In Zen Buddhism, the heart of the practice is zazen, or seated meditation. Zazen is the vital meeting point of body, breath, and mind, and provides a way for inquiry into the nature of reality. It is a simple practice with the potential to bring great joy and clarity to one’s life. It is a practice, however, which requires discipline, effort, and determination, especially when obstacles may arise. A skillful way to practice is to be aware of such hindrances, see them for what they are – without judgement or guilt – and keep practicing. There are several ways to sit when practicing zazen:
- Zafu position, seated on a small cushion, in a cross-legged position on the floor
- Seiza position, kneeling on the floor supporting your weight on the feet or using a seiza bench
- Chair position, keeping your feet on the floor and back straight against the chair
In all three positions, it is most important to keep the spine long and straight to facilitate deep breathing. Start by experimenting with the positions and find one suitable for you. It is acceptable to alternate positions between sessions.
Then sit still and count your breath. Inhale and exhale, count ‘one’. Inhale and exhale again, count ‘two’. Do this until you reach ‘ten’ and start over again at ‘one’. Focus on your breath. Be prepared for thoughts to arise, and when they do, bring the focus back to the breath. This cultivates concentration and settles the mind.
It is useful to use a timer. The length of time to sit will depend on where you are in your practice and how deep you wish to take this practice. Beginners may find it difficult to sit for 30 minutes, so perhaps 10-15 minutes would be appropriate to start. Honour where you are in your practice, and as your concentration develops over time, sitting for longer periods will feel more possible. It is important to be consistent especially when first establishing a practice.
Do not lose heart!
For more detailed instructions on zazen, visit this webpage at the Zen Mountain Monastery Website.