What is Zazen?

At the heart of Zen is the meditation practice called zazen, meaning  “just sitting.” The instructions are simple, but the practice is endlessly subtle. The upright open posture of zazen, which can be done on a cushion, a bench, or in a chair, fosters both concentrated stillness and insight.

Zen Master Dogen’s simple advice is this: Put aside the intellectual habit of chasing words and phrases, and learn to take the backward step that shines the light inward. Letting go of conceptual distractions in the mind, we allow the breath to bring us back to the direct experience of the present moment. Each moment of zazen is fresh if we notice constant change and each student follows their own organic process over time.

Unlike many meditation practices, the purpose of zazen is not to achive any particular state of mind, but rather to investigate what’s most true in this moment. In zazen, we come to know directly the mind’s habitual activity in the construction of experience, and open up to our inherent bright alert clear reflective nature. Zazen is immediate and straightforward, yet radical in its acceptance of conditions and penetrating wisdom. All of the Buddhist teachings are investigated directly through its practice, including the nature of suffering, the end of suffering and key to living an ethical life.

If you are new to its practice, it is recommended that you get ongoing support from a teacher or group who can help you to adjust your posture and get guidance regarding common struggles with pain and discomfort, intense emotion, obsessive thoughts, and sleepiness. The only thing required in taking up zazen is a sense of curiosity and a human life — you can’t do it wrong!