Zazen – Meditation

Assisting the mind to return to its original condition is the essence of zazen.
- Eihei Dogen

To do zazen, we first need to find a clean, quiet place to sit. When sitting on the floor, either cross-legged or in a kneeling (seiza) posturea cushion (or two) helps to raise the buttocks so the knees rest on the ground below hip level, giving a firm grounding and allowing the spine to naturally elongate. To prevent legs or feet falling asleep, it can be helpful to sit on the forward edge of the cushion.

Some people find it necessary to sit in a chair; if you do, be sure to sit forward (not lean back) with feet squarely on the ground, about shoulder-width apart. In every posture, to be able to relax the body and focus the mind, it is important to sit with ears, shoulders, and hips well aligned, i.e. falling into one vertical line. Hands are placed in the lap close to the belly in the ‘zazen mudra:’ left hand on the right hand, palms facing up with fingers overlapping and thumbs lightly touching above the palms. Eyes are left half-open with a softened gaze. When you visit Windhorse for the first time, these posture points and others will be addressed during your orientation.

It is best to work directly with a teacher when beginning to do zazen. The most common initial practice is counting the breath.  To do zazen in this way, simply count each breath from one to ten as you exhale and inhale or, if you’re able to focus reasonably well, then simply count on the exhalations. When you get to “ten,” return to “one.” When you realize you’ve counted past “ten” or have stopped counting, simply return to “one.” There is no need to try to keep up with how many times you’ve made it to “ten,” nor to judge yourself when you become distracted.  As much as possible, fully experience each breath as you count.

You can learn about other Zen practices by visiting Windhorse.  If there is no Zen center in your area, The Three Pillars of Zen by Roshi Philip Kapleau can be a great help: it includes Yasutani Roshi’s concise “Ten Introductory Lectures,” which give clear instructions for starting a Zen practice.