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Zen, Part three

Zen Part three: Zazen

As I mentioned yesterday, Zen is very individual and is unique to each practitioner. Of all the forms of Buddhism, this is the one where it is most import to know yourself. How do you get to ‚Äúknow yourself?‚Äù For students of Zen, it’s done primarily through a process called ‚Äúzazen.‚Äù

Zazen is the practice of ‚Äújust sitting‚Äù and clearing the mind of all thought. Once your mind in unhindered by distraction is it far easier to attain enlightenment. There are specific postures and positions for this form of meditation, but it has been modified to suit all ability levels. Essentially, the Buddhist just sits, clearing their mind and focusing on their breathing, attempting to eliminate distractions and stray thoughts. Once you try it, you’ll experience just how difficult it is to think about… nothing.

I was going to write a lengthy explanation of zazen, but there are many excellent pages already written on the subject. Here are two that I think will be helpful.

Here is a video of the proper zazen sitting posture:

And here is a link showing modifications for those who can’t do that:

Personally, I cannot do the lotus positions, so I sit in a manner similar to the ‚ÄúBurmese Position‚Äù shown on the second link. Although some purists say you must do the full lotus and all the various positions, it’s better to begin in the best way that YOU can; it’s better to meditate in your own way than not to do it at all. Still, monks and practitioners have been doing this for centuries, and this is the way they have decided is best. Do what you can, but keep in mind that there is a “right way” to be doing this that you should eventually strive for.

Most Buddhists do some form of meditation similar to this. Take a look at the video and the pictures on the other link and we’ll talk more about this tomorrow.

6 comments to Zen, Part three

  • Lots of questions now:
    The thinking about nothing thing… What do you do with the thoughts that come into your head? Do you deal with them? Or just push them away? Do you think about why these thoughts are appearing? (thinking about thinking)?
    Do you think about specific koans during meditation? Or are they more helpful as brain food between meditations?
    Do you think about your body other than the breathing process?

    -thanks in advance
    Learning to Enjoy Stillness

  • I think the proper Zen answer to that is “Yes.”

    (Big zen grin time)

    The whole “thinking about nothing” thing is a very difficult challenge. You can either deal with them or push them away, whichever is going to be most effective in making the thought go away. I don’t now about what you call “thinking about thinking,” that’s not really something I have had a problem with.

    As far as the koans go, if you are a student of a Zen master (chances are you aren’t), and he assigns you a koan, then yeah, you had better work on it during your meditation. However, the kinds of koans we’ll be talking about here are “classical” ones that you should give some thought to, but not necessarily get too worked up over them… unless we come across one that you really think has some deeper meaning to you.

    Whether or not you think about the body during meditation depends on how you are meditating. Serious zazen people probably don’t think about their body, but there are forms of meditation where you do concentrate on various parts and systems of the body. It just depends on what kind of meditation you are doing and what your goals are. Usually, beginners are taught to focus on the breathing; it’s regular, easy to monitor, and eases relaxation. More advanced zazen practitioners are expert enough that they don’t need to focus on breathing, at least that’s their story!

  • Sean

    Hello – I am not physically in the best of shape. I have a lot of problems in my back and my neck as well as my knees so full lotus is out of the question, I can do half lotus for a brief period of time. I can sit on my knees but after doing that for a while it has it’s own set of problems. Keeping my back and neck straight is a near impossibility just due to back damage.

    So now the question. Since Zen is about sitting correctly — what if I CAN’T physically sit correctly?



  • I think it basically comes down to “if it causes suffering,it’s bad.”

    You cannot do zazen in the proper posture. OK, so what CAN you do? Sit cross-legged, “Indian-style?” sit on a chair with a straight back? My advice is to do what you can as closely as possible to the “instructions.”

    Remember the point of zazen is to clear the mind. The postures and positions are time-tested to make it easier to focus on the mind. If you can do the physical parts of zazen then you -should- do those; if you simply cannot, then all is not lost. The mind is the goal, not the body; posture and position are simply means to an end.

  • My suggestion to Sean would be to not concentrate on the position to begin with. With meditation you can focus on deterring the pain first while laying down or sitting in a chair. Also with meditation healing comes. Therefore as you grow in your meditation you will be able to push away the pain, and the pain will be eased. It is the same with all muscles in your body, the more you use it, the stronger it gets; you could improve your posture and gradually work into a zazen position.

  • Even propped up with a polilw seiza has has always caused dull pain in my right knee seiza has always seemed much better for my back and for clearer chanting than cross legged postures. That is, until the last year or so there’s been a natural shift away from seiza, into what’s probably 1/4 something (even using the term lotus stretches reality much too far). No more knee problems but, well, there’s the prostate .which I live with anyway.The real point, for me, is that sitting, close to the earth/on the floor, even for just a few moments in the morning, or for longer periods in the evening, quietly, sometimes chanting, brings something irreplaceable with it.Namuamidabutsu