The Practice of Zen is Zazen
Zazen in the dojo at
If you understand that zazen is the great door of the
Law, you will be like a dragon penetrating the water or a tiger entering
a deep forest.
Zen means to understand the essence of the universe; za,
to sit without moving, like a mountain. Zen is neither a theory nor an
idea; it is not an intellectual concept. It is a practice: correct
sitting. Zazen practice brings about an interior revolution: a deep wisdom
whose essence is unattainable through logical thought alone.
If someone asks what is true Zen, it is not necessary to
open your mouth to explain. Show all the aspects of your zazen posture.
Then the spring wind will blow and open the wonderful plum blossom.
To practice zazen, we sit on a thick, round cushion (zafu), legs
crossed in lotus or half-lotus. The pelvis is tipped forward, so that the
knees push against the floor. From this base, we straighten the spinal
column. We push the ground with our knees, the sky with the top of the
head. The chin is tucked, back of the neck stretched, shoulders naturally
relaxed. The eyes are half-closed, the gaze resting on the ground one
meter in front of you.
The left hand is placed in the right hand, palms upward. The thumbs are
joined horizontally, connected by a slight pressure, and the two hands are
placed on top of the thighs touching the abdomen.
Each detail of the posture has a deep meaning. The different parts of
the body are interdependent and influence each other; the posture offers
great stability. Unconsciously and naturally, we stop acting through the
will of the ego, and we can thus be penetrated by cosmic life.
Our exhalation is that of the entire universe.
is that of the entire universe.
At each moment, we thus realize the
great unlimited work
To have this attitude is to make all unhappiness
disappear, and to engender absolute happiness.
Master Kodo Sawaki
Correct breathing is essential during zazen. It is calm and establishes
a slow, strong, natural rhythm.
The exhalation is long and deep. The
masters often compare it to the mooing of a cow. The inhalation is shorter
and happens naturally. This slow, calm, deep exhalation sweeps away mental
complications. The mind becomes as clear as a cloudless sky.
The Attitude of the Mind and
When the mind rests on nothing, true mind appears.
Just as proper breathing can only stem from the correct posture, the
attitude of the mind flows naturally from a profound concentration on the
posture and breathing. In zazen, images, thoughts and mental structures
which surface from the unconscious pass like clouds in the sky and fade
away naturally. When we stop entertaining our personal thoughts,
hishiryo-consciousness--beyond thought and non-thought--appears. It is the
return to the normal condition of the mind.
Master Wanshi said, "When every word is forgotten in silence, this will
appear before you with clarity."
"This" is the reality of life that permeates the universe. Without
seeking to attain the truth or shatter illusions, without escaping or
following anything, the universal consciousness manifests naturally. Thus
we develop a consciousness that is intuitive, original and radically
different from the habitual fabrications of "me."
Zazen is without goal, without end, beyond personal profit:
mushotoku. Mahayana Zen emphasizes the altruistic aspect of the
practice. Zazen is practiced for and with all existences, and all
existences practice with us.
Zazen and Physiology
Through the practice of zazen, cardiac and respiratory functions are
regularized. The brain reacts to stimuli, but returns very quickly to the
rhythm of zazen (slow alpha and theta); because of this, stress cannot
Zazen's Influence on Our Lives
In our perturbed world, practicing zazen means coming
back to the true dimension of being human and rediscovering the
fundamental balance of our existence.
Zazen influences the entire
being, body and mind. Through regular practice, the understanding of our
own life deepens. This understanding is then reflected in all our daily
actions. When our mind is the same in action as it is during zazen, our
actions are naturally correct.
As in zazen, we can be totally present in the moment, in the plenitude
of here and now. Our minds are pacified, without complications, without
calculations, without fear. Selfishness diminishes and we follow the flux
of cosmic life more naturally. Thus, our relationship to others becomes
easier, more transparent. Compassion manifests and wisdom appears. In this
way we can cut through to what is essential and life becomes simple. Zazen
is the adult form of our lives. It is true happiness, authentic