“Does Nonthinking Require Effort?”

Konocti with foreground oleanderIn his “Lancet of Seated Meditation” (“Shobo genzo zazen shin”), Dogen quotes a conversation:

Once, when the Great Master Hung-tao of Yueh shan was sitting in meditation , a monk asked him,

What are you thinking, sitting there so fixedly?

The master answered, “I’m thinking of not thinking.”

The monk asked, “How do you think of not thinking?”

The master answered, “Nonthinking.”

Here’s a question that came up in an online discussion group:

What is nonthinking? Is it something we do or is it something that happens when we cease to do? If it is something we do, does it require a touch of effort? Please assist me.

My reply:

In “Genjo Koan”, Dogen wrote: “When you find your way at this moment, practice occurs, actualizing the fundamental point.”

To “find your way at this moment” is to feel all things without exception engage with “your place where you are”.1 The feeling of each thing without exception engaging in support of “the place where you are” is “nonthinking”.

In his commentary on Hung-tao’s conversation, Dogen wrote:

There is someone in nonthinking, and this someone maintains us.

I wrote previously:

Once I find centrifugal force at the location of my awareness, I can find the appropriate counter from everything that surrounds the place of awareness, even things outside the range of my senses.

Things beyond the range of the senses are present in the length of my inhalation or exhalation, at the place where I am, as I find my way in this moment. If I am open to things outside the range of the senses as I comprehend the long or short of my current inhalation or exhalation, the elements of Gautama’s way of living unfold for me.2

Does nonthinking require effort? If so, I think it’s only the extension of the mind of compassion beyond what is sensed in all directions.


1 “Dogen’s Manuals of Zen Meditation”, Carl Bielefeldt, Document 3 “Lancet of Seated Meditation”, pg 188-189;
2 “Your place where you are”, also “Genjo Koan”;
3 See Old Habits for the sixteen.

2 Replies to ““Does Nonthinking Require Effort?””

  1. Comment by zen pig:

    For me, no thinking is not the goal, in fact there are no goals that I can see. As I go deeper into meditation, I can see the so called “sub-conscious” mind is always moving, always going and creating. Most of us do not see this, because the conscious mind is like the sun shine during the day, and the sub conscious mind is like a candle burning 24 hours a day. We just cannot see the light from this candle during the bright sun of the day, but it is still there. only when we get very silent, and the conscious mind starts to dim, we can see the brightness of the sub conscious mind. Then we just witness it. and keep looking deeper and deeper. at some point there is no division between “conscious” and “subconscious” it is all one thing. at least that is my experience so far, subject to change.

  2. Since the subconscious processes things that lie outside the range of the senses (and yet somehow register their presence), I suspect we are talking about the same kind of experience. Maybe it has to do with coordinating the left and right hemispheres of the brain?

    I think it’s a lot like falling asleep, just a natural part of well-being, but those of us who are somewhat dysfunctional with sensory coordination could maybe use some isolations to clarify the senses involved. I think a lot of the teaching is like that, the isolation of particular pieces, in the hope that they fall together more readily once they’ve been brought forward.

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