Oneness - True Faith
Za-Zen Posted on: 2006/1/25 13:08
[Japanese : za, to sit down (from Middle Chinese dzua) + zen, silent meditation; see Zen.]


Kodo Sawaki practicing zazenZazen is at the heart of Zen Buddhist practice. Zazen is different from other meditation in that it uses no meditation object or concept to focus on. The aim of Zazen is to first still the mind. Then after years of practice to reach a state of pure thought free wakefulness so that the mind can realize its own Buddha nature.

In Zen Buddhism, sitting meditation or zazen (Japanese: 座禅; literally "seated concentration") is a meditative discipline practitioners perform to calm the body and the mind and experience insight into the nature of existence. While the term originally referred to a sitting practice, it is now commonly used to refer to practices in any posture, such as walking.

During zazen, the hands are folded together into a simple mudra over the belly. In many practices, one breathes from the hara (the center of gravity in the belly) and the eyelids are half-lowered, the eyes being neither fully open nor shut so that the practioner is not distracted by outside objects but at the same time is kept awake. (The latter practice has its origins in a superstition where those who close their eyes during meditation are said to be in the hungry ghost cave of Black Mountain.) Keeping the eyes only half way closed keeps the practitioner from becoming involved in visual distractions, but still allows light to come into the eyes to keep the practitioner awake.

History and Tradition
Long periods of zazen, usually performed in groups at a zendo (meditation hall), may alternate with periods of kinhin (walking meditation). The beginning of a zazen period is traditionally announced by ringing a bell three times (shijosho), and the end of a round by ringing the bell once (hozensho). Before and after sitting on the zafu, zen practitioners perform a gassho bow to the cushion, to fellow practitioners, and to the teacher.

In Japan, seated zazen is traditionally performed on a mat called a zabuton while sitting on a cushion called a zafu. The common positions used to sit on the zafu are:

kekkafuza (full-lotus)
hankafuza (half-lotus)
Burmese (a cross-legged posture in which the ankles are placed together in front of the sitter)
seiza (a kneeling posture using a bench or zafu)
In addition, it is not uncommon for modern practitioners to sit zazen in a chair, often with a wedge behind the lower back to help maintain the natural curve of the spine.

Misconceptions about Zazen
To many in the West, zazen is an almost completely unfamiliar practice, which leaves an opportunity for many misconceptions to spring up. One common misconception is that zazen meditation entails the shutting out of all worldly stimuli in order to reach some special, superior state of mind. For example, in the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, the character Li Mu Bai (李慕白) (played by Chow Yun Fat) describes reaching a frame of mind during meditation which is "pure light". While the zazen experience is inherently different for each practitioner, and such phenomena are not at all out of the question, such states of mind are not the goal of zazen.

However, to many who practice zazen there is a direct correlation between the cultivation of a focused state of mind and a relaxed body (Johanus Itten, Elements of Color) which is often achieved in martial art activities as well as Chinese, Japanese, and even Western practices of painting and calligraphy, for these are Fine Arts. In these arts the medium is unifying and technique must be "correct" therefore one has to begin with this "zanshin" state of being before executing the work of art, so that the work is executed with an almost certain action. This process takes "endless practice, and many mistakes that have to constantly be corrected in detail." Meditation to the zen practitioner does not take on a dogmatic theological pantheon of worship, but instead is considered the foundation of a rational and natural inquiry into the reality of nature. Enlightenment is theorized as a focused state of mind and a relaxed body that allows one to approximate certainty about the reality of nature. The arts in these cultures were often used as a way for perfecting this discipline, but were not meant to inflate the ego as a desire for greatness in the particular field that such practices occurred. Instead, it seems that they would use the practices to further their ability to meditate and reach a certain truth about nature. It is important to note that Zazen holds meditation as foundational and self evident and this has an interesting correlation to Western philosophy's a priori Rationalism, which stemmed from René Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy. It is a particularly interesting position in human culture, but it does not necessarily resolve the problem of mind and solipsism in philosophy, however the practice is a cogent one and not to be misunderstood. Like western philosophy, it is a critical discipline.
Transfer Print PDF Bookmark Top
Re: Za-Zen Posted on: 2006/1/25 17:37
Oh My Zan,

A long post...

We have had the delightful opportunity to discuss this in private and I know I promised to be more outward in our talks with others, so I am keeping that promise today.

Yes, I am a practitioner of zazan and have been for more than 15 years. A beginner at best. I am reminded of this humbly when I visit with the monks who visit our area each year who have masterd it so well. Yet I do not give up. I learn by their example and continue onward.

When I was teaching Martial Arts and had 12 hours a day to devote to such practice, it was easy to live in this state.

Yet as the world called me to outside resposnsiblities, raising 10 children, another choice. I placed my spiritual practices and meditation priorities outside of my spiritual practice more than I am happy to report. I am down to a mere hour a day at this time. This seems to me a huge change. I know though every moment is an opportunity to enter the correct state and I choose them as frequently as I can, knowing one day I can choose differently once again.

Here is my story...I began the practice sitting for long periods of time.

My mind was undisciplined and wandering thoughts seemed to rule my practice for months. Then it began to happen. I did not give up or give in.

I showed great tenacity every day of the week. Many others shook their heads. I didn't let this sway me or my dedication to such a practice.

I took the sitting to Tai Chi walking and would walk around and around the training hall for endless hours. To test my focus and alertness my Master Teacher carried a bamboo stick, which he would just out of the blue come up and attempt to strike practicing students with. Once I was hit. Perhaps my eyes had closed or I was daydreaming. I do not remember. Never again. I am a quick study it turns out. I hated to be struck!Yes, it does leave a mark both outwardly and a deep spiritual one as well! It was a lesson not to be easily forgotten.

From the training floor my Master sent me to the woods, which I adored. I came alive in many ways. I began practicing by daylight and later by moonlight. Later as a teacher myself I would train others in this way. As my practice continued, my senses awakened to even deeper levels than ever before. One day it was just the way. The natural way. It has remained with me, a part of my inner practice ever since.

Please consider meditation in your daily lives...
It makes such a difference.

Love and Gratitude,
Transfer Print PDF Bookmark Top
Top Previous Topic Next Topic
Register To Post