Form, Emptiness, Zazen

Form, the first aggregate, stands for physical experiences, the body. What is called the body is actually a concept of the body, and not any real thing. If you look at your present experience, do you find the body anywhere? Since there is no body found, it is absent, it is empty. Because it is empty, there is nothing to be attached to, nothing to grasp. When you do not grasp the body, the body is dropped. Same with the other four aggregates that constitute the mind, hence mind is dropped. Body and mind dropped is zazen.


Practical Excerpts from the Surangama Samadhi Sutra

Attainment and Not Abiding
(Surangama Samadhi Sutra, BDK ed, p 32)

"Resolute Mind asked, "Have you, sir, attained the Surangama Samadhi?"
The Indra king replied, "Could the characteristics of 'attain' and 'not attain' exist within this samadhi?"
Resolute Mind said, "No."
The Indra king said, "Good youth, you should understand that when a Bodhisattva practices this samadhi, there is nothing that is attained in any of the dharmas."
Resolute Mind said, "Since your understanding is like this, you must have already attained the Surangama Samadhi."
The king said, "Good youth, I do not perceive that the dharmas have any place of residence. He who has no residence in all the dharmas has attained the Surangama Samadhi. Good youth, to reside in this samadhi is to be completely without residence in all the dharmas. If one is without residence, then one is without grasping."

Buddha is an Ordinary Fellow
(p 40-41)

"To be able to penetrate [the fact] that there is no difference between the dharmas of ordinary people and the dharmas of the Buddha is called cultivation. But in fact, there is neither conjoining nor dispersing in these dharmas. Good youth, this is because there is no characteristic of birthlessness in all collocations of dharmas, because there is no characteristic of disintegration in all collocations of dharmas, because all collocations of dharmas have the characteristic of emptiness, and because there is no characteristic of acceptance in all collocations of dharmas."

Who Has Bound You?
(p 49-50)

"Thus it is that all ordinary persons, in their discriminative thinking, mistakenly grasp at characteristics, making themselves bound. Their bonds exist because they think actively and theorize argumentatively; their bonds exist because they see, hear, perceive, and know. Here there actually is no being bound and emancipated. Why? Because the dharmas are without bonds and are fundamentally emancipated, and because the dharmas are without emancipation and are fundamentally without bonds, [therefore the dharmas] permanently possess the characteristic of emancipation, and [therefore sentient beings are permanently] without stupidity."

The Realm of Mara is the Realm of the Buddha
(p 59)

"Mara's realm is suchlike, just as the realm of the Buddhas is suchlike. The Suchness of Mara's realm and the Suchness of the realm of the Buddhas are identical and not separate, and we will not transcend this Suchness. The characteristics of Mara's realm are the characteristics of the realm of the Buddhas. The dharmas of Mara's realm and the dharmas of the realm of the Buddhas are identical and not separate, and we will not leave or escape this characteristic of the dharmas. Mara's realm is without any fixed dharmas that can be manifested; likewise is the realm of the Buddhas without any fixed dharmas that can be manifested. Mara's realm and the realm of the Buddhas are not different and not separate, and we will not leave or escape this characteristic of the dharmas. Therefore, you should understand that all the dharmas are indeterminate."

Wisdom is Skillful Means
(p 77)

"Mind of Name, if a Bodhisattva is able to contemplate the dharmas as empty and unobstructed, with each moment of thought completely extinguished and transcending like and dislike, this is to cultivate this samadhi. Also, Mind of Name, one cannot study this samadhi by one approach alone. Why? In accordance with the activities [samskara] of the minds and mental attributes [citta-caitta] of sentient beings, this samadhi has various practices. In accordance with the sensory realms [ayatana] of the minds and mental attributes of sentient beings, this samadhi has various realms. In accordance with the entryways of the senses of sentient beings, this samadhi has various entryways. In accordance with the names and forms of sentient beings, Bodhisattvas who have attained this samadhi also manifest a variety of names and forms. To be able to understand thus is to cultivate this samadhi. In accordance with all the names and forms and physical characteristics of the Buddhas, Bodhisattvas who have attained this samadhi also manifest a variety of names and forms and physical characteristics. To be able to understand thus is to cultivate this samadhi. In accordance with [their] vision of all the Buddha lands, Bodhisattvas are also able to create such lands. This is to cultivate this samadhi."



Shikantaza has a couple of versions. There are those who teach it as a body-centred practice, where the posture is the most important. There are those who teach it as a concentration practice where one focuses on the breath and the abdomen. There are those who teach it as practice-enlightenment where there is neither grasping nor releasing of appearances. And there are likely a dozen other forms as well.

If you focus on the body/breath, keep your attention there. If your practice is enlightenment, you have nothing to do with thoughts, they leave on their own anyway.

There is actually a simple logic at work here. If you concentrate on breath/body, you don't meddle with thoughts and other sensory inputs, but let them come and go. If you are stable in your recognition that there is nothing to grasp, you have left behind the intention to fixate on anything, in other words, dropped body and mind.

Sometimes there are thoughts, sometimes there are no thoughts. To favour one or the other is falling into the extremes of existence and annihilation. That's why the practice is neither-thinking / no-thought - if a thought comes, OK; if no thought comes, OK.

There are the ideas to do something and not to do something. It is of course quite normal, but then one should be clear about how to do that properly, and that means learning the Dharma. If you want to go with the ideal form of zazen, there is nothing to do at all, no state to accomplish, and no experience to get rid of. As you sit you have to immediately recognise that all the six types of appearances are such, there is nothing to improve or decrease, and there is no one to do or know anything either.

Just sitting does not mean sitting still. It means not conceptualising sitting. You cannot sit still anyway, unless you're a corpse.

The practice is the experience confirming that all things (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, bodily feelings, thoughts) are such, that is, they appear and disappear on their own. There is no one controlling or perceiving them, as they are all dependently originated ephemeral, illusory instances of experience. That is why there is nothing at all that can be grasped, as attachment itself is a conceptual fabrication of a subject grasping an object, while if you actually look at the experience itself there are no subjects nor objects.


Unfolding Jhanas

As I see it, the rupa jhanas have a specific object on what one rests the mind on, and only with the arupa jhanas one changes from specific object to a "non-object", like infinite space.

As for the progression of jhanas, it moves from holding a specific object of focus, through the enjoyment of the peace coming from one pointedness, until one arrives at an unmoving mind. So the first jhana is about returning again and again to the object, the second and third about the pleasure of the stable mind, and the fourth is just the stable mind. The formless absorptions are about abandoning the experiences as identities. So, here is my model.

Access Concentration

I don't use this category. Here could be mentioned the usual requirements to begin meditation.

First Jhana

Vitakka and vicara are present to establish the mind repeatedly on the object, and this is the primary element to work with, while the others are supporting factors. Piti is the joy of resting, like when one can lie down after a tiring walk. Sukha is the contentment of peace, like when one is finished with a task and there's nothing more to do. Ekaggata is the one pointedness of attention, the quality of being focused internally on the body and mind.

Second Jhana

With the mind further withdrawn and stabilised, there is no need to remind oneself of the object of attention, and one is absorbed in the joy of rest, with contentment and one pointedness in the background.

Third Jhana

When the more intensive joy is let go as well, one rests content within the seclusion of internally focused mind.

Fourth Jhana

The feeling of contentment with peaceful abiding abandoned, there is just the one pointed mind that is unmoved by appearances.

Infinite space

With the mind that is stable in peace there is no need to hold any sensory objects, thus the senses go unfocused and they rest open and unmoved.

Infinite Consciousness

The attention moves from the lack of objects to the lack of senses, hence consciousness itself is unbound and uniform.

Infinite Nothingness

Without object to focus on, or a specific state of mind to maintain, one comes to the experience that there is nothing at all.

Neither Perception nor Non-Perception

But holding that there is nothing is still something perceived, one realises that experiencing itself is unreliable, and abandons that as well.


Emptiness, transcendence, God

Emptiness means simply that all the experiences of the six areas - whatever is seen, heard, smelt, tasted, touched, thought - are without an abiding, independent nature, that phenomena are not something that one can identify with, call a self. It is not some sort of transcendent experience or realm, and such an interpretation is a mistake. Therefore ideas about God are just ideas, and there is no place for it in Buddhism. Enlightenment is awakening to the lack of any substance in appearances and of any substratum beyond them. When there is no essence imagined, then there is no basis for grasping at or abiding in anything, and without grasping or abiding there is no dissatisfaction and delusion. To conceive emptiness, the absence of substance, as a distinct reality, is just another form of self-identity.


A Taste of Mahayana

Basic Concepts

Mahayana has two core principles: wisdom and compassion. Wisdom means the realisation that all appearances are without substance. Compassion means the intention to liberate everyone from delusion. These two principles operate in the context of infinite universes filled with innumerable sentient beings that are born again and again because of the mistaken concept of identification with phenomena.

The World

The world is operated by habitual inclinations that define what each of us think and how we act. That's why the world that we experience is a mental product. Because the world is what is experienced, and experiences are mind made, the cause of the dissatisfaction with life is the mind, therefore the mind needs to be understood and purified.
The world of Mahayana Buddhism has not only the six impure realms of demons, ghosts, animals, humans, asuras, and gods, but also the four pure realms of arhats, pratyekabuddhas, bodhisattvas, and buddhas, and together they are called the ten realms. Beings within the six impure realms are trapped by their own self-centred delusions, endure pains and enjoy pleasures, but never attain true peace and contentment. Beings of the pure realms are free from compulsory rebirth, because they have discovered the false nature of the concept of identity, and let go of their habitual inclinations to varying degrees.
Although the world is infinite and sentient beings are uncountable, they are all found within a single thought. The world is both external and internal at the same time, it is not something out there, nor is it simply fictitious. It is what and how experience occurs to us.

The Bodhisattva

The bodhisattva is a being (sattva) who aspires towards ultimate awakening (bodhi). The intention (citta) for awakening (bodhi) is the defining element of any bodhisattva, and it is called the bodhicitta. From the moment that great aspiration is raised in the mind, one has started on the path to eventually attain buddhahood. The reason behind such an intention has to be the concern for the welfare of all beings in the entire world, the wish to liberate them from the struggles of samsara.
Thus the core principles of wisdom and compassion are equally present. With the wisdom the bodhisattva knows that beings are without self, without substance, and there is not a single individual to liberate. With the compassion the bodhisattva works indefinitely towards the peace and contentment of all beings, unconcerned with one's own happiness.
The reason that a bodhisattva can be both wise and compassionate is the realisation that all appearances that occur - i.e. the sensory experiences of body and mind - are unattainable, because they are without anything that subsists from one moment to the next, but at the same time they rise and dissolve depending on causes and conditions. In other words, the bodhisattva sees everything like dreams or illusions, therefore doesn't attach to anything, but acts with an open and clear view, with unbound compassion for all.

The Path

The path of the bodhisattva consists of the six paramitas: generosity, discipline, endurance, vigour, concentration, wisdom. Paramita means perfection that takes one to the other shore, that is, from this shore of samsara and delusion to the other shore of nirvana and enlightenment. The six paramitas are divided into two categories. The first five are the methods, the skillful means, while the last one is the perfection of wisdom. Wisdom and means are a pair that maintain and support each other. The perfection of wisdom is the indispensable basis and source of all the activities of a bodhisattva, and that is what makes all the means perfections.
The perfection of generosity is giving donations without holding on to concepts of any giver, gift, or receiver. The perfection of discipline is maintaining moral behaviour out of compassion without thoughts of good or evil. The perfection of endurance is not being upset by difficulties or elated by favourable events, as there is no identity to be moved. The perfection of vigour is not falling in despair or indolence, and exercising unremitting effort through seeing the ever functioning causality and the pain and suffering of all beings. The perfection of concentration is not giving in to either torpor or excitement, but having an unaffected and clear mindfulness. The perfection of wisdom is the knowledge that everything lacks any graspable essence, in other words, all is empty of substance, and because both the world and the beings are insubstantial, the bodhisattva is without attachment to any identity or view.
With the skillful means the bodhisattva accumulates infinite merit. This is different from ordinary merit, that only generates samsaric results, because it is based on the perfection of wisdom. The results of the bodhisattva's meritorious activities are for developing the means to benefit all beings by perfecting the buddha-qualities. Transference of merit in the case of a bodhisattva means dedicating all the good results toward the welfare of everyone, and at the same time practising non-attachment to one's own inclinations.
This dual character of the path forms a single, balanced practice, that does not lean on either the side of relinquishing, nor the side of holding on, but can equally apply both according to the situation. This equilibrium is applied in both one's inner and outer life. That's how a bodhisattva does not dwell in samsara, nor in nirvana, and can liberate all beings.


The buddhas are those who have fully perfected wisdom and compassion by completely developing the six paramitas. In an infinite universe there are infinite number of buddhas as well, and each of them presides over a specific area of the cosmos called a buddha-land. Bodhisattvas can visit those lands either through meditation or through being born there. Therefore the most common form of meditation in Mahayana is mindfulness of one or several buddhas. Mindfulness of a buddha establishes a connection between the practitioner and a buddha, and that way the bodhisattva benefits from focusing on what is ultimately the final attainment by gaining inspiration and cultivating the qualities of a perfectly enlightened being. Furthermore, one can recall a buddha and the buddha-land with the intention of being born their in one's next life.
However, besides the myriad buddhas, the ultimate buddha is one's own mind. It is called the buddha-nature, what means the true character of each being. The reason that not everyone is enlightened already is that instead of turning one's attention back to one's mind, one only clings to the sensory experiences and expects peace and contentment from unstable phenomena. The buddha-nature is not something hidden inside the mind, nor is it an ultimate subject, but it is the real characteristic of all experiences. That is, all experiences are without essence that could be held or rejected, and at the same time they are always apparent and recognised, hence the buddha-nature is also called unbound awareness, empty clarity, or simply suchness.


Enlightened Approach

As I see it, it's not that mystical or complicated what the Buddha taught. Enlightenment means no attachment. Specifically, attachment stands for grasping at ideas and emotions that one wants to maintain or attain. Seeing that both situations and oneself are changeable and conditional, it becomes clear that no matter what idea or emotion one is attached to, on the one hand they rapidly expire and go out of sync with reality, and on the other hand one is not in full control of how things go down, so expectations easily turn to disappointments. Therefore, cultivating an open awareness is how one can live in harmony with oneself, others, and situations. And that is the enlightened approach.