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 become attached to a particular serene state, but to investigate what’s true in this moment, 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 consult with a teacher or group who can help you to adjust your posture if needed, and ask questions about common struggles with pain and discomfort, intense emotion or memories, negative states of mind or obsessive thought, 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!

During most Thursday evenings, a senior student is available to give you instructions for zazen and zendo rituals during the first 20 minute mediation period. If you have not practiced Zen meditation  or been to a zendo before, we recommend you receive this initial orientation. Feel free to let us know you’ll be attending and we can make sure someone is available for a short  orientation.

Zazen 101 Instructions – 16 min.

Excellent illustrated instructions for zazen from Zen Mountain Monastery