What am I doing here?

What is this project, sitting in silence for so many minutes every day? Is this a religious practice, or a psychological therapy of some kind? And what’s it for? Where is it supposed to get me, or anyone else who does this kind of thing? What’s the goal?

In Sōtō Zen there is a name for just sitting in silence: shikantaza. Brad Warner describes it like this:

When we do nothing but practice sitting still for a certain amount of time each day, it becomes clear that past and future are an illusion. There is no past. There is no future. There is only this moment. This one tiny moment. That’s all there is.

And in this moment what can you attain? You have what you have right now. Maybe in the future you’ll get something. But that’s not now.

Attainment always happens in the future or in the past. It’s always a matter of comparing the state at one moment to the state at another moment. But it makes no sense to compare one moment to any other moment. Every moment is complete unto itself. It contains what it contains and lacks what it lacks. Or perhaps it lacks nothing because each moment is the entire universe.

Brad Warner, The Other Side of Nothing: The Zen Ethics of Time, Space and Being

This is not a religious attitude, I think. It contains no belief that we are required to subscribe to, no creed or sanctified text, no “social-cultural system of designated behaviours and practices” (Wikipedia). It doesn’t have a goal, either, not even the goal of some kind of mental or spiritual state of peace, or bliss.

What is more, especially practiced that way that I have fallen into over recent years, not being part of a church, or sangha, or Quaker meeting, even, it is quite useless. It is merely sitting still.

Ken McLeod, in an article quoted by Brad Warner on his YouTube channel, (Tricycle magazine, January 2017) writes,

Obviously there are personal choices to be made… But I think it is reckless and presumptuous to tell others how they should live their lives. Chuang Tzu describes a crooked, twisted tree that grows near a road. It is so crooked that no woodworker would ever think of cutting it down. It is just there. It may be that one day, a traveler stops beneath it to find shelter from the rain or shade from the sun. Or maybe it just stands there, because that’s what trees do.

That tree, of course, is rooted quietly in the unnameable no thing, the ground of being and the source of all that is, that’s all. But it isn’t thinking metaphysical thoughts, or instructing anyone about anything. It “just stands there, because that’s what trees do.”

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