Instructions for Zazen

Instructions for Zazen

“Therefore, put aside the intellectual practice of investigating words and chasing phrases, and learn to take the backward step that turns the light and shines it inward. Body and mind of themselves will drop away, and your original face will manifest. If you want to realize suchness, get to work on suchness right now. …”

Im up early, there is just a hint of dawn glow on the window. It’s cold.
I stretch for a few minutes before settling onto my cushion and wrapping myself in my favourite wool blanket.

Im on a Zoom call with about 15 other people.
The teacher sounds three bells and we all settle into the silence together.
Most mornings it is this way.

How to do Zazen (seated meditation).

Fukanzazengi is a text written by the 13th century Japanese master Dogen.
Even though it was written so long ago and in a very different culture to ours, it is still used by many Zen groups as a pretty practical guide to meditation practice.
It details on the ideal environment and posture and attitude for practice.

I have included a section below to give you a taste (you can read the whole text by jumping on the link at the bottom of the page).
Whenever you see the word ‘dharma’ you can just substitute ‘present moment’ if you like.
And as for ‘non-thinking’….well that is the tricky part.

Fukanzazengi

For sanzen, a quiet room is suitable. Eat and drink moderately. Cast aside all involvements and cease all affairs. Do not think good or bad. Do not administer pros and cons. Cease all the movements of the conscious mind, the gauging of all thought and views. Have no designs on becoming a buddha.

Sanzen has nothing whatever to do with sitting or lying down. At the site of your regular sitting, spread out thick matting and place a cushion above it. Sit either in the full-lotus or half-lotus position. In the full-lotus position, you first place your right foot on your left thigh and your left foot on your right thigh. In the half-lotus, you simply press your left foot against your right thigh.

You should have your robes and belt loosely bound and arranged in order. Then place your right hand on your left leg and your left palm (facing upward) on your right palm, thumb-tips touching.

Thus sit upright in correct bodily posture, neither inclining to the left nor to the right, neither leaning forward nor backward. Be sure your ears are on a plane with your shoulders and your nose in line with your navel.

Place your tongue against the front roof of your mouth, with teeth and lips both shut. Your eyes should always remain open, and you should breathe gently through your nose.

Once you have adjusted your posture, take a deep breath, inhale and exhale, rock your body right and left and settle into a steady, immovable sitting position.

Think of not-thinking. How do you think of not-thinking? Non-thinking. This in itself is the essential art of zazen.

The zazen I speak of is not learning meditation. It is simply the dharma-gate of repose and bliss, the practice-realization of totally culminated enlightenment. It is the manifestation of ultimate reality. Traps and snares can never reach it. Once its heart is grasped, you are like a dragon gaining the water, like a tiger taking to the mountains.

For you must know that just there (in zazen) the right dharma is manifesting itself and that from the first dullness and distraction are struck aside.

When you arise from sitting, move slowly and quietly, calmly and deliberately. Do not rise suddenly or abruptly.

In surveying the past, we find that transcendence of both unenlightenment and enlightenment, and dying while either sitting or standing, have all depended entirely on the strength of zazen.

In addition, the bringing about of enlightenment by the opportunity provided by a finger, a banner, a needle, or a mallet, and the effecting of realization with the aid of a hossu, a fist, a staff, or a shout cannot be fully understood by discriminative thinking.

Indeed, it cannot be fully known by the practicing or realizing of supernatural powers either. It must be deportment beyond hearing and seeing – is it not a principle that is prior to knowledge and perceptions?

This being the case, intelligence or lack of it does not matter, between the dull and the sharp-witted there is no distinction.

If you concentrate your effort single-mindedly, that in itself is negotiating the way.

Practice-realization is naturally undefiled. Going forward in practice is a matter of everydayness.

– Eihei Dogen (1200-1253)

Link to full text:

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