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"Buddha and Cat on Blue Background" by Andrew Hudson 1992  

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Zazen Basics

    We call Zen a practice - it is a path that requires practice to follow.

    Zazen is seated meditation and is at the heart of Zen practice. This section will guide you...


    Introduction

    Zazen is at the heart of Zen; it opens the eye to wisdom and the heart to compassion. When you sit in Zazen, you return to the present moment again and again. In this way you learn to experience your life vividly, without a veil of thoughts and fantasies clouding your mind.

    Practice

    Ideally sit in a clean tidy room, in moderate light, at a moderate temperature. It is lovely to arrange a special place and establish a little altar with flowers, candles and a Buddha image.

    Once a day

    Try and sit at least once a day, starting with say, 10 minutes. Most find it best to have a set time and place i.e. early morning. In the Zendo each sit is generally 25 minutes; work towards that in your home sitting.

    Zen is a practice

    A practice is something that we offer ourselves to, again and again. We tend to evaluate our practice: 'I'm doing well' or 'that was lousy'. But really, our practice ripens in the dark, untouched by our restricted notions of 'good' and 'bad'.


    Doing Zazen

    Zazen is meticulous work; posture and breath are very important.

    Sitting

    We usually sit on a special mediation cushion (zafu) and mat (zabuton). If you do not have a zafu, try yoga blocks made of firm foam. As a mat you can also use a couple of folded blankets. It is important to sit still, so that body and mind can come to rest. You can also sit on a chair. Just make sure that your back is upright.

    Sitting positions

    Try out various sitting positions until you find one that is comfortable for you. Sitting cross-legged is a very stable position. Burmese is the cross-legged position where knees are on the mat with legs crossed in front of each other. Seiza is a kneeling position where you sit astride a cushion or wooden Seiza stool.

    Posture

    Sit up straight. Bring your sternum (breast bone) up and out - shoulders relaxed - belly soft. Rock gently from side to side until you find the central point of balance.

    The posture of meditation allows us to begin to soften our rigidities. The more we are able to soften the holding and tightness in our bodies, the easier it is to open the heart.

    Notice the tension in your shoulders, arms, and back - allow it to flow away with every out-breath.

    Mudra (hand position)

    Rest your right hand on your thigh, place your left hand on top with thumb tips lightly touching.

    Eyes

    Keep your eyes slightly open. If you sit with closed eyes, you will be more likely to be swept away by thoughts and fantasies.

    Mind

    Thoughts and emotions are not the enemy of meditation. Let your awareness be a kind witness to your endless procession of thoughts and feelings.

    Learning to work with thoughts is part of Zen training; as your practice deepens, this work gets easier. Be aware of your thoughts, gently put it to one side and come back to the breath. Your practice deepens with every time you bring yourself back to the present moment. Celebrate each return!

    Breathing

    Breathing is the universal foundation for meditation practice. Let the breath be at the center of your practice. Let it be the anchor that keeps your mind steady.

    Breath Counting

    It is helpful to practice counting the breath to cultivate samadhi (single-pointed attention):

    Breathe softly into your belly. On the out-breath silently count one. On the next out-breath two and so on until ten, then return to one. When you notice that your thoughts have drifted away simply return to one When you return to 'one', you return to the present moment. As you get more experienced in breath-counting, go up to ten each time.

    More practice

    As you practice, issues will come and go. Talk to others in the Sangha. Read, attend talks, sits, workshops, and retreats. All will come with practice.


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