Aspects of Sitting Meditation
Based on edited transcriptions of Kobun's talks with his students, the following presentation of Kobun's teaching on "aspects of sitting meditation" is representative of both Kobun's intensely personal teaching of Zen meditation (called "zazen") and specifically of "shikantaza," the core of the meditation practice taught by the Soto school of Zen Buddhism. Kobun here discusses the physical and mental aspects of zazen (including posture, breathing, and intention), the underlying philosophy of zazen, the challenges of practicing zazen, and the relationship between zazen and other forms of meditation.
What is zazen, shikantaza? What kind of sitting are we doing here? There is a little misunderstanding about so-called Zen or Buddhist life; I'd like to clear it up a little bit, and reassure your sense of basic confidence that however you are is the way it should be. I mean daily life, however you manage your daily life, that is how it should be. For a long time this sitting was done only in a closed society like a monastery. It was the traditional way of protecting the quality of this practice.
My basic intention is to really open this sitting opportunity to everybody who is ready to do it and enjoy it. No division between monks and nuns, young and old. I want you to understand this kind of practice. Some people trained in a monastery or communal situation with well set schedules and regulations may have a quite a difficult time with almost no rules. People come and go and there is no scolding and no one carrying a stick to beat you like an old rug or dumb man. Many people say that's not sitting, but I believe this is the real sitting!
Whoever sits, that person's mind embraces the whole situation , centered by that person. So each person has full responsibility and full understanding by themselves for what sitting means to them. The teaching is within that person. Each person's sitting includes how they live, how they think things, where they came from. Nothing is missed, nothing is needed to change from how you are actually living to how it should be. There is no "should be" kind of thing. In one sense, it's a terrible state, the hardest kind of operation. There is no crunch, nothing to hang onto to order your mind.
I say you cannot call this Zen or Buddhism. Then what is it? People get mad a me! They ask, "Then what are you?" To have no identification is so insecure in one sense; people are very shaky sometimes. But as you notice, no one forces you or orders you to do this. My great hope is for success in a real sense, for satisfactory practice in this sitting.
I would like to reveal the natural nature of sitting fully as it is. If I put some concept on this and make you understand what I think is a ideal way to sit, I would be a kind of special gardener who fixes boxes and lets you go through to become square bamboo. Or I would be an automatic newspaper man who runs a newspaper, whoever comes, I would just put you in the machine and make you flat and you would come out a squished being, or something like this!
In Japan there is still a strong force of tradition where monasteries closed people out from sitting. Now it is like a secret teaching has been brought to us from a deep secret place; no one knows how valuable it is. People in Japan still feel strongly that sitting shouldn't be done so easily. A sort of hoarding of teaching is going on. But even if this treasure is brought to us, this kind of treasure is not seen by people, so there is actually no danger. The only danger is if you guide people the wrong way with it. In this sense, Dogen Zenji was very right, if you want to do zazen or any kind of practice properly, the only way to master it is to study with the right teacher.
Too much talk about zazen or shikantaza is not so good for you. It's impossible to teach the meaning of sitting. Until you really experience and confirm it by yourself, you cannot believe it. It has tremendous depth, and year after year this gorgeous world of shikantaza appears. It's up to you to cultivate it. Because you are Buddhas yourselves, you can sit. Dogen named this sitting "great Gate of Peace and Joy". Simply, it is peaceful, eternally peaceful, pleasurable and joyful. Shikantaza doesn't have the name of any religion, but it is, in its quality, a very true religious way to live.
You can say there is a "right posture" for sitting. Many times during sesshin you hit that "right posture", then swing away from it, and then go back to it. You understand what right posture is for you. You can see it, perceive it. It relates with your mind state at that time. Right posture in sitting creates the contents of sitting from all that you have been experiencing up to now. It requires detachment from your desire to do it; you let it happen by itself. So right posture is not that you are doing sitting; right posture itself is the sitting, and the system of your whole body is going into that posture.
The period of sitting is not your own sitting. Physically you feel it is your sitting you do. The inner view of one's sitting, which is utterly an external view, too, includes your personal existence. It includes everything, from which your mind is continuously working. The arising of memories, whatever you have experienced, is always there. No matter whether you deny them or accept them, they are there.
Not only that, but as time passes, the contents change. So posture is how to keep going, how to keep the posture you have taken. As you notice, this physical condition of existence is a very dynamic thing which you cannot stop. It goes by itself. Maybe, all things go by themselves; you are that, and you are able to experience and feel it.
Sitting is always pointless, you know. When we touch sitting with this body, it feels like putting a thumb on paper: "This is it", touching time / space, or creating matter in time / space. That's how I feel when I sit. The more sitting goes still, almost stopping, the more it feels like time stops. At that time there is no more distinction between this body and actual things. Things feel as if they are extensions of the body. It's not a frozen kind of realization, but the very powerful presence of the sensation that you are really there as what you are, what things are, without naming each thing that's there. Even not what you are is also there. I mean, the thing which holds the phenomenal, experiencial phenomena as your own body is also yourself. You may say time / space, or space / time, or simply void, or something like that. Phenomenon / noumenon together are there.
A slight move of mind causes lots of insights out of past experience, and out of images you have been making toward the future. It causes imagination about the relationship of all people and situations in the present time with no distinction between past, present and future, just the enormous dynamic of where you live, what's there, all existing as yourself.
This body is a very fine thing at such a time, continuously pressing this sitting spot. If you sit slanted yet your mudra is perfect, it is strange. It is the same sitting while you imagine that you are dancing somewhere. No one can see it; only you yourself can feel it. But dance is dance and sitting is sitting is sitting, so when you sit you must sit instead of thinking of some fantastic things. But it is not necessary to develop consciousness of the self along. You have to release that conscious self about yourself. Otherwise you will be caught by "sitting very well". Those kinds of wave of mind are not necessary.
The time of sitting is timeless, actually. When you take the right position you have nothing to think about anymore, nothing to bring up from any place, past or future. That which can be call the present moment, where you are and what you are, actually is there. So that the physical posture we take in sitting is a part of whole posture, where it is, actually. Many, many things meditate because, essentially, everything.
We complain about our sitting that sometimes we suffer with so much pain in our legs, necks, or backs. But pain is always there. You have just noticed it. When you walk on steep hills it shows up. It's not something you just produced. It is there. When you stop climbing the mountain, that pain goes away. But you know, it is still there.
We call it pain, but it is simply a force which came along with our existence. In that force there is always pain if there is any sense able to feel it. When I let this stick down, it touches the ground, and both feel pain. But they don't say so. When something grows up, when something is born, that intensity of force lets us feel that pain is there. Along with pain, there's very incredible joy, too, like a change of color.
So if you just see the good part or pleasant part of an activity and wish to avoid the pain of cutting cold or heat, then actually you are limiting yourself by not letting the force swing from one end to the other. So what happens is, your scale of sensation gets smaller and smaller; finally you feel that you come to a painless place, a very comfortable place, not hot, not cold, not high, not so deep. You stay about in the middle‹and discover there is incredible pain in there. Not to be able to get out of it causes lots of pain again.
Often when pain begins to control your mind, your visions of a painful situation begin to occur because your whole body is reacting and your breathing starts fluttering without your noticing it. In an exciting situation deep breath will help when you have so much pain.
I call it the silver thread. It goes straight down from the tip of your head through your spine to the tail bone. This is very important. In breathing, the out-breath is like pouring water to wash your pain. As it goes slowly through your body, you let it slide out from your legs. You can see this when a woman is in labor, making a groaning sound. That is how you go with pain. Maybe you shouldn't groan in the zendo! But it's very natural. We all groan, as the breath goes. Without actually making that sound, you can breathe in the same way.
Protecting zazen is like raising your own child: you raise zazen. Especially when you understand that your formal existence as a man or woman actually is a big question. Because you have such immense energy, such desire, you beat yourself up, you mistreat yourself. And if you are seeking some kind of fantastic experience to straighten yourself, again you are mistreating yourself. So the important thing in doing zazen is to protect zazen.
When you sit in the street, for example, you discover that siting in the house is protecting zazen. If you sit naked on the beach, tides continuously come to your body and in ten minutes you'll understand that's not a place to sit. Direct wind where you're sitting is not so good. Clean air is very important to sit in and breathe in. Plants are very important for that. Mountains and woods are very good places to sit. Fasting is not so good for a long sitting of a week or a month; it is a kind of radical thing to do. Also not so good is eating a big meal or taking some kind of chemical right before you sit.
Light is important for sitting. You can sit any time--midnight or daytime. The best is indirect sunlight, not direct. You can swing from one extreme to another to find how far you can go. Just remember the middle way.
You cannot really tell what breathing is. We are very interesting existence. As soon as a mother gives birth to her child, a separate body, the child starts to breathe by himself or herself. Before that, the mother is breathing for the child.
What kind of breathing you do while you sit is an important issue: How the inside of your mouth, your tongue, your teeth should be. You should keep no air in your mouth. It sounds strange to say this, but can you do it? When you tighten the upper and lower rows of your teeth, using your jaw muscles, the teeth firmly touch and press each other. Your alertness gets very strong. But don't force the jaw muscles as some students do. Let your tongue touch the upper dome of your mouth. Let your breath go through your nose and straight to your lungs. This helps especially when you become drowsy. Naturally, saliva comes into your mouth, but you shouldn't swallow it all at once. Little by little you should let it go down without noticing it. If you notice it, it comes more and more and you have a problem. Saliva is very important.
If you really sense the texture of the inhalation, when the air comes in and how you feel when the air goes out, you will have a different feeling. If you just count the breath, you miss it all. That's too bad. This is a very important moment you are living. There really is no time to count.
Counting is a skill you use to quiet a restless mind, a fast mind, or a cluttered mind. It's very helpful to finish up your breath just before you move into the zendo. "Finish up" means to take your finest breath for sitting instead of crashing into the room and starting to sit and beginning work on your breath. That's too late.
Kapleau Roshi's book The Three Pillars of Zen made counting the breath a popular method of sitting in this country, because it was one of the few readable texts years ago. But as you sit and get more familiar with your sitting posture and the dynamics of your body and mind, counting your breath becomes a very small part of practice. It is like knitting a sweater during sitting. It's better not to do it. I mean, definitely, you have to do it some time. It can be used as a crutch before you sit. Maybe before the zendo you can start counting: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, straighten your breath, then drop counting right there, and sink into sitting. I'm not denying the instructions you had; the means of counting is what I'm talking about.
Depending on each person, there is an inner image of what breathing when sitting is. As you notice, there is also a physical element of sitting, and invisible element of sitting which we call mind. We do mind-sitting, body-sitting, and we let the breath sit. Three aspects of sitting exist because we can observe our sitting from three angles. We breathe naturally and appreciate our breath and really understand what the breath does to our body and mind. To really connect the three: body, mind, and breath, is the point, not counting breathing.
As Suzuki Roshi mentioned, you should not go all he way in exhaling. You inhale about 80%, with the sense that you could go a little bit more. With that strength you come back. So, it is like drawing a circle with no gap between exhaling and inhaling. With the contracting of the diaphragm and expanding of the stomach sometimes the whole body expands and contracts. The important point is to have no gap between the end of exhalation and the beginning of inhalation. It's like a hand pump. Water always goes the same direction, but the pump handle goes almost all the way up like this, and almost all the way down.
Breath by Breath
During sitting your breath should be very regular, very smooth, with almost no effort, not noticing that the air is gone, or has come in. Breath has an incredible range of volume, strength, and speed. There are hundreds of techniques you can use, depending on your health and emotional condition. Like playing an instrument, singing, or drawing as you breathe; there are many ways. The basic point is not to push or pull, but to let it go.
The ancient Sanskrit word for breath was prana. This is translated ki in Japanese, or chi in Chinese. Ki, as in aikido, ki is vitality. Sometimes it is called seiki: life-vitality. And this soft part where the intestines are is called hara in Japanese. Hara is also called kai: the ocean of ki. Our vitals are here. When you have no strength in the hara you feel very week. When you are full of energy this part is full of energy. When you chant you let your voice come out from this part center of your stomach. Basically ki comes out and informs the shape of your mind. The contents of your mind are that voice.
The ideal, in sitting, it to forget the breath. You may breathe as you like; there is an incredible variety in the speed of breathing and even the emotion of breathing. So if you want to observe your breathing, you should do it for months and months without trying to control it.
My feeling is that each breath is an independent thing. It arises and goes and some thoughts go with it. Your cannot bring them back; that's it. It's the same as your heart beat; your whole body is needing it. So if you can forget the breath, then you are having perfect breath. I suggest that you keep your best posture: straight, upright posture‹that naturally takes care of the breath.
From deep breath, which carries your awareness with it, to very shallow breath, which also carries your awareness, you have to choose the best breath between them. You can be aware of the texture of your breath, from rocky breath to silk-like breath and finally to transparent breath, like a transparent string of breath. You can feel which is the best breath for sitting.
Try to sit and pay attention to how your breath goes. Each time you sit your body condition is different, so each time you must try to find your best breath and stay with that. I always feel breathing is like drawing a circle. It is best to get really familiar with your breath.
We don't do this practice expecting to obtain something by doing it. This is a very different kind of action. In one sense, it's quitting human business, and going to the other side of the human realm.
Have you noticed your face changing moment after moment when you are facing the wall? When you pay attention to exactly how you feel, you feel how it changes. It is such a slight change no one would notice if someone observed you; it's like one flame of fire is sitting on the cushion. Every moment the texture of the flames is different. You experience this from morning zazen to night zazen. In every sitting there's a very different feeling. Each breath, all different.
Student: For years I always preferred to sit by myself, and every time I had to sit with a group, it was always more difficult. I had problems I didn't have by myself.
Kobun: The difficulty wasn't sitting together; the difficulty was yourself! Wanting to be alone is impossible. When you become really alone you notice you are not alone. In other words, we stop our vigorous effort towards ideal purity. Purity is just a process. After purity, dry simplicity comes, where almost no more life is there, and your sensation is that you are not existing any more. Still, you are existing there. You flip into the other side of nothing where you discover everybody is waiting for you. Before that, you are living together like that; day, sun, moon, stars and food, everything is helping you. But you are all blocked off, a closed system. You just see things from inside toward the outside, and act with incredible systematic logical dynamics, and you think everything is all right. When noise or a chaotic situation comes, you want to leave that situation to be alone. But there is no such aloneness!
It is very important to experience the complete negation of yourself which brings you to the other side of nothing. People experience that in many ways. You go to the other side of nothing, and you are held by the hand of the absolute. You see yourself as part of the absolute, so you have no more insistence of self as yourself. You can speak of self as no-self upon the absolute. Real existence is only absolute.
We experience some kind of dying in sitting, which relates with what's true and what's not true. What's not true dies, so we suffer. We wish to hand on to the self which we believe exists. The contents of what "I" means, or the pieces of the idea of the self are consistent, but when you sit you observe no substance in those pieces of self.
If we try to achieve some awakening or enlightenment, it doesn't succeed. We hear that sitting is to clarify the true nature of the self, but it seems nothing is clarified, nothing happens. You just spend time and have lots of pain and a stumbling mind. If you sit all day you have a good sitting once or twice, but when you compare the good sitting with the rest of have a very regretful mind. "What was I doing. Drowsy. Powerless sitting."
Doubt and Problems
Doubt arises in this. What is it? Is this all right? Are you ok? Your mind is in a different place than sitting. I wish you would sit alone sometimes for several days. If you sit alone, although there are many dangerous situations to fall into, you feel you can clarify your right intention, your strict attitude about taking care of yourself. If we sit together like this you think "Because other people sit, this might be alright! This must be the way." If something more important than your concern about yourself occurs, of course you quit sitting and plunge into taking care of that. Actually, for each of us the opportunity of sitting is the same as sitting alone.
Student: It seems like my best sitting is when I am having a lot of difficulty.
Kobun: That is right, because lots of problems wake you up.
Student: So is it good to have problems, then?
Kobun: If there are no problems, people begin to sleep in zazen, and that state is a little bit funny. Energy goes to the opposite direction when you are always peaceful, there is no way to wake up. By seeing into the broad distance, by stretching your mind to a very far place to understand what is actually going on, there is no way to sleep in zazen. But personal exhaustion is another subject. Some people only choose an exhausted time to sit, and then they fall asleep. That isn't so good.
Continuously I suggest to you that you have good posture. That is because posture is a sort of proof of your mind situation, a reflection of the invisible part of your life which penetrates your body, your physical condition. It helps to start with good posture, and let your mind ride on good breath, on smooth, deep, even breath coming in and going out, which keeps you from slipping from the present moment. As soon as you forget your breath, mind-phenomena color your breath, and all sorts of movies go on in that breath, and your body continuously reflects whatever goes on in those personal movies. We like to just let these movies go and forget them, or maybe finish them, but I don't want to say just forget them. The one who keeps watching, who keeps letting the whole thing happen is a very important part of yourself. It is not necessarily the judgmental part of yourself, but just the observing part.
Student: I've been feeling I have a zillion problems and that if I work I'll just explode. It's hard to sit if you really have something to work through. Then I'm afraid of sitting.
Kobun: Where are you going, doing so many things? There must be a reason to choose many things to do. Are you going somewhere? Then you can start sitting first, then do things one by one afterwards. If you want to go somewhere and have so many things to do, sitting is foolish. You should go and do them. Sitting is the rediscovery of your basic strength and your clarity. When you begin to do things, actually there are not so many choices. What you really want to do is always one or two things.
Student: I think I know that if we have the right attitude and good effort, that our practice extends to everything we do. Nevertheless, I still find myself feeling guilty at times when I don't sit when sitting is scheduled, because the children want to do something else, or I don't feel good. The guilt doesn't seem natural. What attitude is right not to feel this distinction between our all-pervasive practice and our sitting practice?
Kobun: Guilt isn't actually what is involved here. If you are sorry to you, that is all. If a sitting opportunity comes, but you have lots of obligations which you wish to be involved with, if you do them, you have to miss the sitting. This struggle goes on always, actually. In other words, most of the day we feel sorry about missing sitting. We feel like little mice running around and around. If you didn't do that, you could do the real thing that you want to do. So there is very deep suffering.
The right attitude is to develop your faith in the contents of zazen. You cannot get out of this zazen, even if you jump on a jet plane to fly away from zazen. Alas, in the jet plane jumped Buddha. Zazen mind is an enormously big thing. Getting up and taking care of things is in that big mind.
You cannot attach to zazen while you are not doing it. Do you understand? It seems that if you cannot do zazen it is alright. Don't do it. To enjoy what you are doing is the most important thing. Instead of looking a zazen with mournful eyes while washing the diapers, you enjoy what you are doing, and when the chance comes, you sit.
Often while we are sitting a call will come from someone asking for us to relate to them. When important things call you, this opportunity to sit is almost impossible to have. So you are deeply involved with others, and most of the time you don't regret not doing zazen because you are doing something else. Zazen doesn't draw you from what you are supposed to be doing; simply, you miss the opportunity to sit because there is so much emphasis on the importance of communication.
You often feel guilty when you take off from your daily activities to join sitting. You feel you are doing a personal thing, and at the same time you doubt if there is time to do it. The best way to live is to consider the people who relate with you in your day to day life and emphasize how they feel about your absence. Their tremendous kindness makes you able to join this sitting practice. Usually you don't think about your situation this deeply, since you have such an urgency to discover your true nature. On that level the people you are concerned with, the people who are, concerned about you, let you go to come waste time here. And they literally say, "wasted time," when you come back with a shabby face!
We think we know things very well, but the things we know are still very small. What this sitting does to the whole situation is my question to myself and to you, too. There are advantages and at the same time great disadvantages, too, because when we are actually sitting we cannot do other things. Actual sitting requires our entire involvement, so whatever we really like to do besides sitting cannot be done at the time. That is a great disadvantage. We have to remember that, and make this disadvantage turn to a great advantage . That is the important point.
Once is enough to sit in this life, if the sitting is a real one. Many sittings are better. And whole life sitting is the best. But it is rare to have such luck.
Student: You mentioned protecting zazen the context of concentration because when we sit we are not doing one thing; we are open to other people, protect zazen. Is that because we are going into a situation where it's not safe?
Kobun: The context in which we protect zazen is the force of samadhi. Samadhi is a symmetrical pattern of energy. If you are not careful though, symmetrical energy begins to split like broken glass, and you find unexpected results.
In other words, once in a while you begin to feel very well-centered; whatever you say, whatever you see is perfect. At such a time, you get so high that you begin to preach to other people. After about five minutes you discover that you are at the wrong place, because no one understands you. Many people begin to say that you are in a strange state. Preaching is not necessary to do at all; you become blind about others if you begin to preach to them.
Joriki is the subject. Riki means power, like the force of wind itself. When you grasp something, your grasping strength and the thing grasped which pushes it back balance together. If there is not enough force, the thing will fall off. If there is too much force, it will push the thing. That kind of balance of force in whatever to do, whatever you speak, whatever you think, all go into the situation. So you have to be very careful about what kind of wish you send to other people. This is a kind tantric teaching, though you don't have to name it that. Thought itself, imagination itself, is a manifestation of that force. So keep a kind spirit toward yourself and toward others, and try to balance all things as they all should be. That is a necessary process, in order to use that power.
If your power is scattered in five things everyday, maybe some day the five things will come together, thirty years from now. But it is a very big job. The wisest way is to choose one, one you really want to do. Consign every other thing to the background and you will begin to observe that your doing in itself is completed, not waiting for tomorrow.
The jo in joriki means a stable strength. Usually it appears as a capacity for accepting other people or situations as they are, without wanting to control them By such acceptance you finally become yourself. Joriki is a very strange thing. Unless you sit, it never grows.
Meditation Versus Concentration
Concentration is not sitting. Concentration is mind. The mind and the conditioned situation which the mind is dealing with are one thing. So concentration is actually another word for samadhi. In other words, if you a doing something, and utterly devoting yourself to it, that is what concentration is. So in a larger sense, sitting itself is perfect concentration. But in general, you cannot say sitting is concentration, because there are hundreds of millions of concentrations
The problem here is any kind of concentration makes you ignore anything other than that concentration. So when you concentrate on something, don't become afraid of your ignorance. You had better now that you are going to become ignorant about hundreds of things, because you picked this one.
The reason I said sitting is not concentration is that concentration still involves the self who maintains self-tendency. Sitting is to destroy hat kind of thinking. Just be there, exist there as something that was from beginningless beginning. From beginningless beginning everything grows, and now will be so. So there are dimensional differences between sitting and concentration.
When you cook something, you do not concentrate you attention on a particular thing. Concentration is like clear blindness, you are acting in it; when the work is done, the food is there. If you concentrate , saying, "I'll cut this squash in a real nice way," with that kind of mind you cannot move your knife so well. If you forget the idea that, "I'll do a good job," then the surface consciousness may be blind, but a very intuitive, very clear order is always working. So you naturally know when to cut, when to stop the fire, and when to stop cooking. In this sense, practice and repetition of training are always needed for concentration.
Meditation is very different. Many times people mix up meditation and concentration. In meditation you cannot control yourself. If you try to control yourself, you never get into meditation. Your concentration is controlling you when you are "doing" some form of meditation. Instead, you have to ask your meditation, "please, please come to me. Please work for me." Otherwise, if you chase to get it, it will never come to you.
Even if meditation is always is covering and accepting me, whatever I'm doing, I don't feel it. Recognition of the feeling of meditation is like feeling our inhalation and exhalation. Air is everywhere and you just breathe a very little amount of it. When you inhale, your whole life is exhaled by air. If you exhale, you are inhaled by the whole air. So there is no conception of small and big : "I am small and meditation is big," or "Meditation is small and I am big." And there is no you, there is no sense of inside or outside. In the big world of meditation, when two or three elements are communicating, that is concentration. If you concentrate on every direction, that is meditation. You do not do it, but it happens when you are ready to accept it, or when you are ready to be accepted by it.
The great pleasure, the great accomplishment of your way-seeking is in the realization of sitting. This form of sitting, this place to sit on this earth, this time to sit, the twentieth century, all have lots of problems. The shikantaza way is giving birth to the Buddha seed. It is not a person becoming a better person, it is the actualization of what we are.
To sit in shikantaza is very uncomfortable at first. It's rather more peaceful to sink into a warm soft couch and have a nice drink. That's peace, we may say. But to recover our basic view of sanity and clarity, to see how everything actually arises and falls moment after moment is how take this sitting posture.
Awakening, continuous awakening is nothing but our basic nature. Putting that awakening into some form as so-called being, as a man or a woman, explains what shikantaza is. When you jump into the Buddha's world, you place yourself in the center of annuttara-samyaksambodhi. That is shikantaza's real meaning, real action. Shikantaza is immeasurable, it's unthinkable. You can use your entire system of knowing, but it is impossible to completely understand it.
Shikantaza sounds very strong. Shikan is understood as identical to zaza. Shikan means "pure", "one", "only for it". Ta is a very strong word. It shows moving activity. When you hit, that movement is called ta, so "strike" is ta. Za is the same as in the word zazen, sitting. To express the whole character, shikantaza is actually quite enough, but not enough until you experience it. Shikantaza is sitting for itself. You may say pure sitting for itself, not for something else.
Shinjin datsu raku is the same as shikantaza. Shinjin is "body/mind". Body/mind is nothing but our whole life. This cannot be seen in two ways; body/mind is one thing. Datsu is "to refrain", and "to drop from". When you are dreaming some terrible dream, and the dream is cut off, that is called datsu. When you get rid of that dream, that also is called datsu. When you have a sword, the action of pulling a sword from its sheath is called datsu. So datsu has a very strong meaning of freeing from something. Another way to express it is : to have conquered something which hindered your existence, like attachments, delusions, or misunderstandings. Zazen itself is cutting off those conditions.
When we are dreaming, even if it is later called a dream, while we are dreaming it is a real thing. This night is almost the same as last night, but you cannot call last night back. You can remember how you were yesterday, but at this point, we don't have yesterday. Yesterday only gave time and space for now, so we can be completely in present time. Datsu is the succession of time from today to tomorrow; datsu of now is the next moment. This moment is the next moment. This is the way our life is going on. It sounds like an intuitive, ordinary philosophy of life. Everyone can feel it: "Oh, it is, it is!" Usually no one pays attention in that way, being with the present and seeing and feeling that yesterday is behind us like a rope. We are on top of the rope, or karma, and it just goes on and on like knitting. So last year someone might have said, "You are crazy", and you thought there was something to it. A strong impression makes unreal existence real and real existence unreal.
Shikantaza is not what we usually think, it is truly personal deeds, because only if one decides to sit does it appear. Sitting cannot be fully experienced by imagination. Shikantaza has a kind of slippery feeling to it. This means that it is easy to slip off of it. It's quite slippery because it relates to your everyday condition. In each sitting you have to sense it without anyone's help. There are no techniques; there is no measuring stick with which to evaluate it. There is no way of knowing what it is or what you are doing. All kinds of conceptualizations, ideas, hopes fall away from it. They cannot stay in your meditation.
Sitting on your cushion is not relaxation, it is the result of all your knowledge. Every experience you have come through sits there each time. It is very serious. Otherwise, you sit because it feels good, and you are comfortable, and once in a while you feel an ecstatic sensation in your body. You feel calmness, stillness, clarity, and forget there are hungry people on this earth. You forget there are lots of diseases which are killing people. If you do not observe that in your sitting, you are just escaping into your desire. It happens if you mistake or limit the focus of your sitting practice.
Sitting shikantaza is the place itself, and things. The dynamics of all Buddhas are in it. When you sit, the cushion sits with you. If you wear glasses, the glasses sit with you. Clothing sits with you. House sits with you. People who are moving around outside all sit with you. They don't take the sitting posture!
Sitting shikantaza does not depend on human intellect. It is not something you understand. It's indescribable. We say the contents of sitting are beyond our thinking system or our sensations. Belief or confidence is not what we usually think it is. Doing shikantaza shows utter trust and belief in it. If you explain shikantaza it becomes something which you don't understand, but you can experience sitting with everything with the understanding that everything is there, is there with you.
Buddha's sitting is way beyond purity and impurity, holiness and unholiness. It is beyond Bodhisattva's sitting, which is endless. Bodhisattva's sitting is like a seed which never stops flourishing; it always come back.