Zazen allows the practitioner to calm the body and mind and gain insight into the true nature of existence. This is achieved through the practice of seated meditation. Zazen is a very accessible form of meditation that can be practiced by anybody. Below you will find a step by step guide so that you can try Zazen for yourself.
Zazen Meditation: The Technique
Step #1 Getting Started
Zazen meditation can be performed in any quiet place where you are unlikely to be disturbed for your session. Zazen can also be conducted more formally in a meditation hall, temple or monastery with a group. Zazen is always performed in a seated position. Most people who perform Zazen will use a small pillow known as a “Zafu”. The zafu is placed under the buttocks of the practitioner and allows their knees to touch the ground. This creates a grounded and natural position. Other forms of Zazen meditation can incorporate a chair or seiza stool.
There are five different types of positions that you can assume when performing Zazen. These are each listed below:
The Burmese position is the one that most new Zazen disciples will adopt. This position is typically the most comfortable for westerners as it closely resembles the normal sitting position. In the Burmese position the legs are crossed and the feet lay flat on the ground. Allow your knees to drop to the ground by moving your buttocks to the front of the zafu. Maintain an erect spine with the top of your head pushing towards the ceiling. You can also push your stomach out slightly which will create a position which is easy to keep upright.
In the half lotus position the left foot is placed on top of the right thigh. The right foot is placed under the left thigh. Again you should maintain an erect but relaxed posture. The head should be pushed towards the ceiling. The position is asymmetrical so you may find that you need to reposition yourself to obtain the correct posture. You should also alternate which of the legs you bring up and place on the opposite thigh.
In the full lotus position each foot is placed on top of the opposite thigh. This is the most stable of all of the Zazen positions. Unlike the half lotus position it is completely symmetrical and so posture is naturally kept correct. While this is a very solid position it should not be thought of as having deeper meaning beyond this. Full lotus is simply the most grounded position.
The seiza position is what we typically associate with kneeling Japanese monks. This position involves upturned feet angled back and tucked under the buttocks. There are a number of different ways that you can perform this position. Firstly a pillow can be used to relieve pressure on the ankles. Alternatively a seiza bench can be used one which the practitioner sits. Lastly neither a pillow or seiza bench can be implemented.
Many people feel more comfortable performing Seiza in a chair. To perform seiza in this position sit in the chair with your back erect and your feet both flat on the ground. You can also use a zafu placed between your buttocks and the chair. Some people also like to place a pillow on the back of the chair to help them maintain a more erect body position.
Step #3 Place Your Hands In the Cosmic Mudra
Once you have selected your sitting position you should place your hands in what is known as the cosmic mudra. Your dominant hand should be placed in front of you facing up. Your hand will also face upwards, cradled by your dominant hand. Your two thumbs should be lightly touching.
Step #4: Clear Your Mind
After you are in a comfortable position begin by closing your eyes or leaving them half closed. You should clear your mind and concentrate your attention on your breathing. Begin by counting each inhalation of your breath and then each exhalation. Do this until you reach the count of ten.
Step #5: Continue Counting Practice
When you reach the count of ten, start again from one. As you practice your counting you will find your mind wandering. This is completely natural. As thoughts enter your mind simply allow them to pass without judgement. Then return to your counting once again. You should continue this practice for between 15 to 20 minutes.
Continuing Your Zazen Meditation
As you progress with Zazen meditation you will be able to stop counting and instead simply focus on your breathing. To do this you must make zazen meditation a regular daily practice. You can also gradually increase the zazen meditation until you are able to meditate for up to an hour at a time.
We can talk about meditation forever, the question is when are you starting
meditative state = Zen – self help robot