In Zen Buddhism zazen means seated meditation. Without boring you to death zazen meditation is done with the eyes open and sitting in full lotus, half lotus, Burmese (legs crossed with ankles in front), or kneeling. I woke early today after somehow getting myself all worked up over my current living situation, full of anger, I decided to just getup, it was around 3:00 a.m., a couple hours earlier than usual. I was thinking about why I was so angry and feeling more upset with myself for losing control of my emotions. Now if this would have been the first time in a while it might be understandable, but this was the third time in as many days that I just exploded. I walked into my office and sat down, started up Pandora and listened to the yoga station, and began to meditate. It took me some time before I was beyond an angry state, and then other things came into my head, these thoughts lingered a while, and finally after about 20 minutes I was feeling better, and I had no thoughts. Sometimes I try to drown out other thoughts with affirmations or quotes. Here are a couple I used this morning:
“Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” Lao Tzu
“Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one.” Bruce Lee
I repeat the Lao Tzu quote frequently during meditation, but for some reason the Bruce Lee quote was also meaningful today.
Regarding zazen itself, here is a good quote from one of the Zen Masters.
It appears that my recent behavior indicates I am not as diligent with my zazen practice as I should be, and in my case it may be time to make it a twice a day habit. The power of zazen is that it can help you control your unhealthy emotions, and lead you to a calmer state of mind. There are many reasons to meditate, but if you are anxious, stressed out, angry, burning the candle at both ends, consider zazen as the way forward.
In my last post I mentioned that I was reading a fascinating book called the Three Pillars of Zen by Philip Kapleau. I mentioned the practice of zazen which is arguably a very prescriptive form of meditation. As my reading has progressed the author is covering lectures given by his master Yasuntani-roshi starting with 1 Theory and Practice of Zazen. It should be noted that even the Buddha Shakyamuni devoted himself exclusively to zazen for six years before attaining enlightenment. Now he was the Buddha so for the rest of us your time may vary, and yes for most of us could be considerably longer. However with that said there is no average time frame and one should not feel any sense of urgency as the journey is as important as the goal.
In this lecture Yasuntani-roshi goes further into some of the details around the practice of zazen; here are a few points made during the lecture:
- Work on creating a base when sitting full lotus (see picture), half lotus, or quarter lotus sitting positions are preferred. However there are other sitting positions that will provide a good base such as the Burmese posture (see picture below) or traditional Japanese knelling posture (see picture below).
- Notice the back must be erect and straight, the eyes open, and the hands will typically be held with the right hand underneath the thumbs touching.
- Yasuntani-roshi recommends sitting no more than 30 – 40 minutes at a time, otherwise the mind will lose its sharpness. Beginners should start with 5 – 10 minutes until they become comfortable. I started out with about 10 minutes, and now can sit for 20 minutes or so after several weeks of gradually adding time. It was not something I did in any systematic fashion, instead it just naturally became easier to sit for longer periods of time as the frequency of sitting increased. The more you sit and meditate the more you look forward to it, and the easier it becomes to sit for longer periods of time.
Burmese sitting position
As zazen is the key element to Zen Buddhism it is very exacting. It is worth studying to make sure you are approaching it correctly.
Japanese sitting position