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Zazen FAQ

To: alt.zen
From: (John Neatrour)
Subject: Zazen FAQ
Date: 49941005


This is based upon a pamphlet from the Kyoto Soto Zen Center
with modifications.

In a zendo the altar is placed in the center of the room.
Enter the zendo on the left side of the entry, left foot first.  
Gassho and bow to the altar. 
Walk forward across the room past the altar and go to a seat
	turning corners squarely (cross in front of the altar
	only during kinhin).
Gassho and bow toward the seat, greeting the people to both 
	sides.  The people on both sides respond to greeting.
Turn clockwise and face front.
Gassho and bow to those directly across room, greeting them.  
	They respond with a gassho-bow in greeting.
Sit down on the zafu.
Turn clockwise toward the wall.


Gassho is performed  by placing the hands palm to palm slightly
in front of the chest with the arms parallel to the floor.

Shashu is performed by placing the thumbtip of the left hand as 
close to the left palm as comfortable and making a fist around it.
Place the fist in the center of the chest and cover it with the
right hand.  Keep the elbows away from the body with the forearms
parallel to the floor.

Isshu is the same as shashu but with the left fist turned thumb 
side toward the chest. Left fist and thumb are parallel to the 
floor and not vertical as in shashu.


Place a thick mat (zaniku or zabuton) in front of the wall and 
place a small round cushion (zafu) on it.  Sit on it facing the 
wall.  There are several positions for the legs.  If not too 
cold sit with bare feet and leave your watch off.

The cross legged positions provide greatest stability.  To sit in 
full lotus, place the right foot on the left thigh and then the left 
foot on the right thigh.  To sit in half lotus place your left foot 
on your right thigh. Try to cross the legs firmly so that a stable 
tripod of support is provided by the knees and the base of the spine.  
The order of the crossing of the legs may be reversed.  It is also 
possible to simply sit on the floor with on foreleg in front of the 
other or kneeling using a bench or a cushion.  To sit in a chair, 
place the feet flat on the floor and use a cushion to elevate the seat 
so that the upper thighs fall away from the body and follow the rest 
of the applicable instructions.

Rest the knees firmly on the zaniku, straighten the lower back, push 
the buttocks outward and the hips forward, and straighten your spine.  
Pull in your chin and extend the neck as though to support the ceiling.  
The ears and shoulders should be in the same plane with the nose 
directly above the navel.  Straighten the back and relax shoulders, 
back, and abdomen without changing posture.  

Keep the mouth closed placing the tongue with the tip just behind the 
front teeth and the rest of the tongue as close to the roof of the mouth 
as comfortable.  Keep the eyes at least slightly open cast downward at a 
45 degree angle without focusing on anything.  If closed you will easily 
slip into drowsiness or daydreaming.

Rest the hands palm up on the knees and take 2 or 3 deep abdominal breaths.  
Exhale smoothly and slowly with the mouth slightly open by pulling in on the 
abdominal wall until all air has been expelled and inhale by closing the 
mouth and breathing  naturally.  Hands still on the knees sway the upper 
half of the body left to right a few times without moving the hips.  Sway 
forward and back.  These swayings are at first larger and then smaller 
enabling you to find the point of balance of  your posture.

Finally, place your right hand palm upward in your lap against the lower 
abdomen.  Place the left hand palm upward on top of the right.  
The second joints of the middle fingers should be touching, and your 
fingers parallel.  Raise the thumbs up opposite the fingers and touch the 
thumb tips lightly together; forming an oval between the thumbs and fingers.  
The thumb tips should join at the approximate level of the navel.  Keep this 
shape carefully and gently, without tension.


Observe breathing during zazen, but do not try to manipulate the rhythm or 
depth of the breath. Breathe gently and silently through the nose without 
attempting to control or manipulate the breathing.  Let it come and go 
naturally so that you forget all about it.  Simply let long breaths be long
and short ones short.


Do not concentrate on any particular object or attempt to control thoughts.  
By simply maintaining proper posture and breathing the mind settles by itself 
without fabrication.  When thoughts arise, do not get caught up by them or 
fight them.  Simply permit them to come and go freely.  The essential point 
is to always strive to wake up from distraction and thoughts or dullness and 
drowsiness.  Letting go of any thought is itself thinking non thinking.


Bow in gassho. Place hands on the knees and sway the body slightly and then 
more so.  Take a few deep breaths and unfold the legs.  Arise slowly 
especially if the legs are asleep and do not stand abruptly. 


Place the hands in shashu (or isshu).  Walk clockwise around the room so that
your right shoulder is toward the altar in the center of the zendo.  The
posture from waist up is the same as in zazen.  Walk taking a half step for
each full breath, slowly, smoothly, and noiselessly, without dragging the
Always walk straight ahead and turn to the right.


The art of right awareness may seem difficult and the description given 
above is idealized.  If you are finding difficulties invent your own way.  
In zazen we each must find our own way. If you find you are struggling and 
need a suggestion as to what to do, it is possible to follow or count the 
breath among other things.

Counting the breath may be done on inhalations, exhalations or both depending
on what you find useful.  Count from one to ten and then simply start over
again at one.  Be aware of the count and the breath and try to maintain
continuous awareness of both.  If you find that you are constantly losing
the count, try counting to five.

Following the breath is done by watching the rise and fall of the abdomen with
each breath.  The abdominal wall is viewed as a leaf slowly waving in response
to the in and out breaths.  Maintain awareness of the entire posture as much
as possible and watch the breath reach and leave the lower abdomen.

Keizan Zenji recommends settling awareness in the abdomen if bothered by
distracting thoughts and above the eyebrows or at the hairline if bothered by
drowsiness.  Others recommend watching contact of the air with the nostrils or
upper lip if drowsy. Dogen Zenji mentions only the palm of the left hand as a
point of concentration in difficulties.  These are mentioned here only as
examples of the expedient devices that have been adopted by others.  Remember
these are only for use in difficulty, the norm of awareness for zazen is to be
awake without preference to everything in the universe regardless of whether
it is inside or outside the body. Be awake to everything over and over again
that is the essential art of zazen.

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