Nonthinking has no subject, no object and no goal. But how can you not have a goal? Isn’t the goal of practice enlightenment? No. There is no goal. No goal whatsoever. So if it’s objectless, subjectless, formless, and goalless, then what is it? It is the self-fulfilling samadhi of joyous activity. Which means it is functioning. But how can you function with the body and mind fallen away? Someone asked me that: if I’m lost in samadhi and the building catches on fire, will I notice it? And my response was that if you’re sitting zazen, sitting in complete awareness, and a fly lands in your field of vision, you will be aware of its presence but without judging, analyzing, or labeling it as a fly. But if that same fly walks by on crutches, you will definitely notice it. So, don’t worry— when the fire alarm goes off, you’ll know it.
Samadhi is not a vacuum; it’s not empty of vitality and life. It is rather the self-fulfilling samadhi of joyous activity. And it is part of the process of practice, whatever your practice is. People who work on the breath make a commitment to be aware of it, to place their attention in their hara and taste the breath. If a thought comes up that takes them away from the breath, they acknowledge it, take responsibility for it and let it go. They come back to the moment. Little by little, as their practice deepens, the thoughts stop coming, and then, at some point, they disappear. And when the thoughts disappear, the thinker disappears. That’s samadhi.
People doing shikantaza, on the other hand, are not trying to let go of thoughts. All they’re doing is watching the thoughts and being aware of them without processing. It is like sitting on a riverbank watching the river flow. A branch goes by. A log goes by. Whatever it is, you don’t analyze it; you don’t judge it; you don’t try to understand it; you don’t categorize it. You just watch it. And somehow, by that attentiveness, the thoughts begin to diminish. They lose their strength and then gradually stop arising, until they finally disappear. Body and mind fall away. The same is true of a koan. All of your attention goes into the one question until you become that question. You don’t think about it. You just be it. Again, that’s samadhi.