Zen ―禅―

How to Do Zazen


First choose a quiet location to sit; avoid places that are too bright, noisy, or windy. Placing a religious object or two in your place of meditation helps create an appropriate atmosphere for zazen, as does burning a stick of fragrant (not pungent) incense while you sit.

Next put a large, thick cushion on the floor; this type of cushion helps support the body and makes it easier to sit for longer periods. On this cushion place a smaller, round cushion (zafu); if you do not have a zafu, fold a regular cushion in two. This is to raise and support the buttocks, which makes it easier to sit in the proper posture with a straight back. Place the zafu or folded cushion toward the back of the large cushion.

The clothing should be loose so that it does not bind the legs or other parts of the body. When sitting with other people, clothing with quiet colors is preferable.

■Regulating the Body

There are two traditional ways to fold the legs in zazen: kekka fuza 結跏趺坐 (full lotus) and hanka fuza 半跏趺坐 (half lotus). For the full lotus posture, first place your buttocks on the zafu or folded cushion. Then place the foot of the right leg on the thigh of the left leg.
Next place the foot of the left leg on the thigh of the right leg. The feet should be as close to the trunk as possible, with the soles facing upwards. If full lotus is too difficult, half lotus is fine. For half lotus place the right foot on the left thigh or the left foot on the right thigh.
Place the right hand palm up on your lap. Then place the left hand palm up on the right hand, with the tip of the thumbs lightly touching. Straighten your back, then lean the trunk forward. Raise the trunk once again to the upright posture, leaving the pelvis tipped forward and the lower back curved in. When one is used to it this posture creates the most relaxed and stable foundation for zazen. Pull the chin in a bit so that the head is fully upright. Let the shoulders relax and the body’s center of gravity settle naturally. Keep the eyes half-open, with the gaze on the floor about two meters in front. The mouth should be closed (but not with the teeth clenched), and the tongue should touch the roof the mouth.

■Regulating the Breath

Once the body’s posture is balanced and settled, attention should be turned to the breathing. Let each in-breath and out-breath fill your consciousness in a relaxed and open manner. The exhalation should be long, deep, and relaxed, with the breath allowed to go out as far as it naturally wishes to go. At that point the inhalation will occur automatically. The breathing, both in and out, should be free of all tension and should flow from the tanden (the lower abdomen).

■Regulating the Mind

After regulating the body and breath, regulate the mind. The usual method of doing this for beginners is susokukan 数息観, which literally means “breath-counting.” Count each exhalation from one to ten, then return to one again. If you lose count, simply return to one and start again. Sit with a feeling of complete openness, with the body and mind settled in the tanden and free of all tension. Do not attempt to suppress thought, but rather to sit with a mind and body that are fully alert yet so relaxed and open that thoughts cannot catch one. With regular and continued sitting in this way discursive thoughts will subside and you will become aware of the source of the mind.