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Zazen

In Zen Buddhism, zazen is a meditative discipline practitioners perform to calm the body and the mind, and be able to concentrate enough to experience insight into the nature of existence and thereby gain enlightenment (satori).

Zazen is considered the heart of Zen Buddhist practice. The aim of zazen is just sitting, “opening the hand of thought”, that is, suspending all judgmental thinking and letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them.

In Zen temples and monasteries, practitioners traditionally sit zazen as a group in a meditation hall, usually referred to as the zendo. The practioner sits on a cushion called a zafu, which itself is usually placed on top of a low, flat mat called a zabuton.

Before taking one’s seat, and after rising at the end of the period of zazen, Zen practitioners perform a gassho bow to their seat, and a second bow to fellow practitioners.

The beginning of a period of zazen is traditionally announced by ringing a bell three times (shijosho), and the end of a round by ringing the bell either once or twice.

Long periods of zazen may alternate with periods of kinhin (walking meditation).

We tend to see body, breath, and mind separately, but in zazen they come together as one reality. The first thing to pay attention to is the position of the body in zazen. The body has a way of communicating outwardly to the world and inwardly to oneself. How you position your body has a lot to do with what happens with your mind and your breath. Throughout the years of the evolution of Buddhism, the most effective positioning of the body for the practice of zazen has been the pyramid structure of the seated Buddha. Sitting on the floor is recommended because it is very stable. We use a zafu – a small pillow – to raise the behind just a little, so that the knees can touch the ground. With your bottom on the pillow and two knees touching the ground, you form a tripod base that gives three hundred and sixty-degree stability.

Very generally speaking, zazen practice is taught in one of three ways.

  1. Concentration
  2. Koan Introspection
  3. Shikantaza (just sitting)

Koan practice is usually associated with the Rinzai school and Shikantaza with the Sōtō school. In reality many Zen communities use both methods depending on the teacher and students.

Concentration

The initial stages of training in zazen will usually emphasize concentration. By focusing on the breath at the hara, often aided by counting. This counting meditation is called susokukan, and has several variations. Through this practice one builds up the power of concentration, or joriki. At some Zen centers, the practice of mentally repeating a mantra with the breath is used in place of counting breaths for beginners. In some communities, or sanghas, the practice is continued in this way until there is some initial experience of samadhi or “one-pointedness” of mind. At this point the practitioner moves to one of the other two methods of zazen.

Breathing In Zazen

Koan Introspection

Having developed the power of concentration, the practitioner can now focus his or her attention on a koan as an object of meditation. Since koans are, ostensibly, not solvable by intellectual reasoning, koan introspection is designed to shortcut the intellectual process leading to direct realization of a reality beyond thought.

Shikantaza (just sitting)

Shikantaza is a form of meditation, in which the practitioner does not use any specific object of meditation; rather, practitioners remain as much as possible in the present moment, aware of and observing what passes through their minds and around them. Dogen says, in his Shobogenzo, “Sitting fixedly, think of not thinking. How do you think of not thinking? Nonthinking. This is the art of zazen.”

Don't Hate, Meditate!

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About TheTaoOfD
Truth Seeker. Truth Spreader.

3 Responses to Zazen

  1. contoveros says:

    I think I’ve been doing this without knowing I have been doing it. No, I don’t really “think” it. I “feel” it. Or, perhaps, I realize it.

    No, there is actually no “I” invloved in the process; it involves the removal of the “I” and becomes more of a “we” and a “you” somehow one and all together without effort on my part, and actually “despite” my part.

    Know what I mean?

    michael j,
    Conshohocken, PA USA

  2. Hi, Thao!

    Thank you for visiting my blog pages and thanks for stopping by.

    All the best for the ongoing holidays from Zagreb,Croatia,Europe.

  3. Steven Myers says:

    since the first boat took seekers east,
    many english definitions of zazen probably emerged.
    “not getting involved in passing thoughts”
    is something i will always remember
    except when meditating, of course.
    thank you for this.

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