How To Live More Like a Zen Monk

How To Live More Like a Zen Monk

Have you ever wondered how come monks have such strengthens and such wisdom and such calm and peace of mind?

Where do they get all these when most of us are sucked dry every day without doing nothing in particular? Aside from the living conditions which are quite the opposite from ours, they practice long-term meditation in all its forms.

One of the most rewarding forms of meditation practiced by monks, Buddhists and some of those concerned by their inner tranquility is Shikantaza, the Japanese translation of Chinese term for zazen introduced by Rujing, a monk of the Caodong school of Zen Buddhism, to refer to a practice called “Silent Illumination”, or “Serene Reflection”. In Japan, this meditation method is associated with the Soto school.

Unlike many other forms of meditation, shikantaza does not require focused attention on a specific object (such as breath); instead, practitioners “just sit” in a state of conscious awareness. They even have a dedicated place for it, the Eihei-ji Temple or “The Temple of Eternal Peace,” which serves as one of two head temples of the Soto sect of Zen Buddhism. More than a hundred monks practice shikantaza (single-minded sitting) at the temple.

According to Zen teacher Taigen Dan Leighton, this practice is a “nondual objectless meditation” which “…involves withdrawal from exclusive focus on a particular sensory or mental object to allow intent apprehension of all phenomena as a unified totality. This objectless meditation aims at a radical, refined nondualism that does not grasp at any of the highly subtle distinctions to which our familiar mental workings are prone and which Shikantaza’s origins can be traced back to silent illumination, in the thirteenth century when Dōgen Zenji, who introduced the Soto School in Japan, shed light on what he termed “shikantaza”. The term shikantaza is attributed to Dōgen’s teacher Tiantong Rujing (1162-1228), and it literally means, “nothing but sitting.” Shikantaza is the Sino-Japanese reading of the Chinese words zhǐguǎn “by all means; merely, simply; only concerned with” and dǎzuò “sit in meditation”. 

The Digital Dictionary of Buddhism translates shikan or zhǐguǎn as “to focus exclusively on”, taza or dǎzuò as “to squat, sit down cross-legged”. Sōtō school places emphasis on emptying the mind, in contrast to the kōan method, based on dialogue, that defines as a riddle or puzzle that Zen Buddhists use during meditation to help them unravel greater truths about the world and about themselves.

Unlike other forms of meditation, shikantaza doesn’t involve concentrating on an object, such as your breath or a mantra. It is “objectless meditation,” where you focus on everything you experience – thoughts, sounds, feelings – without attaching to any of them. This is why it is better to practice it in pure nature rather than elsewhere.

If it’s of greater help in adopting it, you can associate it with “il dolce far niente” or ‘the sweet thing about doing nothing’ – a phrase they use a lot in Italy where resting and enjoying doing nothing lay as an important topic.

The benefits of meditation on body and spirit:

  • Decrease in stress by 30 to 40% after one month
  • Greater inner peace
  • Serenity… finally!
  • Emotional balance
  • Altruism (helping others)
  • Significant decrease in anxiety
  • Strengthening the immune system
  • 20 to 30% increase in antibodies
  • Increase in general well-being
  • It increases some of our useful everyday abilities such as attention and concentration. We’re more efficient and get things done faster.
  • Transcendental meditation can have beneficial effects on blood pressure. It is also recommended by the American Heart Health Association (AHA).
  • The numerous works of Kabat-Zinn, doctor in molecular biology and professor emeritus of medicine, have shown that on the long term, meditation can improve one’s quality of life and in particular strengthen one’s immune system and reduce chronic pain. His mindfulness-based stress reduction method is widely used in hospitals, especially in the United States.

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