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Zazen Meditation

Meditation comes in various forms, providing a chance to find stillness and create peace in your life. Zazen is one such method, offering both outward and inward guidance on how to be fully present in the current moment without interpretation. It’s about being awake yet letting go, experiencing the now without getting caught up in thoughts or stories.
In Zen Buddhism, zazen takes a central role in meditation. It’s often combined with study and teaching to enhance clarity in practice. Zazen involves specific techniques, like counting breaths, to concentrate your attention and strengthen your focus. It’s a simple method to bring peace to your mind and embrace the beauty of the present.

Philosophy of Zazen Meditation

Zazen embodies a philosophy of “just sitting.” It means being fully in the present without chasing specific goals. By letting go of expectations, practitioners open themselves to a direct, unfiltered experience of reality. 

Practice

Find a Peaceful Spot

Choose a quiet place for your Zazen time. Make sure it’s comfy and not too dark or too bright. Keep it warm in the winter and chilly in the summer. And, of course, keep it tidy! 

If you have it, put a statue of Manjushri Bodhisattva in the room. If not, any Buddha or Bodhisattva statue or painting works fine. Add some fresh flowers and light incense if you can. This creates a calm and respectful vibe for your Zazen meditation. 

Get Ready for Meditation

Make sure you’re not too tired or sleepy before you meditate. Eat a regular meal, and don’t have any alcohol. Wash your face and feet to feel fresh and ready for your meditation. 

Wear an appropriate Attire for Meditation

Opt for clean, comfortable clothes for your meditation. Skip anything too fancy or costly. Also, it’s a good idea to avoid heavy clothing. Keep your outfit loose but tidy. In Japanese Zen monasteries, they don’t wear socks during meditation, so feel free to let your feet breathe! 

Setting Up Your Zafu

Place a cosy square mat (zabuton) in front of the wall. On top of it, put your zafu, a comfy cushion. When you sit down, make sure the base of your spine is right in the middle of the zafu, so it supports your back. Cross your legs and let your knees rest comfortably on the zabuton. This way, you’ve got a comfy and supportive setup for your meditation. 

Sit in a Full Lotus Position (Kekkahuza)

For a relaxed meditation posture, gently place your right foot on your left thigh, and then your left foot on your right thigh. Cross your legs so your toes and the outer edges of your thighs make a neat line. This simple arrangement adds a touch of ease to your meditation stance. 

Or Sit in a Half-Lotus Position (Hankahuza)

For a laid-back meditation vibe, just rest your left foot on your right thigh. As you cross your legs, make sure your knees and the base of your spine shape a perfect triangle. This trio of points is like the cosy foundation supporting your body. Feel free to switch up the leg crossing order in full-lotus position (kekkahuza), and in half-lotus position (hankahuza), lifting the opposite leg is absolutely fine. Find the leg-crossing style that suits your comfort. 

Comfortable Seating

Sink both knees into the zabuton, gently aligning your lower back. Extend your hips outward, ensuring a straight spine. Tuck in your chin, elongate your neck as if touching the sky. Picture your ears forming a line parallel to your shoulders, and let your nose align with your navel. Once your back feels comfortable and straight, release tension in your shoulders, back, and abdomen—keeping that perfect posture intact. Sit tall and steady, avoiding any lean to the left or right, forward or backward.  

Hand Mudra (Hokkaijoin)

In the serene world of meditation, create the Cosmic Mudra. Lay your right hand, palm-up, on your left foot, and your left hand, palm-up, on your right palm. Gently let the tips of your thumbs connect. This sacred connection is known as Cosmic Mudra (hokkai-join). Place the thumbs in front of your navel and let your arms rest slightly away from your body. In this unique gesture, you’re harmonizing with the cosmos as you embark on your meditation journey. 

Mouth posture

While doing Zazen meditation, maintain a closed mouth. Gently rest your tongue against the roof, just behind your teeth. This simple mouth posture is your gateway to serenity, ensuring a tranquil meditation experience. 

Gentle Gaze

In the Zazen meditation, maintain a soft gaze. Keep your eyes slightly open, looking downward at a comfortable 45-degree angle. Instead of fixating on one thing, let everything find its space in your field of vision. This unique approach keeps you alert and prevents the gentle drift into drowsiness or daydreams that closing your eyes might invite. Embrace this relaxed eye posture for a focused and serene meditation session. 

Full Breath Harmony (Kanki-Issoku)

Start on a serene journey with a quiet, deep exhalation and inhalation. Gently crack open your mouth and exhale in a smooth, unhurried manner. Let the breath come from your abdomen, ensuring a thorough release of air from your lungs. Close your mouth, seamlessly transitioning to natural nose breathing. This rhythmic practice, known as Kanki-Issoku, invites tranquillity into your meditation, connecting your breath to the peaceful rhythm of the present moment. 

Body Swaying

As you delve into Zazen’s tranquil dance, place your hands, palms up, on your knees. Gently sway the upper half of your body from left to right, creating a rhythmic flow. While keeping your hips still, imagine your trunk as a flexible pole, gracefully leaning side to side, allowing the waist and hip muscles to stretch. Feel free to explore a subtle forward-and-backward sway. Begin with broad movements, gradually refining them until your body naturally centres itself upright. Reconnect your hands in the sacred Hokkaijoin, and resume your serene, unmoving posture. This unique body swaying adds a touch of fluidity to your meditation journey. 

Abdominal Breath

In Zazen meditation, incorporate the quiet rhythm of breathing through your nose. Release the need to control it—let it flow so effortlessly that you almost forget it’s there. Allow the long breaths to stretch naturally, and the short ones to be brief. Dive into the tranquil sea of breath without making a ruckus, letting the quiet waves guide you through the unique melody of abdominal breathing in your meditation sanctuary. 

Mindful Ease (Kakusoku)

Release the need to focus on any specific object or control your thoughts. As your posture aligns and your breath finds its rhythm, let tranquillity naturally settle in your mind. When various thoughts flutter in, don’t get entangled or wrestle with them. No need to chase or evade; simply let thoughts come and go as they please. The essence of Zazen lies in awakening (kakusoku) from distractions and lethargy, consistently returning to the right posture, and embracing each moment with mindful ease. 

Rising from Zazen Gracefully

As your Zazen meditation concludes, express gratitude with a bow in gassho. Place your hands, palms-up, on your thighs and gently sway your body—a subtle dance of acknowledgement. Inhale deeply, unfolding your legs with care. Move deliberately, especially if your legs are a bit drowsy. Resist the urge to stand abruptly, savouring the transition from meditation to motion with a unique touch of grace. 

Kinhin Harmony

Embark on the meditative stroll of kinhin, gracefully circling the room clockwise with hands in shashu position. Maintain the same upper-body posture as in zazen, with a tranquil focus from the waist up. Begin with your right foot, taking a measured half step with each complete breath cycle—exhalation and inhalation. 

Move unhurriedly, as if suspended in one place. Avoid dragging your feet or causing a disturbance. Your path should be straight, turning always to the right. Kinhin, translating to “go straight,” invites you to walk with purpose. Upon completion, pause, bow, and resume a casual stroll around the room until you find your way back to your seat, harmonizing your steps with the rhythm of the present moment. 

Conclusion

In the Zazen meditation, commitment, discipline, and patience are the guiding companions. The rhythm of this regular practice unfolds gradually, urging practitioners to commence with dedication—ideally, in the early morning—for a modest 10 to 15 minutes. Over time, as the roots of discipline deepen, the duration expands, beckoning individuals to embrace moments of stillness for 30 minutes or more. Zazen, a pathway of self-discovery, rewards those who tread it with steadfast commitment, leading to a tranquil sanctuary within. 

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