Getting Started with Zazen

Getting Started with Zazen
Some Suggestions on Practice
The Existential Buddhist
Directions to White Plains Zen
Web Page of Robert E. Kennedy, S.J. Roshi
Inisfada Zen
Clear Mountain Zen Center
The Empty Bowl Zen Community of Morristown, NJ Website
Hudson River Zen Center

Zazen is meticulous work.
Posture and breath are very important.

Sitting & sitting positions
We usually sit on a special mediation cushion (zafu) and mat (zabuton). If you do not have a zafu, try yoga blocks made of firm foam. As a mat you can also use a couple of folded blankets. It is important to sit still, so that body and mind can come to rest. Burmese is the cross-legged position where knees are on the mat with legs crossed in front of each other. Sitting cross-legged is a very stable position. Seiza is a kneeling position where you sit astride a cushion or wooden Seiza stool.  If you have problems sitting cross legged or kneeling, you can sit on a chair.
Just make sure that your back is upright & keep your feet flat on the floor.
Sit up straight. Bring your sternum (breast bone) up and out - shoulders back - yet relaxed - belly soft. Rock gently from side to side until you find the central point of balance.

The posture of meditation allows us to begin to soften our rigidities. The more we are able to soften the holding and tightness in our bodies, the easier it is to open the heart.
The Posture of Meditation, by Will Johnson.

Notice the tension in your shoulders, arms, and back - allow it to flow away with every out-breath.

Mudra (hand position)
The hands are folded in the cosmic mudra. The dominant hand is held palm up holding the other hand, also palm up, so that the knuckles of both hands overlap. If you're right-handed, your right hand is holding the left hand; if you're left-handed, your left hand is holding the right hand. The thumbs are lightly touching, thus the hands form an oval.

Keep your eyes slightly open. If you sit with closed eyes, you will be more likely to be swept away by thoughts and fantasies.

Thoughts and emotions are not the enemy of meditation. Let your awareness be a kind witness to your endless procession of thoughts and feelings.

Learning to work with thoughts is part of Zen training; as your practice deepens, this work gets easier. Be aware of your thoughts, gently put them to one side and come back to the breath. Your practice deepens with every time you bring yourself back to the present moment. Celebrate each return!

Breathing is the universal foundation for meditation practice. Let the breath be at the center of your practice. Let it be the anchor that keeps your mind steady.

Breath Counting
It is helpful to practice counting the breath to cultivate with samadhi (single-pointed attention):

Breathe softly into your belly. On the out-breath silently count one. On the next out-breath two and so on until four, then return to one. When you notice that your thoughts have drifted away simply return to one.  When you return to 'one', you return to the present moment. As you get more experienced in breath-counting, go up to ten each time.

More practice
As you practice, issues will come and go. Talk to others in your Sangha.  Read, attend talks, sits, workshops, and retreats. You have an opportunity for a personal interview in Diasan (private interview with the teacher).

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