Friday, July 16, 2010

How to sit Zen

Zazen, the formal practice of seated meditation, is the cornerstone of Zen training. Za means "sitting." Zen -- which derives from the Sanskrit dhyana, or jhana in the ancient Buddhist language Pali -- means meditation.

In its beginning stages, zazen is a practice of concentration, with a focus on following or counting the breath. But more than just concentrating, zazen is a powerful tool of self-inquiry, boundless in its scope and ability to reveal the true basis of reality. Through zazen we realize the unity of the self with all things, which has the potential to transform our lives and those of others.


  • Sit on the forward edge of your zafu, bench, or chair.
  • Arrange your legs -- full lotus, half lotus, Burmese, kneeling, or chair; choose the most stable position you can sustain comfortably.
  • Center your spine by swaying in decreasing arcs, left to right, forward and backward.
  • Straighten and extend your spine, and align your head (by "pushing up the ceiling" and then relaxing). The origin of thrust is at the small of your back. Your belly and buttocks both protrude slightly.
  • Head -- should be centered, not tilting forward or backward or leaning to the side.
  • Ears -- should be parallel with the shoulders.
  • Tip of the nose -- centered over the navel.
  • Chin -- tucked in slightly.

Sitting meditation in Honolulu (

  • Eyes -- neither fully opened nor fully closed, lowered to 45 degree angle; unfocused, "gazing" in the direction of the floor 2 to 3 feet in ahead. If you are closer to a wall than that, then look through it, at where the floor would be. Thus, blinking is minimized.
  • Mouth -- lips and teeth closed; place the tip of the tongue against the roof of the mouth, just behind the front teeth. Swallow any saliva in your mouth, and evacuate the air so there is a slight vacuum. This inhibits salivation and overly tense jaw muscles.
  • Hands -- "cosmic" mudra:
    Right hand -- palm up, blade (karate chopping edge) against lower belly; left hand -- atop right, middle knuckles overlap; thumbs -- tips lightly touch, forming an oval.
  • Make sure your whole body is arranged the way you want it before beginning zazen.
  • If using reading materials, set them off to the side or behind you to avoid distractions.
  • Keep as still as possible during zazen.

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