Posted inDharma, Dogen, Introduction to Zen, Other Teachings

Thinking – Nonthinking

April 20, 2022

When you practice just sitting and continuously give up all thoughts and views, the way becomes more and more intimate.

~ Eihei Dogen

One of the most common questions around the practice of silent sitting is what to do with the many thoughts that come up.

A famous exchange between the 9th century Chan master, Yaoshan, and a monk speaks to this:

The monk asks, “What are you thinking of, sitting there so fixedly?”

Yaoshan responds, “I’m thinking of not thinking.” 

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

Yaoshan says, “Nonthinking.”

Pointing to this teaching, Dogen later writes, “Nonthinking. This is the essential art of zazen.”

Nonthinking does not mean that thinking stops. Rather, it takes on a different character.

Sitting in a posture conducive to silence, following the breath, thoughts arise and fall away. The invitation is to allow, to note without judgment, and to release – returning, again and again, to the intimate spaciousness of here and now: this body, this breath, this moment. 

Without clinging or pushing away, thinking is more fluid and less distracting. Continuously giving up the habitual overlay of thoughts about thoughts – what Dogen calls “thoughts and views,” thinking becomes less sticky, more transparent, even translucent. Unmoored from judgment, thoughts are like glitter but there is no glue.

This is the ‘essential art’ we explore and express in zazen. Awake, aware, alert, alive – in the intimacy of a way that continually unfolds.

Image – IRCat from

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