A. Your overview seems to me to be correct.

From my understanding pure awareness in its true sense is no different to Shikantaza. It is as simple and as direct as it appears. Totally uncluttered with any kind of upaya. But let’s be realistic, and indeed pragmatic, as Master Rinzai must have been when he introduced the koan (question) system of meditation into his Zen teachings.

From my understanding he too practised ‘just sitting’ but realised that the mind could easily become dull and disinterested when there was ‘nothing to do’ during long days of meditation. So when he began to teach he constructed the koan system to assist his disciples with this potential impasse. The system encouraged his disciples to make use of a koan that became a (transcendental) insight tool that they took to their cushion, as well as to the rest of their life – but whose ‘answer’ was beyond the conceptual world of dualistic thinking. He used many of these upayas, which would systematically undermine his students’ fixed experience of ‘reality’. So despite apparently setting ‘heaven and earth miles apart’, he too was a man with the true spirit of Zen, in the same way that Dogen was.

I think it is very important that we in the West, and especially those of us without a mature teacher to guide us, are realistic with the type of practice that you talk of. Yes, in its pure form there is nothing to do but just ‘be’. But there is every likelihood that most of us westerners will never truly be able to pull that off in a consistent way because we will be continually waylaid by the heavy karma most of us seem to be carrying around. Therefore we may wander away from the ‘true path’ because we have been taken over by our burden yet again through some powerful attachment that we just can’t shake off.We may well then need to use a skilful means to get back on it.

What is crucial is that during these brief times when we divert, we always retain, through awareness, openness to and inclusiveness of life’s experiences, which is the hallmark and spirit of the infinite path. This cannot be emphasised strongly enough. If we are always with this spirit we will not actually be off the path in any serious and damaging way, but just briefly attending to a small difficulty along the way.