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Part Three in a Series of Talks on the Soto Zen Practice of Shikantaza

By Seiso Sensei

Shikantaza practice guided by the notion of mushotoku or no gaining mind finds support in the core doctrine of Immo (Inmo), which is translated as Suchness, Thusness, “Being-as-it Is,” or as in the teaching story below as “the matter that is it.” Immo is central to the Soto Zen religious endeavor and finds expression through shikantaza guided by the intention of mushotoku (no gaining mind). Practice from this perspective becomes all at once both the “beginningless beginning” and the “endless end,” or, as I described in Session One: Origins, to use Dōgen’s term, shusho ichinyo, or “practice/realization oneness.” Dōgen references Immo throughout his extensive writings right from the beginning with his first writing, Fukanzazengi (1227),

If you wish to attain suchness, you should practice suchness without delay [1]

It is never apart from you right where you are.

The zazen I speak of . . . is things as they are in suchness.

And in conclusion:

Devote your energy to a Way that points directly to suchness.

From this vantage point Immo serves as an expression for what cannot be expressed or spoken about in terms of practice and realization. Immo points to the Absolute Truth of Being. He offers and elaborates this core Zen Buddhist concept in the Immo (1242) chapter of the Shobogenzo (True Dharma Eye), which is devoted exclusively to explicating suchness. Dōgen tells this story:

Great Master Kōkaku of Ungozan is the rightful heir of Tōzan, is the thirty-ninth generation Dharma descendent of Shakyamuni Buddha, and is the authentic patriarch of Tōzan’s lineage. “One day he preaches to the assembly, ‘if you want to attain the matter that is it, you must be a person who is it. Already being a person who is it, why worry about the matter that is it?’[2]

Dōgen often repeats points that he views as important. In this case he repeats himself and then he further elaborates on Tōzan’s teaching by saying:

In other words, those who want to attain the “matter that is it” must themselves be “people who are it”: why should they worry about attaining the “matter that is it”? (p. 119).

And further, Dōgen speaks of the impulse to realize Bodhi mind. He explains as follows:

Remember, it happens like this because we are “people who are it.” (p. 120).

Dōgen continues with this explanation, which typifies his use of circular logic to emphasize important points in his teachings:

How do we know that we are “people who are it”? We know that we are “people who are it” just from the fact that we want to attain the “matter that is it.” Already we possess the real features of a “person who is it”; we should not worry about the already-present “matter that is it.” Even worry itself is just “the matter that is it,” and so it is beyond worry. Again, we should not be surprised that “the matter that is it” is present in such a state. Even if “it” is the object of surprise and wonderment, it is still just “it.” And there is “it” about which we should not be surprised. … it cannot be fathomed by consideration of the mind … It can only be described “Already you are a person who is it: why worry about [attaining] the matter that is it?” [3]

Every moment is the “matter that is it.” “Everything is the mater that is it.” Nothing is excluded. As Dōgen notes, worry is “it.” Laughing is it; crying is “it;” happiness, sadness, and everything in between is also “it.” Further, this on-going realization of suchness is never a static state, an end-point, or fixed reality. Thus “being-as-it is” continues to be potentially and ultimately transformable while simultaneously always transforming. Shikantaza practice makes clear the transparency of this at once active and passive process. From Dōgen’s point of view, this on-going realizational activity is at the heart of a fundamental difference betweenlinear, quietist, and facilitative or instrumental contemplation practices and the expressive, “enactment ritual” practice of just sitting.[4] For Dōgen the activity of just sitting is the realizational process.

Despite the many forms that Buddhism takes, as the Tibetan teacher Chogyam Trungpa notes:

“So all sects and schools of Buddhism agree that we must begin by facing the reality of our living situations.[5]

In this way shikantaza is expressive of suchness, of being-as-it-is. Shikantaza is suchness practice in action.  It is an enactment of our intention and commitment to make the space to work with who we are and to work directly with our situation. So we sit without attachment or aversion, without grasping or pushing away. So, just keep sitting no matter what!

[1] N. Waddell & M. Abe, The Heart of Dogen’s Shobogenzo. Albany, SUNY (2002, p. 3, 2, 4, 5-6).

[2] G. Nishijima & C. Cross, Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Book 2.  (1996, p. 119, 120).

[3] G. Nishijima & C. Cross, Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo, Book 2.  (1996, p. 120).

[4] T. D. Leighton “Zazen as an Enactment Ritual.” In: S. Heine & D. Wright, Zen Ritual. Oxford (2008, pp. 167-184).

[5] T. Chogyam. The Myth of Freedom and the Way of Meditation. Shambhala Publications. Kindle Edition (211).

Next Session: “Working With”

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