Ask all your questions about Zen and the practice of zazen to the monk Stanislas Komyo Wang-Genh
ZAZEN, SITTING MEDITATION
Zazen, sitting meditation is the practice through which the Buddha awakened 2600 years ago. It constitutes the heart of Zen, with precise attention paid to posture, breathing and the appearance-disappearance of thoughts. It is also called Shikantaza = simply sitting.
The regular practice of zazen makes it possible first of all to appease, to clarify the mind and to create a real stability of the being in the midst of the torments of existence. The secret of Zen consists in sitting down, simply, without aim or spirit of profit, in a posture of great concentration.
"If someone asks what true Zen is, it is not necessary for you to open your mouth to explain it. Expose all aspects of your zazen posture. Then the wind of spring will blow and bring marvelous plum blossom."
Master Daichi Sokei 1290-1366
It is important to understand the different aspects of the posture of zazen so as not to force the body into an attitude of rigid immobility contrary to its natural physiology. There is balance in the posture and relaxation in the verticality.
The position of the pelvis is preponderant. It is advisable to sit in the middle of the zafu (round cushion whose thickness depends on the flexibility of each one), on the sit bones, so that the pelvis is stabilized by the contact of the two knees with the ground. The position of the legs is that of the lotus or half-lotus.
A correct positioning of the pelvis and the adjustment of the thickness of the zafu allow the spinal column to rise towards the sky without creating harmful dorsal or intervertebral tensions and the head to be straight naturally. The shoulders, rib cage and stomach are relaxed to allow free and easy breathing. The eyes are half-closed, placed in front of you on the ground at an angle of about 45 degrees.
The wrists are placed on the top of the thighs. The fingers of the left hand are placed on those of the right hand, palms facing upwards, and the thumbs meet above in the extension of one another, in a firm and light contact. The edge of the hands is in contact with the abdomen.
During zazen, the attention must remain vigilant on every detail, as well as on the breath. The spirit is thus brought back into the body and unity is realized. Thoughts stop chaining to each other. They appear, since that is their nature, but if the attention is kept on the posture, they disappear without a trace. Naturally and unconsciously the personal will of the ego stops acting and seeking purpose. Only the present moment remains.
It is impossible to see your own posture and it is easy to delude yourself about your own practice. It is recommended not to practice alone and to receive, in a dojo ("the place of the Way") the advice of a former practitioner.
During zazen, breathing is essential. It is quiet and establishes a slow, powerful and natural rhythm. Exhalation is long and deep. Teachers often compare it to the lowing of a cow. Inspiration, shorter, comes naturally. The body becomes strong, the brain fresh, blood circulation is renewed.
This slow, calm and deep exhalation sweeps away the complications of the mind. The mind becomes clear like a cloudless sky.
"Our inspiration is that of the entire universe. At each moment, we thus realize the unlimited great work. To have this spirit is to make all misfortune disappear and to engender absolute happiness."
Master Kodo Sawaki 1880-1965
CONSCIOUSNESS, THOUGHTS DURING ZAZEN
Just as right breathing can only arise from correct posture, so attitude of mind naturally arises from a deep focus on posture and breathing.
In zazen, images, thoughts, mental formations arising from the unconscious pass like clouds in the sky and vanish naturally. Without entertaining personal thoughts, consciousness beyond thought and non-thought arises. It is the return to the original condition of the spirit.
Master Wanshi says, " When in silence every word is forgotten, it appears before you with clarity. "
This is the reality of our life in unity with the whole universe. Without seeking to reach the truth nor to cut the illusions, without fleeing nor pursuing anything, the dualistic conscience calms down. We learn to know ourselves and to harmonize with the true nature of our existence. A great inner freedom is realized.
"When the mind dwells on nothing, the true mind appears."
KINHIN, WALKING MEDITATION
Kinhin is practiced between two zazen. While walking at the rhythm of the breath, the concentration is on each aspect of the posture.
In kinhin the left thumb is locked in the left fist, the root of the thumb pressing the solar plexus. The right hand encloses the left fist. The forearms are horizontal, the shoulders relaxed. The upper body is straightened as during zazen, the belly relaxed, the neck stretched, the chin tucked in, the gaze lowered.
During the calm and deep exhalation the root of the big toe of the front foot presses the ground, and the front leg is extended. The back leg is relaxed, but the heels of both feet remain in contact with the ground. At the end of the expiration, the inspiration is completely natural, the body relaxes and we take a half-step forward.