How to Do Zen Meditation
Zazen means “sitting in meditation.” It is the heart of Zen practice, and is most useful if done daily. It is best learned from a teacher, who can check your posture and answer questions, but here are the basics of the practice that Dogen Zenji calls “the Dharma gate of great ease and joy.”
Zazen is traditionally done sitting on the floor on a zafu (cushion) and zabuton (mat), but can be done on a chair or any firm seat.
If using a zafu and zabuton, sit on the edge of the zafu. Your knees should rest on the zabuton, so that your weight is distributed between three points — your bottom, and each knee.
If using a chair, sit on the edge of the seat, not leaning against the back. Your feet should be flat on the floor, so that your weight is distributed between three points — your bottom, and each foot.
Imagine that there are wheels on your pelvis, like the wheels on a shopping cart. Roll the wheels forward, and you will feel your body come into alignment.
Your posture should now be upright and strong, but relaxed. Align your head so that the ceiling could rest on your crown if it were low enough. Place your hands in Cosmic Mudra — just below your navel, palms up, left palm on top of right palm, thumb tips touching.
Half-close your eyes, letting them go out of focus. Breathe naturally through your nose, not trying to control your breathing. Just observe the breath, at the point where you feel it enter. (If you are new to Zen practice, you might find it useful to count each breath, starting over again when you get distracted or when you reach the count of ten.) When thoughts arise, don’t fight them and don’t welcome them; just acknowledge them and return your attention to the breath. Don’t tell yourself a story; when a story starts — whether a daydream, a complaint, a judgment of yourself or others — just acknowledge it and return to the breath.
If you’re practicing with a koan, sit as described above, and let the koan keep you company.
Don’t aim for any state, tranquil or angry. When you realise you feel angry, don’t try to stop being angry, and don’t get into the anger; just acknowledge it and return to the breath. When you realise you feel tranquil, don’t get into the tranquility; just acknowledge it and return to the breath. Ecstatic, agitated, calm, impatient, bored, rapturous, whatever comes up — just acknowledge it and return to the breath. To return to the breath is to return to life, your life, this moment.
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