Our style and spirit: Zazen's Buddhist context * Keeping forms simple * Practice in modern daily life
Shikantaza in the style of Uchiyama Roshi:
Keeping forms and ceremonies simple
Our practice includes a relatively small number of the forms and formalities present in other places of Soto Zen practice. This is not because forms are not important. We do a few forms and do them simply so that we can understand why we’re doing what we’re doing and keep the connection between forms and the mind of shikantaza.
Sanshin holds only a few ceremonies:
Likewise, our manners and customs are uncomplicated but we try to do them thoroughly and without separation into an "I" that's "performing" a "ritual." Without engaging in extras like using them to build our egos or compare ourselves to others, we just engage in forms and ceremonies and fold ourselves seamlessly into the activity of the community. They are done wholeheartedly and sincerely as a genuine expression of gratitude and respect, and thus they are alive as the complete functioning of practice-realization.
Our larger Soto Zen tradition includes a number of elaborate and decorative ceremonies and rituals, and in some times and places these are completely appropriate. Our particular aspiration at Sanshin is to keep the intention, meaning and spirit of our simple forms without letting them become empty gestures, done simply because custom dictates that they be done.
Sanshin inherits this simple style from Antaiji, the temple in which Okumura Roshi practiced with his teacher, Uchiyama Roshi. "One of the unique aspects of Antaiji, compared to other Zen temples, was that we conducted almost no ceremonies," Okumura Roshi explained. Other than in special circumstances for visitors, there were no daily services and no chanting during the formal meals using oryoki. "We Antaiji monks had a bad reputation when we went to other monasteries for practice because we could not chant even the Heart Sutra without seeing a sutra book."
Because Antaiji was established in 1921 as a place for Komazawa University graduates who wanted to study Dogen's teachings, it didn't have a group of donor families providing financial support and expecting funeral and memorial services for its lay members. "Uchiyama Roshi decided not to have even daily morning, noon and evening services to make it clear that Antaiji focused on the practice of zazen alone." [Handbook of Zen, Mindfulness and Behavioral Health, p. 55]
Uchiyama Roshi himself warned that we can get caught up even in the forms related to shikantaza, "When [some] people practice zazen, they consider rituals such as turning clockwise or counter-clockwise essential. They make zazen a kind of ceremony. Ceremonies [can be] empty forms that have no real content. They simply become authority. Zazen shouldn't be [such] a ceremony, but we should live by zazen." [The Wholehearted Way, p. 148]
More on our forms
This past year or so, I have been reflecting on the lectures I heard given by our former teacher [Dogen]. Even though I heard all of them from our former teacher, now they are different [in meaning] than at first. This difference concerns [the assertion that] the Buddhism transmitted by our teacher is [the correct] performance of one's present monastic tasks. Even though I had heard that Buddhist ritual is Buddhism, in my heart I privately felt that true Buddhism must reside apart from this. Recently, however, I have changed my views. I now know that monastic ritual and deportment themselves are that true Buddhism. Even if apart from these there also is the infinite Buddhism of the Buddhas and patriarchs, still it all is the very same Buddhism. I have attained true confidence in this profound principle that apart from the lifting of an arm of the moving of a leg within one's Buddhist deportment there can be no other reality.