Shikantaza Meditation - Sitting, Zazen Practice, Techniques
(An Interview with Genko Rainwater, Part 1)
Meditation How: What first attracted you personally to meditation practice?
Genko: I had been interested in Buddhism for a long time, but basically got into it because my partner (who had been diagnosed with a terminal illness) got involved, wanting to know more about death and dying. Zen is all about meditation, and so that's what the first workshop was about. The question was asked at that first workshop, so are there books we should read about this?
The workshop leader said there are lots of books, but the most important thing is to practice. Sit every day for a month and then talk to a teacher. I was impressed by that answer, and in fact did just that. Sat every morning for 10 minutes, whether I felt like it or not. After a month I could tell that something was different. Didn't know what it was, but it felt like something I needed.
Meditation How: How long ago did you start with that month of ten minute meditations? Also, do you now know what was going on that made a difference?
Genko: This would have been a little more than 10 years ago. I'm still not sure how to explain it. The way I describe it now is that my mind settles down somehow. I begin to be aware of how jangly I am, how much my mind is jumping around. Sitting still allows the mind to begin to settle.
Meditation How: What type of meditation do you practice currently, and is it for longer than ten minutes?
Genko: Oh, yes. In Zen we practice what we call Shikantaza, which means just sitting. We can use various techniques like breath meditation (breath counting), mantras, etc., but basically we simply sit still. These days I sit for 1-2 hours each day. During retreats a few times a year that goes up to 8 hours each day.
Meditation How: How long have you been practicing this way, and does Shikantaza involve non-doing—simply sitting with no technique?
Genko: I've been practicing for going on eleven years. For many of those years my sitting was more like a half-hour most days, with some days more. For the last 4-1/2 years I've been in residence at the Dharma Rain Zen Center the 1-2 hours a day is what I've been doing. Shikantaza does involve non-doing, and sitting with no particular technique other than staying focused and awake. Watching things rise and fall, whether that be thoughts, feelings, or sensations. It is theme-less, in that there is no particular visualization or thought.
Meditation How: I understand. You mentioned the benefits from your initial stint in meditation. I wonder if you could describe your experience now as you meditate. I am eager to get a sense of what the state is like for you. Also, do you prefer theme-less over theme?
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