone determines what is said or done. Thus, in the case of the Zen master, what-is-said is simply what-is. In the case of the deluded person, however, the "what-is" includes his excess conceptual baggage with its affective components, the deluded ideas about the nature of "self," "thing," "time," and so on that constitute the person's own particular distortion of what actually is. (SOURCE)

III. Also distinctive of Dogen's account of Shikantaza is that it is the practice of "without thinking" (hishiryo): which is also called no-mind (mushin; wu-hsin), the essence of Zen Enlightenment. Here we shall discuss "thinking," "not-thinking," and "without thinking."

A. THINKING (shiryo): This is our habitual tendency to stay in the mode of conceptualizing thought.

1. About "thinking" a) Noetic Attitude: positional (either affirming or negating); b) Noematic Content: conceptualized objects.

a) Noetic Attitude is positional (either affirming or negating): A subject is adopting an intentional stance toward an object and, specifically, thinking about it in either a positive or negative way: "This is an X" or "This is not an X," "Do X" or "Do not do X."

(1) Consciousness is an intentional vector proceeding from a subject to an object. The subject is a cognitive agent.

b) Noematic Content: X is an intentional object pointed to and conceived through our thoughts.

2. "Thinking" can be pictured as follows:

c) Aspects of "thinking":

(1) Subject-object division present: an active subject thinks an object.

(2) Non-immediacy: We do not experience the object immediately but only at a distance, as removed subjects, and only through the thoughts we have of the object.

(3) Non-fullness: We do not experience the object in its fullness or "suchness" but, rather, only as filtered through our thinking about it.

B. NOT-THINKING (fushiryo): About "not-thinking,": (1) noetic attitude: positional (only negating); (2) noematic content: thinking (as objectified).

1. Noetic attitude is positional (only negating): Subject is agent seeking to suppress its thinking.

2. Noematic content: The object is now the "second-order" object "thinking about X."

"Not-thinking" can be pictured as follows:

3. Aspects of "not-thinking": Same as for "thinking."

a) Consciousness is still an intentional-vector proceeding from a subject to the object. The subject is still functioning as agent, even if one trying to bring an end to its own agency.

C. WITHOUT THINKING (hishiryo): This is no-thought (munen; wu-nien) or no-mind (mushin; wu-hsin): pure immediacy in the fullness of things as they are.

1. About "not-thinking,": (1) noetic attitude: nonpositional (neither affirming nor negating); (2) noematic content: pure presence of things as they are (genjokoan).

a) Noetic attitude is nonpositional (neither affirming nor negating): Consciousness is no longer an intentional vector proceeding from a subject to an object but is, rather, an open dynamic field in which objects present themselves.

b) Noematic content: The object is no longer an object that is the target of an intentional act but is, rather, the object itself as it presents itself within the open dynamic field of consciousness.

c) Aspects of "without thinking":

(1) No subject-object distinction: The subject has disappeared—this being the Zen interpretation of Buddhist anatta or no-mind.

(2) Immediacy: Without a subject standing back, the experience is one of immediacy within the dynamic field of consciousness.

(3) Fullness: Because the object is not filtered through an intentional act, it presents itself in its fullness.

(4) Such immediacy and fullness are genjokoan, "pure presence of things as they are."

Genjokoan is the title of the first chapter of the Shobogenzo, and its foremost position in the text is indicative of the importance of this concept in Dogen's thought. The word is a conjunction of genjo ("presence itself") and koan. Interpretations of this concept differ; my own accords with the view that Dogen viewed genjo itself to be a koan. In one sense, then, genjokoan can be understood as the name of a koan which, when correctly grasped, indicates "things as they really are." "Correctly grasping" this koan proceeds from the prereflective experience manifested by without-thinking. A famous passage from the "Genjokoan" states:
To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be Enlightened by all things.

"Being Enlightened by all things" expresses the mental activity of Without Thinking wherein the "Self" (and also "other") is "forgotten," because awareness of such distinctions is not present. No separate Self is present to perceive "other" things. Rather, the Self is all these things, and vice versa, in THIS moment. From Without Thinking flows the only identifiable "reality, " namely the unceasing, ever-changing, impermanent unfolding of experience. From Without-Thinking/Enlightenment, therefore, we see things as they really are (genjokoan).

For Dogen, genjokoan is none other than Prajna, or "intuitive wisdom." Furthermore, Dogen is in accord with the Mahayana tradition in arguing that Prajna and Karuna, "compassion, the Golden Purifier" are "not-two." He also holds to the traditional Mahayana conception of right moral action as proceeding from Prajna/Karuna. Thus Dogen sees right moral action as properly proceeding from seeing things as they really are, which is manifest to us in moments of without-thinking.(SOURCE)

IV. How do we practice "without thinking" during zazen?

A. What does one do?

1. Answer: Nothing, because to do something is to adopt an intentional or noetic stance as a subject.

B. But what if thoughts arise? Aren’t these part of "thinking," and don’t they, therefore, need to be suppressed?

1. Answer: They ought not be suppressed, for that would be "not-thinking."

C. But what other options are there?

1. Answer: Releasing, disengaging, suspending. In releasing thinking, we let go of the stance of inner thinking subjects and open ourselves to the field of immediate experience.

2. And objects, no longer "rubber stamped" by conceptualizing thought, stand forth in the field of immediate experience, presenting themselves fully and in their true natures.

3. We release ourselves from action-taking and thereby release objects from conceptualization. In thus releasing both subject and object, we practice immediate presence in the fullness of experience: genjokoan.

a) This being the Enlightenment that we already are.

V. Neither-nor Mindfulness Leading to Insight, neither-nor Concentration Leading to Absorption


There is also a little known meditation "method," based in part from Dogen's Shikantaza, neither entering into nor rising out of, practiced by the Wanderling and others that is neither Mindfulness Leading to Insight nor not Mindfulness Leading to Insight; it is as well neither Concentration Leading to Absorption nor not Concentration Leading to Absorption and called Jishu Zammi, where Ji means "self," Shu means "mastery," and Zammi means "Samadhi,"...Samadhi of Self Mastery.

Zen master Tai-yung, passing by the retreat of another Zen master named Chih-huang, stopped and during his visit respectfully asked, "I am told that you frequently enter into Samadhi. At the time of such entrances, does your consciousness continue or are you in a state of unconsciousness? If your consciousness continues, all sentient beings are endowed with consciousness and can enter into Samadhi like yourself. If, on the other hand, you are in a state of unconsciousness, plants and rocks can enter into Samadhi." Huang replied, "When I enter into a Samadhi, I am not conscious of either condition." Yung said, "If you are not conscious of either condition, this is abiding in eternal Samadhi, and there can be neither entering into a Samadhi nor rising out of it."(SOURCE)




With special thanks to Indiana University South Bend
Rebuilt, edited, modified, and made readable by the Wanderling