Thursday, September 26, 2013

Zazen Instructions

“Studying Zen is zazen.” – Dogen (the founder of Soto Zen), Zazen gi

I recommend meditating at least once per day for 10-20 minutes, preferably early in the morning.

If you meditate daily, this alone will increase your focus and discipline for two reasons. First, you are doing something daily as a habit, which by itself increases your discipline. Second, when you meditate, you are rigorously observing your thoughts and learning how to disassociate yourself from them and focus on your breathing. Thus, meditation in itself is an exercise in focus and discipline. So, if you exercise your skills in focus and discipline for 20 minutes per day, then your focus and discipline will increase significantly over time.

That said, here are instructions on zazen:


Sit somewhere quiet, without any distractions. If you have a television, computer, cell phone, etc. in your room, turn them off. Shut down everything.

Sit on a zafu (small round cushion) and zabuton (large flat cushion). This is the ideal setup. Alternatively, you can sit on other cushions (e.g. pillows), or in a chair.

Sit in front of a wall or empty floor space. Do not sit directly in front of odd objects (e.g. a chair, table, etc.). Ideally, you want empty space or a bare wall in front of you.


You may sit in any of the following positions:

Full lotus: Cross your legs. Place your right foot on top of your left thigh. Place your left foot on top of your right thigh.

Half-lotus: Cross your legs. Place one foot on top of the opposite thigh. Leave the other foot on the ground.

Cross-legged: Cross your legs. Do not place either foot on the opposite thigh.

Seiza: Sit in the kneeling position. Place the zafu under your butt. The zafu can rest horizontally in its default position or vertically so that you’re sitting on its edge.

Chair: Do not rest your back against the chair. Sit up tall on your own. Plant your feet on the ground.

If you’re sitting in the full lotus, half-lotus, or cross-legged position on a zafu and zabuton (or other cushion), then sit on the front half of the zafu. You want your hips higher than your knees.

Regardless of how you’re sitting, sit up tall, with your back straight. Imagine a rope is tied to the top of your head and someone is pulling it upward. Tuck in your chin.

Center your torso. Your nose and navel should form a line. Your ears should be level with your shoulders. Do not lean to the front, back, left, or right.

Keep your eyes fully or partially open. Look down at the wall or floor in front of you.

Rest your hands in your lap and form an oval with your hands. Place your left hand on top of your right hand. The center joints of your middle fingers should rest on each other. Your thumbs should be gently touching. This is the cosmic mudra. ‘Cosmic’ comes from ‘cosmos,’ which means the universe: the totality of everything that exists.


Breathe through your nose and only your nose.

Inhale slowly, deeply, and naturally. Exhale slowly, deeply, and naturally. Repeat.

When you begin your meditation session, your breath may be fast and shallow. Let it settle down. Let it become slow, deep, and natural.


Focus on your breathing and only your breathing. Disassociate yourself from all other thoughts.

In order to develop concentration skills, count the number of breaths you take. Count each inhalation and each exhalation. For example: inhale (1), exhale (2), inhale (3), exhale (4), and so on. Or you can count only the exhalation: inhale, exhale (1), inhale, exhale (2), and so on. Count to 10. And then repeat. If you lose count because your mind wanders, then start over.

Once you have mastered counting your breath, you can stop the practice of counting. Just sit, focus on your breathing, and think about nothing else.

If you think about things other than your breathing, that is okay. Do not beat yourself up over it. Just realize, in real-time, that your mind is wandering, disassociate yourself from the thoughts, and re-focus on your breath.

Even if your mind wanders all over the place when you meditate (as mine often does), you will still benefit from meditation. Just sit tall with perfect posture and breathe slowly, deeply, and naturally.

When meditating, shut down your mind. In particular, shut down your entire conceptual interface or framework, through which you normally view the world. Your conceptual framework includes the following:

  • Your concept (or idea) of the internal world (i.e. your mind, ego, or self)
  • Your concept of the external world
  • Mental objects: thoughts, feelings, emotions, etc.
  • Your concept of external objects: tables, trees, clouds, etc.
  • Your concept of space
  • Your concept of time: past, present, and future
  • Your concepts of morality: good, bad, evil, right, wrong
  • Your concept of enlightenment
  • Your concept of meditation or zazen

Just shut down everything and breathe.

In his Fukan zazengi, Dogen prescribes the following when practicing zazen:

“Put aside all involvements and suspend all affairs. Do not think ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ Do not judge true or false. Give up the operations of mind, intellect, and consciousness; stop measuring with thoughts, ideas, and views. Have no designs on becoming a Buddha.”

In the film Zen, Dogen states the following:

“Completely disengage from normal life. Abandon everything you have been engaged with. Abandon thinking about right and wrong, about thinking itself, along with thoughts of enlightenment. Abandon all intentions and thoughts. This is known as Without-Thinking [or No-Mind].”

“We do not sit in zazen for the purpose of enlightenment. Just sitting in meditation. That itself is enlightenment.”

For additional resources on zazen, please see the following:

Wikipedia: Zazen

Zen Buddhist Temple of Chicago: Zazen Instructions

Zen Mountain Monastery: Zazen Instructions

Dogen: Principles of Zazen (Zazen gi)

Dogen: Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen (Fukan zazengi)

Still Sitting Instructional Video

Last revised 3/29/2014

No comments:

Post a Comment