Posts Tagged ‘Hakuun Ryoko Yasutani’

Thoughts are things they have weight and measure as you’ve read in my writings before. Sometimes people think when they start learning how to meditate that they can get to a point where they no longer have any thoughts at all and the mind is completely blank or empty.

I remember many years ago when I was first introduced to meditation I said something to the teacher about not being able to stop thinking. He said, “Don’t worry about that when you “stop thinking” you’ll be dead.”

So then what I began striving for when I was sitting was calmness; however, if you ask a Buddhist he or she will say when we sit we don’t “strive” for anything we simply sit for the sake of sitting. However, after my time sitting I will tell you that I do feel calm, refreshed, and peaceful in mind and body. Most of the time. But on occasion my monkey mind keeps moving a thousand miles an hour and when that happens after some time on the cushion I will stop trying to fight the thoughts and I will just get up, go about my business, and return to my sitting later.

I am reminded of something I read recently by the modern Japanese Zen master Hakuun Ryoko Yasutani in the Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen about thoughts during meditation or shikantaza:

“Shikantaza… is the mind of somebody facing death. Let us imagine that you are engaged in a duel of swordsmanship of the kind that used to take place in ancient Japan. As you face your opponent you are unceasingly watchful, set, ready. Were you to relax your vigilance even momentarily, you would be cut down instantly. A crowd gathers to see the fight. Since you are not blind you see them from the corner of your eye, and since you are not deaf you hear them. But not for an instant is your mind captured by these impressions (Kapleau 1980)” [1]

If sitting becomes a chore and the thoughts keep interrupting you the value is lost in the sitting. So no judgment or condemnation of yourself is required. Just come back to it later. As the great Japanese swordsmen would work toward: not for an instant is your mind captured by these impressions! So try not to be “captured” by your thoughts—let them go like a feather in the wind.

Let me know how it goes!

In gassho,



[1] Shambhala Dictionary of Buddhism and Zen, Shambhala Dragon Editions, (1991) Shambhala: Boston

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