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Zazen

On Zen Meditation
From Exposed in the Golden Wind - An Introduction to Zen and Buddhist Forms


Traditionally, in China, Korea and Japan, only monks practiced Zen; however, since Zen has come to the West and there is no deeply ingrained established tradition of Monks and Nuns, lay people have begun to practice Zen on a regular basis. This event has changed the character of Zen practicing here in the West. Now the ancient teaching about manifesting Zen in everyday life takes on a more important role with the student. Sitting Zen all the time is not always possible for lay practitioner. Everyday-life Zen practice means learning how to do mind-sitting and mind-sitting means keeping a not-moving mind.

So, how do we keep a not-moving mind? It is very easy, just put away your opinions, your condition and your situation each moment of your life. When you are doing something, just do it. This is everyday Zen. For lay people the teaching of great love, great compassion and the Great Bodhisattva Way is very important. To attain this Great Bodhisattva Way, it is vitally necessary to keep a not-moving mind, and only then will the correct situation, the correct function, and the correct relationship appear by themselves in everyday life.

Sitting Zen is practiced on a large rectangular mat upon which one or two smaller support cushions are placed. Daily sittings are done facing the wall, with the exception of long sittings (generally one night a week), all of a Yong Maeng Jong Jin, and short sittings before a Dharma Talk, when the practitioners face the center of the Dharma Room. If there is a question about which way to face, the Head Dharma Teacher always indicates the correct direction.

Sitting periods begin when the Head Dharma Teacher hits the chugpi three times. If you come to the Dharma Room after the chugpi has been hit, you must enter silently so as not to disturb people already sitting. As a general rule no one should enter or leave the Dharma Room during sitting periods. You may enter the room when the chugpi is hit again, either once to signal walking meditation or three times to signal the end of a sitting period.

There are many acceptable sitting positions that can be used for meditation. The legs may be in half lotus, full lotus, Burmese style Indian style, or kneeling, most important is that the back be kept straight and shoulders relaxed. The chin is tucked in and eyes are half-open, looking down at a 45 angle. The hands are held in the "universal mudra" which is done by resting the hands in your lap, palms facing up, with the left hand on top of the right, and the thumbs touching lightly, forming an ellipse.

Attention to the breath is important for beginners so breathing should be centered in the lower belly. It is helpful to begin sitting by taking several long deep breaths. Then the breathing should be relaxed and natural; the breath should breathe you.

Beginning students are given a breathing exercise. The inhalation is three counts, repeating on each count, "Clear mind, clear mind, clear mind." The exhalation is "Don't know....!" for seven counts. The breathing is deep and relaxed, never forced. The length of the count will vary with the individual; the important points are that the breath comes from the lower belly and that the exhalation is a little over twice as long as the inhalation.

All students-whether practicing with a mantra, breathing exercise, or just sitting (shikantaza)-are instructed to a keep "hwa-tou" the Great Question, "What am I?" The spirit of this practice is keeping a questioning or don't-know mind. Thoughts come and go and should be neither followed nor repressed. They all are the landscape of this questioning mind. Let go of all thinking, opinions, and desires and continually return to the questioning mind.

Some students keep a mantra during sitting. Mantra may be counted on a short set of beads held in the lap, long strings of beads are not to be used for mantra in the Dharma Room. Be mindful with beads and use them quietly.

During sitting periods there is no moving unless you are very sleepy or in great pain; then standing quietly is permitted. To do this, perform one sitting bow and stand behind your cushion, holding the hands in the hapchang position. This is the only acceptable way to change body position during sitting. Before sitting down, perform a standing bow and return to your sitting position quietly.

When sitting period is scheduled to last more than 45 minutes, there is a walking meditation period scheduled so that the sitting periods last for twenty-five to 45 minutes each. Walking meditation begins when the Head Dharma Teacher hits the chugpi once. At this signal, everyone stands and begins to walk slowly counterclockwise around the Dharma Room, keeping hands folded in front at stomach level. The Head Dharma Teacher carries the chugpi and sets the pace for the walking meditation. Everyone follows, keeping the same pace so that the distance between people is the same as it is when they first stood behind their cushions.

Walking meditation lasts for approximately ten minutes. During this time students may leave the Dharma Room to go to the bathroom. Everyone stays in place in line until walking past the Dharma Room door; then, if someone wishes to go out, they may step out of line making sure to perform a standing bow before leaving the Dharma Room.

When using the bathroom during walking meditation, always remove your kasa and robe before entering the bathroom. When returning to the Dharma Room, enter quietly, perform a standing bow, and wait near the door until you can enter the walking meditation line between the two people next to whom you sit. If the walking meditation is almost over, wait until everyone stops walking and then quickly walk to your place behind your cushion.

The Head Dharma Teacher again hits the chugpi once to signal the end of walking meditation after everyone has stopped walking and taken their places behind their cushions. When the chugpi is hit, everyone again resumes their sitting position. No bow is done at this time

At the end of the sitting period, the chugpi is hit three times and everyone does a sitting bow before standing. At the end of the formal practice period, everyone brushes off and straightens their own cushions and mat.