This paper investigates Zen master Eihei Dogen’s emphasis on the role of “nonthinking” (hishiryo) in shikantaza (“just sitting”) meditation by viewing nonthinking as a cognitive process existing in dynamic relation to thinking (shiryo) and not-thinking (fushiryo). Dogen’s ostensibly mysterious shift away from the Ch’an terminology of “no-thought” (munen) and “no-mind” (mushin) provides vital insight into the cognitive functioning associated with advanced stages of this meditation. Previous scholarly understandings of shikantaza have been limited due to mischaracterizations of the presence, lack, or nature of intentionality, discrimination, and consciousness during the cognitive processes of thinking, not-thinking, and nonthinking. Despite mindfulness often being labeled as a metacognitive director of attention, insight into the nature of nonthinking challenges our construction of the relationship between intention and attention, both in reference to the open-monitoring meditation of shikantaza and more broadly in our understandings of how numerous meditative self-cultivation practices function to improve our lives.

Adam Valerio

Temple University

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