Shikan-taza (Japanese). “Shikan” is translated as wholeheartedness. Shikan is exactly becoming one with the process (of Life) itself. Literally “Za” of “taza” means to hit; so, from moment to moment, we have to hit the bull’s-eye… this is exactly life and death.
– Dainin Katagiri, Zen Master
Shikan-taza is, in a way, the heart of Zen. As such, like Zen, it is quite difficult to give definintion to, for it is the complete transcedence of dualistic experience, and to explain or give definition is inherently dualistic. “I” sit here attempting to explain or define “this thing” to “you” over there. The very awkwardness gives light to the difficulty and awkwardness of the human condition.
AND then — there is non-dualistic communicating-with. Just so. The difference is that in the dualistic paradigm, there is interjection of an ego-self, a sense of self that is separate from other and identifies itself as the center of the moment. “Self”-consciousness dominates the experience. “Self”-consciousness is not “just so.” “Just so” is shikan-taza, non-dualistic. The moment stands whole as the center of the experience, with “I” and “you” connected in the moment. There is certainly consciousness of “I” and “you,” but it is qualitatively different. “I” and “you” are integrated in the flow of the moment. The moment speaks to and through us, all connected.
Non-dualism contains dualism and transcends it. “Hitting the bull’s-eye” happens when you and the bull’s-eye are one. Like hitting a baseball or putting a basketball in the basket. There is no thinking. It takes someone with no thought of self to hit the ball or swish the basket. Think of yourself hitting the baseball and it won’t happen. Zen calls this being nobody. Shikan-taza. Just so. But can you live this way? To live this way is Zen.
Classic Japanese poetry embodies this:
The wind has settled, the blossoms have fallen;
Birds sing, the mountains grow dark —
This is the wondrous power of Buddhism.
– Ryokan, (1758-1831)
Shikan-taza literally means, “nothing but (shikan) sitting (taza).” “Sitting,” in Zen, however, does not limit itself to literal sitting. It is, as Master Katagiri tells us, hitting the bull’s-eye of life and death. Just so. It is – as Ryoken points to in his poem – the moment, all it’s elements, including the observer, united in sublime, wondrous, powerful beauty. It is, to use another awkward English construction, “sitting in the as-it-isness” of life. Zazen (meditational sitting) is the particular kind of sitting to practice dissolving ego-centered awareness in an optimal manner, but here, in Shikan-taza, we are “sitting” in Life.
“When sitting, just sit,” advises Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki. “Above all,” he continues, “Do not wobble.” Can you sit without consciousness that you are sitting? Can you just be sitting? No wobbling, no distractedness, restlessness or boredom. Can you “sit” in the moment perfectly as-it-is. This is Shikan-taza. As Master Katagiri often instructed, can you sit not in “your usual place, but in the Universe?” Just so. This is Shikan-taza.
When you sit in the Universe, there are no preferences. The Universe does not divide itself up into this is the good stuff and this is the bad stuff. The Universe is everything. Just so. Beautiful flowers are the Universe. Black muck is the Universe. Sunny days are the Universe. Hurricanes are the Universe. Vigor and strength are the Universe. Sickness is the Universe. Life is the Universe. Death is the Universe. Just so. Shikan-taza.
So, what is the use of this? Don’t we need to know the good stuff from the bad stuff? Isn’t it necessary, as we live our human lives in human society to clearly have a sense of “I” and of “you?”
Well, Yes – and no. And it is the “yes – and no” that is the liberating magic of Zen. We live our lives, we manage our relationships (and in Zen, we realize that all there is is relationship) and we always have the capacity to step beyond our usual place and experience the sacred in relationship, in the Universe. The world of objects, including people and ourselves is also subject. This makes it all sacred. Miracles are everywhere. Just so. Out of this grows compassion for sharing in the catastrophe of the human condition, the yes and no, and compassion is always available to us. Just so. We see.
Yes, conventionally, there is better stuff and worse stuff. We are free to celebrate the better stuff and avoid the worse stuff. We, as persons, day to day, stand in our usual place, and we work and play, and it is right to make things as pleasant as possible. Just don’t stand your life there in the usual place as if there is nowhere else to stand. As Buddhism teaches, then you will suffer. Good stuff goes away. Bad stuff comes. It drives us crazy. What to do? Stand in the Universe. Just so. Shikan-taza. Hit the bull’s-eye of reality.
Before I had studied Zen for thirty years, I saw mountains as mountains,
and waters as waters.
When I arrived at a more intimate knowledge, I came to the point
where I saw that mountains are not mountains,
and waters are not waters.
But now that I have got its very substance I am at rest.
For it’s just that I see mountains once again as mountains,
and waters once again as waters.