Open Access Articles- Top Results for Shikantaza


Shikantaza (只管打坐?) is a Japanese translation of a Chinese term for zazen introduced by Rujing, a monk of the Caodong school of Zen Buddhism. In Japan, it is associated with the Soto school.


The term is believed to have been first used by Dōgen's teacher Tiantong Rujing, and it literally means, "nothing but (shikan) precisely (da) sitting (za)."[1] In other words Dōgen means by this, "doing only zazen whole-heartedly" or "single-minded sitting."[2][3] Shikantaza implies "just sitting", and according to author James Ishmael Ford, "Some trace the root of this word to the pronunciation of the Pāli vipassana, though this is far from certain."[4] Author Steve Hagen describes the Japanese word in four parts: shi means tranquility, kan means awareness, ta means hitting exactly the right spot (not one atom off), and za means to sit.[5][note 1]

A translation of "shikantaza" offered by Kobun Chino Otogawa[6] provides some additional insight into the literal meaning of the components of the Japanese word:

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.[7]

Master Sheng Yen explains the meaning of the term in this way:

This “just sitting” in Chinese is zhiguan dazuo. Literally, this means “just mind sitting.” Some of you are familiar with the Japanese transliteration, shikantaza. It has the flavor of “Just mind your own business.” What business? The business of minding yourself just sitting. At least, you should be clear that you're sitting. “Mind yourself just sitting” entails knowing that your body is sitting there. This does not mean minding a particular part of your body or getting involved in a particular sensation. Instead, your whole body, your whole being is sitting there.[8]

Origins and development

Silent illumination

Silent illumination may be understood as the integrated practice of shamatha (calming the mind) and vipashyana (insightful contemplation), and was the hallmark of the Chinese Caodong school of Chan. However, it is not merely just the union of calming and insight, which has already been developed within the Tiantai Buddhist tradition in medieval China. Rather, it is a description of the natural essence and function of the mind. In this sense, it can be traced back to the earliest Chan teachings of Bodhidharma.[9]

The first Chan master to articulate silent illumination was the Caodong master Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091—1157), who wrote an inscription entitled "silent illumination" (默照禪;[10] Chinese: Mòzhào chán Japanese: Mokusho Zen).

Shikantaza's origins can also be traced back to silent illumination. However, it is different from the teachings of Hongzhi Zhengjue in terms of practice and theory.[11]


In the thirteenth century, Dōgen Zenji (the founder of the Soto school) used much of Hongzhi's writings on silent illumination to help shed light on what he termed shikantaza. From thereafter the practice of shikantaza has been primarily associated with the Soto school. While silent illumination is in theory a "methodless method" — it is also important to realize that, "his (Dogen) practice of shikantaza took a somewhat different approach."[12]

Even still, Chan Master Shengyen states that shikantaza is similar to silent illumination.[9][13]

Modern interpretations

According to Merv Fowler, shikantaza is described best as,

quiet sitting in open awareness, reflecting directly the reality of life.[14]

Shikantaza is often termed a goalless meditation in quiet awareness,

not working on any koan, or counting the breath. It is an alert condition, performed erect, with no trace of sluggishness or drowsiness.[15]



In his work Fukanzazenji, Dogen writes of,

Finding a clean, dry place, if possible cool in summer and warm in winter. He goes on to describe the use of a zafu, or small round pillow one sits upon, and the zabuton, or larger square, flat cushion under the zafu, which supports the ankles and knees. He then describes the basic posture—sitting erect, with hands in the lap, eyes cast downward—as 'the method used by all Buddha ancestors of Zen.'"[16]

Fred Reinhard Dallmayr writes,

Regarding practice, Dogen counseled a distinctly nonattached or nonclinging kind of action, that is, an activity completely unconcerned with benefits or the accomplishment of ulterior goals: the activity of 'just sitting' or 'nothing-but-sitting' (shikantaza) whereby self-seeking is set aside in a manner resembling a resolute 'dropping off of body and mind.'[17]

According to Master Shengyen,

While you are practicing just sitting, be clear about everything going on in your mind. Whatever you feel, be aware of it, but never abandon the awareness of your whole body sitting there. Shikantaza is not sitting with nothing to do; it is a very demanding practice, requiring diligence as well as alertness. If your practice goes well, you will experience the 'dropping off' of sensations and thoughts. You need to stay with it and begin to take the whole environment as your body. Whatever enters the door of your senses becomes one totality, extending from your body to the whole environment. This is silent illumination."[18]

Sanbo Kyodan

The modern Japanese Zen master, Hakuun Ryōko Yasutani says:

Shikantaza is the mind of someone 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.[19]

In contrast to this opinion, some of the Zen masters in Loori's book The Art of Just Sitting deride Yasutani's description, giving their own version as the right or correct way to do shikantaza.[20]


Concerning the Rinzai school, John Daido Loori writes,

..[A]fter students finish koan study, they then take up the practice of shikantaza.[21]

Haku'un Yasutani agrees, stating,

The Rinzai and Obaku Schools emphasize koan study; the Soto school emphasizes shikantaza. But even when koan study is stressed, shikantaza is not abandoned. All of the great masters of these three schools emphasize the importance of shikantaza."[22]

Complementary practices

In Japan, vipassana and shamatha are sometimes used in addition to shikantaza as complementary practices.[23]

See also


  1. ^ Hagen errs in his gloss; the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit terms śamatha and vipaśyanā is 止観 (lit., "stopping [and] seeing"), currently pronounced zhǐguān in Mandarin, while the first two characters of the expression discussed in this article are 只管 zhǐguǎn—the characters have very different, unrelated meanings, but spoken Japanese has many homophones, and the Japanese on'yomi reading of both pairs of Chinese characters (kanji) happens to be the same: shikan.


  1. ^ Fischer-Schreiber, 321
  2. ^ Akishige, 18
  3. ^ Shaner, 158
  4. ^ Ford, 29-30
  5. ^ Hagen, Steve (2007). Meditation Now Or Never. HarperOne. p. 189. ISBN 0-06-114329-4. 
  6. ^ Aspects of Sitting Meditation
  7. ^ "Shikan taza", from "Kobun's Teachings" on the Jikoji Temple (Santa Cruz, California) website
  8. ^ The Method of No-Method, 94
  9. ^ a b Kraft, 38-40
  10. ^ Muller, A. Charles, ed.: The Digital Dictionary of Buddhism, ed. of 04/03/2008, Chinese Readings Index (Pinyin System) [1]
  11. ^ Guo Gu, You are Already Enlightened. Buddhadharma, winter 2012
  12. ^ Hoofprint of the Ox, 152
  13. ^ Song of Mind, 150
  14. ^ Fowler, 96
  15. ^ Austin, 76
  16. ^ Ford, 32
  17. ^ Dallmayr, 178-179
  18. ^ Attaining the Way, 163
  19. ^ Hakuun Ryōko Yasutani, in Introductory Lectures on Zen Training, by Kapleau
  20. ^ Loori, John Daido (2000). The Art of Just Sitting: Essential Writings on the Zen Practice of Shikantaza. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-327-3. 
  21. ^ Loori, 137
  22. ^ Maezumi, 97
  23. ^ Illuminating Silence, 103



Further reading