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Zazen

Zazen

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In Zen Buddhism, zazen (literally "seated meditation"; ; Chinese
Chinese language
The Chinese language is a language or language family consisting of varieties which are mutually intelligible to varying degrees. Originally the indigenous languages spoken by the Han Chinese in China, it forms one of the branches of Sino-Tibetan family of languages...

; pinyin
Pinyin
Pinyin is the official system to transcribe Chinese characters into the Roman alphabet in China, Malaysia, Singapore and Taiwan. It is also often used to teach Mandarin Chinese and spell Chinese names in foreign publications and used as an input method to enter Chinese characters into...

 or Wade-Giles
Wade-Giles
Wade–Giles , sometimes abbreviated Wade, is a romanization system for the Mandarin Chinese language. It developed from a system produced by Thomas Wade during the mid-19th century , and was given completed form with Herbert Giles' Chinese–English dictionary of 1892.Wade–Giles was the most...

) is a meditative discipline practitioners perform to calm
Samatha
Samatha , śamatha "calm abiding," comprises a suite, type or style of Buddhist meditation or concentration practices designed to enhance sustained voluntary attention, and culminates in an attention that can be sustained effortlessly for hours on end...

 the body and the mind, and be able to concentrate enough to experience insight
Vipassana
Vipassanā or vipaśyanā in the Buddhist tradition means insight into the true nature of reality. A regular practitioner of Vipassana is known as a Vipassi . Vipassana is one of the world's most ancient techniques of meditation, the inception of which is attributed to Gautama Buddha...

 into the nature of existence
Shunyata
Śūnyatā, शून्यता , Suññatā , stong-pa nyid , Kòng/Kū, 空 , Gong-seong, 공성 , qoγusun is frequently translated into English as emptiness...

 and thereby gain enlightenment (satori
Satori
is a Japanese Buddhist term for enlightenment that literally means "understanding". In the Zen Buddhist tradition, satori refers to a flash of sudden awareness, or individual enlightenment, and is considered a "first step" or embarkation toward nirvana....

).

Significance


Zazen is considered the heart of Zen
Zen
Zen is a school of Mahāyāna Buddhism founded by the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma. The word Zen is from the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chán , which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as "meditation" or "meditative state."Zen...

 Buddhist
Buddhism
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

 practice. The aim of zazen is just sitting, "opening the hand of thought", that is, suspending all judgmental thinking and letting words, ideas, images and thoughts pass by without getting involved in them.

Setting


In Zen temples and monasteries, practitioners traditionally sit zazen as a group in a meditation hall, usually referred to as the zendo
Zendo
or is a Japanese term translating roughly as "meditation hall". In Zen Buddhism, the zen-dō is a spiritual dōjō where zazen is practiced...

. The practioner sits on a cushion called a zafu
Zafu
A zafu is a round cushion. Although also a utilitarian accessory, it is most well known for its use in zazen Zen meditation.-Name:...

, which itself is usually placed on top of a low, flat mat called a zabuton
Zabuton
A zabuton is a Japanese cushion for sitting. The zabuton is generally used when sitting on the floor, and may also be used when sitting on a chair. Ordinarily any place in Japan where seating is on the floor will be provided with zabuton, for sitting comfort...

.

Before taking one's seat, and after rising at the end of the period of zazen, Zen practitioners perform a gassho bow to their seat, and a second bow to fellow practitioners.

The beginning of a period of zazen is traditionally announced by ringing a bell three times (shijosho), and the end of a round by ringing the bell either once or twice (hozensho).

Long periods of zazen may alternate with periods of kinhin
Kinhin
In Zen Buddhism, kinhin , or , is the walking meditation that is practiced between long periods of the sitting meditation known as zazen.Practitioners walk clockwise around a room while holding their hands in shashu , with one hand closed in a fist, while the other hand grasps or covers the fist...

 (walking meditation).

Posture


The posture of zazen is seated, with folded legs and hands, and an erect but settled spine. The hands are folded together into a simple mudra
Mudra
A mudrā is a symbolic or ritual gesture in Hinduism and Buddhism. While some mudrās involve the entire body, most are performed with the hands and fingers...

 over the belly. In many practices, the practioner breathes from the hara
Dantian
Dantian, dan t'ian, dan tien or tan t'ien is loosely translated as "elixir field". It is described as an important focal point for internal meditative techniques.There are various points of dantian...

(the center of gravity
Center of gravity
In physics, a center of gravity of a material body is a point that may be used for a summary description of gravitational interactions. In a uniform gravitational field, the center of mass serves as the center of gravity...

 in the belly) and the eyelids are half-lowered, the eyes being neither fully open nor shut so that the practitioner is neither distracted by, nor turning away from, external stimuli.

The legs are folded in one of the standard sitting styles:
  • Kekkafuza (full-lotus
    Lotus position
    The Lotus Position is a cross-legged sitting posture originating in meditative practices of ancient India, in which the feet are placed on the opposing thighs. It is an established posture, commonly used for meditation, in the Hindu Yoga and Buddhist contemplative traditions...

    )
  • Hankafuza (half-lotus)
  • Burmese (a cross-legged posture in which the ankles are placed together in front of the sitter)
  • Seiza
    Seiza
    Seiza is the Japanese term for the traditional formal way of sitting in Japan.- Form :To sit seiza-style, one first kneels on the floor, folding one's legs underneath one's thighs, while resting the buttocks on the heels...

    (a kneeling posture using a bench or zafu
    Zafu
    A zafu is a round cushion. Although also a utilitarian accessory, it is most well known for its use in zazen Zen meditation.-Name:...

    )


In addition, it is not uncommon for modern practitioners to sit zazen in a chair, often with a wedge/cushion on top of the chair seat so that one is sitting on an incline, or by placing a wedge behind the lower back to help maintain the natural curve of the spine. While each of these styles are commonly taught today, Master Dogen
Dogen
Dōgen Zenji was a Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher born in Kyōto, and the founder of the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan after travelling to China and training under the Chinese Caodong lineage there...

 recommended only Kekkafuza and Hankafuza.

Instruction


Very generally speaking, zazen practice is taught in one of three ways.
  1. Concentration
  2. Koan Introspection
  3. Shikantaza
    Shikantaza
    is a Japanese term for zazen introduced by Rujing and associated most with the Soto school of Zen Buddhism. Ford cites on p. 224 an opinion that it is "the base of all Zen disciplines." Some people claim that according to Dōgen Zenji, shikantaza i.e...

     (just sitting)

Koan practice is usually associated with the Rinzai school and Shikantaza with the Sōtō
Soto
Sōtō Zen , or is, with Rinzai and Ōbaku, one of the three most populous sects of Zen in Japanese Buddhism.The Sōtō sect was first established as the Caodong sect during the Tang Dynasty in China by Dongshan Liangjie in the 9th century, which Dōgen Zenji then brought to Japan in the 13th century...

 school. In reality many Zen communities use both methods depending on the teacher and students.

Concentration

The initial stages of training in zazen will usually emphasize concentration. By focusing on the breath at the hara
Dantian
Dantian, dan t'ian, dan tien or tan t'ien is loosely translated as "elixir field". It is described as an important focal point for internal meditative techniques.There are various points of dantian...

, often aided by counting. This counting meditation is called susokukan, and has several variations. Through this practice one builds up the power of concentration, or joriki. At some Zen centers, the practice of mentally repeating a mantra
Mantra
A mantra is a sound, syllable, word, or group of words that is considered capable of "creating transformation"...

 with the breath is used in place of counting breaths for beginners. In some communities, or sangha
Sangha
Sangha is a word in Pali or Sanskrit that can be translated roughly as "association" or "assembly," "company" or "community" with common goal, vision or purpose...

s, the practice is continued in this way until there is some initial experience of samadhi
Samadhi (Buddhism)
In Buddhism, samādhi is mental concentration or composing the mind.-In the early Suttas:In the Pāli canon of the Theravada tradition and the related Āgamas of other early Buddhist schools, samādhi is found in the following contexts:* In the noble eightfold path, "right concentration" In Buddhism,...

or "one-pointedness" of mind. At this point the practitioner moves to one of the other two methods of zazen.

Koan Introspection

Having developed the power of concentration, the practitioner can now focus his or her attention on a koan as an object of meditation. Since koans are, ostensibly, not solvable by intellectual reasoning, koan introspection is designed to shortcut the intellectual process leading to direct realization of a reality beyond thought.

Shikantaza (just sitting)

Shikantaza is a form of meditation, in which the practitioner does not use any specific object of meditation; rather, practitioners remain as much as possible in the present moment, aware of and observing what passes through their minds and around them. Dogen
Dogen
Dōgen Zenji was a Japanese Zen Buddhist teacher born in Kyōto, and the founder of the Sōtō school of Zen in Japan after travelling to China and training under the Chinese Caodong lineage there...

 says, in his Shobogenzo
Shobogenzo
The term Shōbōgenzō has three main usages in Buddhism: It can refer to the essence of the Buddha's realization and teaching, that is, to the Buddha Dharma itself, as viewed from the perspective of Mahayana Buddhism, it is the title of a koan collection with commentaries by Dahui Zonggao, and it...

, "Sitting fixedly, think of not thinking. How do you think of not thinking? Nonthinking. This is the art of zazen."

See also

  • Ango
    Ango
    An , or kessei, is a Japanese term for a three-month period of intense training for students of Zen Buddhism, lasting anywhere from 90 to 100 days. The practice during ango consists of meditation , study, and work ....

  • Keisaku
    Keisaku
    In Zen Buddhism, the keisaku is a flat wooden stick or slat used during periods of meditation to remedy sleepiness or lapses of concentration...

  • Rinzai school
    Rinzai school
    The Rinzai school is , one of three sects of Zen in Japanese Buddhism.Rinzai is the Japanese line of the Chinese Linji school, which was founded during the Tang Dynasty by Linji Yixuan...

  • Sesshin
    Sesshin
    A sesshin , literally "touching the heart-mind" , is a period of intensive meditation in a Zen monastery....

  • Shikantaza
    Shikantaza
    is a Japanese term for zazen introduced by Rujing and associated most with the Soto school of Zen Buddhism. Ford cites on p. 224 an opinion that it is "the base of all Zen disciplines." Some people claim that according to Dōgen Zenji, shikantaza i.e...

  • Sōtō
    Soto
    Sōtō Zen , or is, with Rinzai and Ōbaku, one of the three most populous sects of Zen in Japanese Buddhism.The Sōtō sect was first established as the Caodong sect during the Tang Dynasty in China by Dongshan Liangjie in the 9th century, which Dōgen Zenji then brought to Japan in the 13th century...


Further reading

  • Austin, James H. Zen and the Brain: Toward an Understanding of Meditation and Consciousness. The MIT Press, 1999. ISBN 0262011646.
  • Buksbazen, John Daishin. Zen Meditation in Plain English. Wisdom Publications, 2002. ISBN 0861713168. (Foreword by Peter Matthiessen.)
  • Dogen. Beyond Thinking: A Guide to Zen Meditation. Shambhala, 2004. ISBN 1590300246.
  • Harada, Sekkei. The Essence of Zen: Dharma Talks Given in Europe and America. Kodansha, 1998. ISBN 4770021992.
  • Humphreys, Christmas. Concentration and Meditation: A Manual of Mind Development. Element Books, 1991. ISBN 1852300086.
  • Loori, John Daido. Finding the Still Point: A Beginner's Guide to Zen Meditation. Shambhala, 2007. ISBN 1590304799.
  • Loori, John Daido and Taigen Daniel Leighton. The art of just sitting: Essential writings of the Zen practice of shikantanza. Wisdom Publications, 2004. ISBN 086171394X
  • Maezumi, Hakuyu Taizan, and Bernard Glassman. On Zen Practice: Body, Breath, Mind. Wisdom Publications, 2002. ISBN 086171315X.
  • Warner, Brad. Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies, & the Truth about Reality. Wisdom Publications, 2003. ISBN 086171380X.

External links