HOW TO DO ZAZEN
Direct Key Points
1. Sitting Mat
|When doing Zazen, use a thick mat. Legs will
become painful if the mat is too thin. We
cannot continue true Zazen if our mind is
full of pain. Having to endure painful legs
is not Zen practice. Please feel free to
use a thick mat.
Place a Zafu (a circular stuffed cushion about 40 cm wide and 15 cm high) on top of the mat and sit with it under your hips.
2. Sitting style
|Basically there are three ways to do Zazen.
These are Kekkafuza, Hankafuza and
kneeling. Of these, Kekkafuza is the most formal. If it is not physically possible to do this you should do Hankafuza. If both styles are too difficult you may choose to do Japanese - style kneeling. Some people may sit on a chair until they become able to sit on the floor.
Sit with the right foot on the left thigh and left foot on the right thigh. Buddha statues sit the opposite of practicing students. Buddha is always saving people and therefore sits counter crosswise. We are practicing so please sit as explained above.
Sit with the left leg on the right thigh.
Japanese - Style Kneeling
Sit with the cushion under your hips in a kneeling position. The two big toes should be crossed behind you with a space of about two fists between the knees. If this becomes painful, place the cushion between the legs and sit on it like a horse.
We may use any of these sitting styles in our Zen practice. We may alternate our leg position from right to left and left to right as necessary.
|Place the right hand under the left hand
on top of the legs. Make an egg shape
lightly touching the thumbnails together.
If you become sleepy or your mind is
this form may be lost. Please use awareness
to keep good form. Relax the shoulders
separate the arms from your sides.
|Sit with a straight back and always try to
achieve good form. This is very important.
Sometimes, though we think we are sitting
straight, our backs are curved. When
are sitting straight, you should feel
your back is a little bit arched. Students
sitting with bad form should feel that
are not doing Zazen.
|Do not close the eyes while doing Zazen.
Zazen is not meditation or a form of
In the case of meditation we may imagine
God or something and feel that it is
Many people say that they have had
religious experience. Zazen does not
such special experiences. During Zazen
keep our eyes open and look directly
our true self.
When doing Zazen, look down slightly about 1 meter in front. Do not try to look at some particular point. Only see.
When starting Zazen take one deep breath.
Slowly inhale with the nose, pressing
to the bottom of your stomach. After
seconds, slowly exhale a thin stream
from the nose. From this deep breath,
to normal breathing.
|There are 4 methods used to control the mind
during Zazen. These are Susokukan,
Shikantaza and Koan.
During Zazen count or breathe from 1 - 10. You may choose to count the exhale, inhale or both. Usually we say, count the exhale when you are sleepy or count the inhale when the mind is distracted. If you are very sleepy and distracted count both exhale and inhale. Please try these and choose the one that is best for you.
More importantly, become one with counting. Never think of this counting as a number. When 1, only「oneee…」when 2, only「twooo…」 Like this, we become one with this counting. If you lose your concentration, do not dwell on your mistake, stop such thinking and quickly return to this counting.
Without counting we become one with breathing. When inhaling, become inhaling. When exhaling, become exhaling.
This Zazen is only sitting with no method. This is the most simple and pure style of Zazen. 'Shikan' means 'just' and 'taza' means 'sit' without purpose. In fact, all other styles of Zazen lead to this level.
Because there is no method for Shikantaza people sometimes arrive at a mistaken understanding. There is no way to check. Those who are doing Shikantaza often think that only sitting is perfect Buddhism. This is only knowledge and not true Shikantaza.
Buddhism means to lose oneself. To support this practice we use Zen questions. These are called Koans. Some people criticize Koans because it studies Buddhist theory, this is a big misunderstanding. When we become one with Koans we can lose ourselves. When we lose ourselves we can get the answers to Koans. If we keep ego it is impossible to get the answer.
We need a good master and strong will for the truth otherwise Koan practice will become only a koan study or koan play. For this reason you must take care.
In Toshoji, we teach all beginners Susokukan. In some cases we use koans.
Indirect Key Points
1. Facing a wall
|When doing Zazen, face a wall. The wall is
not important. The reason we face the
is because if we look at a far away
our mind will become distracted. In
house, use a door or wall to sit in
of. Sit about 1 meter away.
|You should eat 80% (70%) of your full capacity.
After eating, take a short rest before
Zazen. Just after a meal we tend to
sleepy because we are full. Sleeping
does not produce such a good effect
not healthy for the body. If you sleep
Zazen it will become a habit. Also
if you do not eat, you will have no
to do Zazen. Eating moderately is best.
you are very serious and not sleepy
possible to sit more and more.
Thinking that a few minutes of Zazen
useful or is equivalent to doing no
is a mistake. Just one second of Zazen
an endless past and future. It has
power to make the whole universe pure.
if you cannot believe this, you must
Zen with this wisdom. How long and
times we sit will depend on our environment
and will. If you have a strong will,
others might consider hard you might
easy. Sometimes people say, "I
no time." If you have a strong
you can make time. It is not so good
for a long time because you will become
and your mind unclear.
30 - 40 minutes is a good start for beginners. If you wish to continue longer please do Kinhin and take a short rest in between intervals. For example: 40 minutes Zazen and 5 minutes Kinhin, followed by a 15 min rest.
*We will explain Kinhin afterwards.
4. Timed sitting
|Use something to check the time while sitting.
The feeling of time is always different
on the body's condition. Thinking about
long we have been sitting will distract
mind. Use a watch or incense stick
When using incense, pick a stick that will burn for the desired time and put it in front of you. The nice smell of incense is also helpful for concentration while doing Zazen.
5. Kinhin (Walking Zazen)
|In continuing Zazen, stand up and walk in
the room in between sessions. Naturally
downwards 2 meters ahead while walking.
are in Sashu. To do this, make a fist
the right hand and cover it with left
Bring the hands to the chest keeping
elbows up. Step heel first and walk
Kinhin is not a rest. It is walking Zen. People who are doing Susokukan must continue counting while walking. Those doing Shikantaza must walk 'Shikan' (just) walking. Normally we think Kinhin is for refreshing ourselves and stretching the legs. In a quiet environment we do not receive outside influence. Moving and noises influence us and cause discrimination. For this reason, Buddha made Kinhin so that we can try true practice while moving.
Sashu and Walking
In my Soto sect, we make Sashu with the right hand covering the left hand.
The founder of Toshoji, Harada Sogaku Roshi, said that practicing students should always keep the hands and legs, with the right under and the left on top because Buddha sits the opposite of this. Toshoji as well as Rinzai follow this opinion.
In Soto, when walking, take half a step per breath. It is very slow. In Rinzai, Kinhin is done at a fast walking pace. These two sects are on opposite sides of the scale. I think that, case-by-case, we should walk slowly or quickly. In Toshoji, the speed is in the middle between slow and fast. This pace is a little more slowly than normal walking.
When I am in Italy, we use the same pace as the Soto sect because it is better for foreigners' legs.
6. Hitting stick
|During Zazen we hit student's shoulders with
a stick. This is called Kyosaku. It
an instrument used for hard training
Kyosaku is used to motivate students
harder and reach enlightenment. Sometimes
the shock of Kyosaku can help students
enlighten. In normal Zazenkai (Zen
I lightly hit everyone equally. During
(5 days of hard Zen training) we give
Kyosaku for serious students. Most
use Kyosaku for students who are sleepy
have bad form but this is not its true
If we have bad form we can correct
if we are sleepy it is better to return
In Soto sect temples a light touch is given on the right shoulder. At this time tilt the head to the left and make a gassho (hands pressed together in pray fashion). In Toshoji, the founder said that when we start Zazen we should never break our form. Just tilt the head to the left and receive Kyosaku. After this, make a gassho and return to Zazen.
7. Keeping a Notebook
|If you are doing Zazen keep a small notebook.
If, during Zazen, you remember important
thoughts, go quickly and write them
in your notebook. Immediately return
Please note, in a temple, we may not
in the Zendo (Zazen room) or leave
Zazen. Writing in a notebook at home
intervals of Zazen is fine.
What is Dokusan?
|Dokusan means 'to study alone with a Master'.
Each student goes alone to the Master's
and says their understanding of their
The student then receives the Master's
Sometimes the Master and student may
in Dharma fighting.
Dokusan is considered a private lesson rather than a group lesson. This private lesson is very important for the transmission of Buddhism between Master and disciple. Each person's life is different and this difference is itself real Buddhism. Searching for this real Buddhism is also different for everyone. The way is never the same. A way that is useful for one person may be of no use for someone else.
The Master checks each student's life situation and level of understanding. He then suggests the best way for the student to enlighten. This is Dokusan.
Caution for Dokusan
Conversations held in Dokusan must never be discussed with another person. If you discuss or listen to other peoples Dokusan you will naturally want to use the same way as them. In day-to-day life this is not a problem though in Zen, if you really want to enlighten, such knowledge will become a big problem. This is a terrible thing so please never disturb other people.
How to Do Dokusan
|Dokusan itself is 'no ego' practice. In Dokusan,
Master and disciple both abandon common
and the feelings of normal life. We
use our whole body to get the truth.
with a saintly feeling, go to Dokusan
the spirit that they are going to Buddha's
Though the Master has human faults, when he receives Dokusan with a dharma eye, he becomes one Buddha. The Master, without reservation, kills all discrimination.
With this spirit we have to follow the rules of Dokusan.
In the entrance, bow three times before entering the Dokusan room. Enter the room with hands in Gassho form and bow three times before the Master. Kneel quietly and slide forward so that there is a space of about 50 cm between the Master and your knees. Put hands in Zazen form on your lap and sit up straight. Quickly say, "My Koan is …" and give your answer. Questions and answers should be simple and we should never talk about such things as Philosophy or Buddhism. Do not ask about theories and 'isms' in Dokusan. Such questions should be asked at another time, outside of Dokusan. Personal issues should not be addressed in Dokusan. In Dokusan, always do only practice.
When the Master rings the bell it is a signal for the next person to come and for you to leave. At this point, though you may wish to say more, you must leave.
Before standing up bow once. Exit the room and bow three times in the entrance before returning to your seat in the Zendo.
Basically, in Dokusan, we must always bow three times though in Toshoji, because there are sometimes many people doing Dokusan, we only bow once.
When going to Dokusan, do not go too quick nor too slow. We disturb other people with loud running or by taking too much time walking slowly.
Hands should be in Sashu when going to and from Dokusan and in Gassho while in the Dokusan room. Waiting for and going to and from Dokusan is not a rest time. Carefully and seriously we must always become one with our Koan.
Reading this report is a good cause and effect.
I hope that you practice Zen seriously because life is so short.