About Zazen

Zazen is the most fundamental activity of a Zen practitioner. Zazen is what we do. The preferred way of sitting is with a teacher and other members of the Sangha, for zazen is something that is done not only for one's own sake but for the benefit of all beings. When zazen is done with others, our interdependency is evident, we help and support their practice, and they help and support ours. It is particularly encouraging for a newcomer to sit with others who are dedicated and have practiced for a long time. When daily zazen in a temple or dojo is not available, a serious practitioner must create a way of sitting at home. Such a practice must be individually created out of the circumstances of each person's own life. If you are just getting started, the following guidelines for a home practice are offered:

  • Sit daily, or almost daily. "Daily sitting" does not necessarily mean literally sitting every day and never having a break. In most temples and monasteries there is usually one day per week without zazen. What is important is that you sit regularly, continue to sit over time, and that you come to make zazen a routine part of your life, something that you "just do." Developing the kind of self-discipline required for this kind of practice is difficult, but absolutely necessary and can only be done by doing it, and doing it over and over, often without a whole lot of immediate rewards. It helps immensely to have a group to sit with, and sitting with a Sangha, even if it's only once a week, can greatly help you develop the discipline necessary to sit at home.
  • Set up a permanent place in your home to sit, a spot dedicated to zazen. It need not be an entire room; a zafu and a wall are all you really need. The quiet corner of a study or bedroom is fine. It's good for your zafu to always be out, ready and available. A little altar, or at least a Buddha statue and incense bowl, is good, but not essential. It should be a pleasant place, neither too cold nor hot, light nor dark.
  • Set up a sitting schedule that you will actually follow, and follow it. You shouldn't find yourself lying in bed every morning debating whether or not to sit. Just get up and do zazen. When setting up a practice schedule, some people have a tendency to make a schedule that is more demanding than what they will really do, and this can easily lead to discouragement and a sense of failure. It is far better to schedule 15 minutes a day four days a week and do it fully than to schedule an hour a day for seven days a week and do it intermittently. So sit and sit regularly, even if it's only once a week. Some people start slow and build up; some people jump right in. Do what you will do. There is room for a good bit of leeway in one's own home practice; after all, it is your practice. A reasonable norm would be sitting 20-40 minutes 5 or 6 times a week, including weekly zazen with the Sangha. Sitting early in the morning is probably the most common, and it's a good way to start the day, but sit at a time that works for you. Some people sit twice a day, morning and evening and that's good too.

The mechanics of how to do zazen are presented in this section. Newcomers are instructed in this during an orientation prior to their first zazen period. Classically, zazen is described as having three components: posture, breathing, attitude of mind. Walking meditation, or kinhin, is also discussed.


Posture >