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The Practice of Zazen

It is important to understand the various aspects of the zazen posture so as not to force the body into a stance of rigid immobility which goes against its natural physiology. There is balance and relaxation in the verticality of the posture.

The position of the pelvis is very important. It is best to sit in the middle of the zafu (a round cushion, the thickness of which is determined by each person’s flexibility), on the ischia (sitting bones), so that the pelvis is stabilised by the contact of the two knees on the ground. The legs should be in the lotus or half-lotus position.

Correct positioning of the pelvis and proper adjustment of zafu thickness will allow the spine to straighten towards the sky without creating tension in the back muscles (causing tightness and harmful vertebral compression). The head is naturally upright. The shoulders, ribcage, and abdomen are relaxed, permitting free and easy breathing. The eyes are half closed and directed forward at an angle of approximately 45°.

The wrists are placed on the top of the thighs. The fingers of the left hand lie on top of those of the right hand, palms turned up, with the thumbs touching each other in the centre firmly but lightly, making a straight line. The edges of the hands are against the abdomen.

During zazen, vigilant attention is paid to each detail as well as to the breathing. Thus, the mind is brought back in the body and unity is realised. The thoughts no longer form a chain. They appear, since this is their nature, but if attention is kept on the posture, they disappear without leaving a trace. Naturally and unconsciously the personal will of the ego ceases acting and seeking a goal. Only the present moment remains.

It is impossible to see your own posture and it is easy to delude yourself in your practice. It is recommended that you not practice alone but receive advice from an experienced practitioner in a dojo (“the place of the Way”).

Difficulties

Many people who are attracted to the practice of zazen sometimes find it too difficult and find themselves confronted with pain in the legs or back or with internal struggles and resistance which is contrary to meditation’s true spirit of abandonment. Often the experience is a negative one even though meditation is the gateway to joy, peace and fullness.

Meditation apprenticeship requires patience and understanding. To contemplate the infinite from the top of the mountain, it must first be climbed, and it is as much a business of physical condition as it is one of deep motivation. Everybody is different, and each person must take him/herself in hand to accomplish the path.

It is possible to practice meditation in “seiza” (on your knees sitting on a cushion or small bench) or even on a chair. The important thing is to keep the back straight and learn to relax in order to open up to the awareness of your own silent presence.

Articles on Zazen Posture by Guy Mokuho Mercier