Shikantaza & Awareness of Awareness

I wanted to know what was the difference between Shikantaza (“Just Sitting”) and Shamatha without a sign (aka, Awareness Of Awareness, AOA)… I remember listening to a podcast/retreat in which someone asked Alan Wallace about the difference between AOA and Trekchö (“Trekchö is AOA with the View”) so I was curious to know what was going on here: Is Shikantaza the same as AOA … or as Trekchö ? … Or yet something else !?

It is said that in certain cases, AOA can lead to the realisation of Pristine Awareness. Is it the same with Shikantaza ?

Shikantaza is considered an integrative practice of both Shamatha and Vipashyana, and some parallels have been drawn with Dzogchen/Mahamudra. So, I’m trying to figure out where it stands, and where it leads.

I really like Shikantaza. As Master Sheng-Yen emphasizes over and over again in “The Method of No Method” one important aspect/starting point of Shikantaza is to “sit with one’s whole body”, minding your own business, that is, being fully aware and clear about the fact that… you are sitting here! It almost sounds too simple (deceivingly, that is) but having been so disconnected from my body for years (probably due to hours and hours lost in/before screens) this practice seems to be really ideal for me, and I strongly feel drawn to Zen for its simplicity and straightforward approach. I’ve had really good results when really focusing on this “Whole Body Awareness” approach both through formal and non-formal meditation when it comes to lucid dreaming (up to 8+ a month, just through learning to stay in touch with my body. And this, while I was dealing with severe pain and emotional turmoil.) especially when topped with Illusory Form. And that’s Something Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche also talks about in Tibetan Yogas of Dream And Sleep.

But having read a lot about Shamatha (and about Alan Wallace!) I’m a bit confused about my practice and which path to choose and follow. I tend to alternate between the two. Can The Way of Zen, the practice of Zazen/Shikantaza lead to the same realization as years and years of intensive and rigorous practice that starts with Shamatha and culminates to Dzogchen ? Can it lead to the same Realisation ?

At the very least, I think starting with the practice of Shikantaza in a first place is already good beginning anyways. It’s also easier for me right now, as the pain becomes part of the meditation, while focusing on a specific object can be quite difficult as I am distracted by the pain.

But can it be a complete Path on its own ? Is it enough, “just to sit” ?

That is my question…


My own studies are leading me in a direction of slightly more aggressive meditation after spending quite a bit of time with Shamatha/Vipashyana.

I am working with Tantric yoga breathing forms similar to Tummo as a way of opening the central channel and energizing the energetic body. I have already found this to be very successful in my nocturnal meditations in preparation for wake induced lucidity.

I have also read that there is an intrinsic physical component of Dzogchen called Trulkhor that is aimed at opening the central channel through breathing associated with various postures.


Steve, have you read Breath?

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I guess only a master who practices both ways could say for sure. Since I do not practice Shikantaza, I cannot say anything to that method.
As a student practicioner of Dzogchen I would like to comment some of your questions only to a limited extent from my limited student‘s vantage point, prone to error, which should not be perpetuated and thus possibly influence your path negatively. This said…

First, I respect Alan Wallace greatly and was so inspired by his interview that I seriously engaged in the way he teaches Shamata. I have done Zhine (Shamata) with an object quite some time before in slightly different forms (Tibetan A, and concentration on stillness of the body, silence of speech, and spaciousness of mind/heart) to some success.
What I would like to comment here is that - with all due respect - in his interview with Andrew it almost sounded like one could only get to know the nature of mind (rigpa, AOA) after practicing shamata for months and longer.
I think he meant the stabilization and realisation of rigpa, and not getting a taste of rigpa which is for me the initial spark of beginning to practice Dzogchen and the beginning of that path.
In my personal experience, glimpses of rigpa can be caught in meditation, usually under guidance of a meditation master initially.
Yes, in all the Dzogchen-meditations guided by masters there was the element of peaceful stillness /calm abiding in order to recognize rigpa. When the mind settles, rigpa is what is naturally present in that emptiness.
The practice of a Dzogchen-practicioner as I have been taught, is to then cultivate this recognition by means of meditation. For this, deeper shamata is essential.
So, I would not say that month of Shamata practice culminates in Dzogchen, but rather Shamata allows the deepening and cultivation of stable Rigpa and is essential to „advance“ in practice. Shamata stabilizes the mind and allows you to rest single pointedly longer and longer in the nature of mind, in my understanding. Without some stability the mind will be swept away and not be able to recognize and stay in rigpa.

One teacher said to me once, that single-pointed awareness on the stillness of my body while sitting is also shamata. So I guess it depends on that you have a single focus while sitting.
Sitting without focus bears the „danger“ that the monkey mind jumps back and forth and never comes to a clear, relaxed open state, from which it can perceive itself.
As Alan Wallace said in the interview: „Shamata is like a telescope, and Vippasyana is Astronomy“.

In tibetan tradition, for entering the path of Dzogchen, it is essential to meet a Dzogchen master and receive teachings and transmission in some form or another.
Do you have an opportunity to visit a retreat with a dzogchen master?


I have not, Barry. I’ll look into it.

I am currently reading this

I honestly think that these days many “secrets” are out there for all of us to find if we have the will and the intention.

Transmission protocols have changed here in the 21st century and from what I have read, many masters accept that. If you wish to learn these ways I believe that it is possible to do so, even if you are unable to do retreats. I only speak from personal experience.

There are three factors that are crucial in achieving excellence in any endeavor:

A teacher
Innate ability
Intense and unflagging determination and practice

Lacking any one of the above one must work harder on the others…



Thanks so much @KhyungMar. I was actually firstly and mostly interested in Dzogchen, but Zen is much more prevalent in France than Dzogchen, so it makes it more accessible and easier to find a Teacher in that tradition (But even in spite of this, not a single center/monastery near where I’m living!) My first encounter with Zhine started with the Tibetan A when I read Tenzin Wangyal’s book on Dream Yoga. When I read The Attention Revolution, I switched to the breath, feeling I couldn’t do it wrong. At least, not too much :smile: By the way, I haven’t read Wonders of The Natural Mind, but it looks like it could be a great starter. Would you recommend it ? Or any other book/introduction to Dzogchen ?

I remember Alan saying, quoting the words of Padmasambhava “Do not be introduced to the nature of the mind too soon”. So, I guess it is possible to have Glimpses of Rigpa, but he emphasizes the importance of developing concentration before it, for these glimpses not to just fade away over time.

Right now, I feel like the surest way not to mix up everything would actually be to follow One Path, and One path only… For the moment, I’m just sitting here (no pun intended), hesitating between the one of Dzogchen and the One of Zen. But, as you said the importance of a Teacher is primordial. I’m kinda trying to make sure these can both lead to the same depth of realization. But I believe I’m close enough to finding my Path.

I really like what Alan proposes. A complete and meticulous approach: Shamatha, Vipashyana, Dzogchen. Practising and achieving each one successively. It sounds like a really solid and safe path in a way. But, it does make me feel a bit hopeless, like, awakening is only and exclusively reserved to monks and people who renounce the world (not only internally, but also externally) completely. And sometimes, I am really seduced by this path of pure dedication, but at the same time, I am not ready (yet?) for such a decision. There would be other things I need to complete first. My health is one key to being able to continue freely on the path.

On the other hand, Zen offers a very different perspective. I’m currently listening to “The Three Pillars of Zen” trying to clarify my understanding of both these possibilities…

So… I must admit, I’m just a spiritual kiddo trying to figure his way out. I have so much to learn, and know so little. But, I think the next big step will definitely be to find an actual teacher to guide me on a regular basis to clarify my confusion… As the Dalaï Lama said “it will save you a lot of time!” I also remember these words in Tibetan Yogas of Dream and Sleep stating that, the book was not a substitute for a real-life teacher, but more like a textbook, to accompany the actual teachings and direct transmission, the teacher being irreplaceable. As a 13 years old kid, I was really upset not to have anyone to guide me, which indeeed, lead me to quite some confusion and trouble! It would have saved me a lot of time (and avoid a lot of suffering). So, I think I’ve been on my own for long enough. This community is already a great first step, so thank you for your words and answer :wink: And still curious if anyone else has something to say about it all … I’m all eyes :grinning:


which town do you live in france?

Abbeville, a small town in the North. Why?

@TheNewOneironaut When Khenpo Tenpa Yungdrung comes back to Europe next year (due to Covid not this year in person) you might consider seeing him either at Shenten or at one of the weekend retreats. I think he usually has one in Paris, too.


You might want to be careful of this view and its implications. I personally did not understand Alan in this way. Glimpses of awakening are possible and not uncommon with mediators. But for sure, stabilizing and thus truly integrating through practice is said to be the real „work“, which will take earnest dedication and structured approach.


I have heard of a Kagyu teacher in France that teaches Mahamudra. You might be able to connect with him.
Lama Denys Rinpoche in France


Thanks for the link :slight_smile:

That’s actually reassuring. I believe this view is due to too much time reading too much on my own as a teenager, that led me to some serious confusion and misunderstanding(s). It does make more sense now.


I’ve heard of this place ! Lama Denys really does have a good reputation. I had considered going out there two years ago for a retreat, had even written them an email. But my diet was (and is still) making it really complicated. However, for future times, it seems to be an excellent place to go to if I want to go deeper with these teachings. And as it turns out, I’m actually going to move in not so far from Limoges, probably before Christmas. I will be half an hour from a Tibetan Buddhist Temple, and 2 hours by train from a great Zen Monastery (Kanshoji). Sounds pretty good…


I wrote an entire flippin’ dissertation as a reply hitting all topics and then some. Didn’t finish it - ran out of steam. Figured it was just bla-bla-bla that belongs in a journal or something.

To summarize, I refer to that quote from the buddha (mis-quoted here:) “All truth leads back to me”

– Courtney
(still losing steam, about to disappear into the haze for a week+)