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The Practice of Zen is Zazen


Attitude of the Mind--Hishiryo
Zazen and Physiology
Zazen's Influence on Our Lives




Zazen in the dojo at la Gendronnière


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.

Dogen Kigen


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.


The Posture


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.

Daichi Sokei


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.
Our inhalation 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 Hishiryo-Consciousness


When the mind rests on nothing, true mind appears.

Diamond Sutra


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 develop.


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.

Taisen Deshimaru


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 freedom.