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ZAZEN MEDITATION GUIDE - Chapter 06. What to Do in Sitting Zazen
After positioning your pad and cushion on the floor, and placing yourself on the cushion, you need to bend your upper body forwards about 45 degrees, and push your buttocks backwards a little to make sure they are in a natural position on the cushion. This will prevent them from getting numb.
Next, bend your upper body to the left, making a 45 degree angle, and take it back to the straight middle position, then bend to the right in the same way. Repeat this move three times, gradually decreasing the angle until at last, your body returns to the straight middle position.
The final preparation is to exhale and inhale slowly, evenly and deeply through your nose three times. Inhale so that your breath comes to the tanden (the field of elixir: the abdomen area about three inches beneath the navel). After that, just let your breath goes naturally. You might want to set your tongue-tip against the palatial area or right at the roots of your upper teeth.
Now you are ready for your practice:
a. Breath counting:
Counting your breaths out and in is often the first practice in zazen usually assigned by a Zen teacher to a beginner. This practice is done like this:
Start with your breath out counting "one," then "two" for the next breath in, and so forth up to ten, then go back to one again. The second alternative is counting "one" for each breath out and skip the breaths in. Just say the number in your mind and not a loud voice.
Whenever you lose count, you simply start counting "one" again. When you lose your counting, this means, you were with random thoughts or random feelings.
b. Breath following:
This is the second practice of zazen. In this practice, you just follow your breaths out and in with your mind's eye. This is very simple thing to do but it needs a great attention of your mind. In other words, your mind in general has been wandering anywhere it went. It is much like a monkey going from this tree to the other one, it never rests for a moment. With this practice, and the first one, too, your mind has only one thing to be with: your breath. By this, its wandering might be stopped and your mind's energy will not be wasted much like it did before.
The mind's energy saved in this way can be used in the way you want. However, do not confuse this power with enlightenment. When you lost your following, this means, you were with random thoughts or random feelings. Just resume the breath following.
Before standing up after a period of practice, you need to carry out the steps of readiness in reverse. This means leaning from side to side as before but commencing from the smaller angles up to the full 45 degrees.
Furthermore, you need to massage your body wherever it has become numbâ€¦knees, ankles, feet etcâ€¦until you feel fine. Then you stand up to walk zazen or kinhin, (See "Walking Zazen: below).
c. Silent Illumination ("Mo chao" (Ch.) or "Mokusho"(Jap.)):
This practice often comes after you have been practicing the first two methods for a while, meaning you do not lose counting in the first one, or you are not distracted from following your breaths in the second, even in noisy circumstances.
This practice may be the most difficult one because your mind will not have anything like breath as in the breath counting and breath following or a koan as in the next practice which it may rely on.
In this practice, you just sit with your awareness, always be awake. You just sit like a mountain, immovable, with an immense faith in that your own nature or Buddha-nature is manifesting in itself and you will realize it at any moment.
If any random thought or feeling arises in your mind, just let it come and go as it does. Do not try to stop, get rid of it or cherish it. When you lost your awareness, this means that you were with random thoughts or random feelings and you need to regain it.
Out of the three essentials in zazen practice: strong faith, doubt-mass, and strong determination; strong faith is most needed in this practice. The faith in one's Mind or Buddha-nature.
This practice had been practiced by the Buddha himself, his disciples, and has been practiced by the practitioners of Soto Zen. It is also called "shikantaza" in Japanese by the Soto Zen practitioners.
d. Working with a koan:
End of ZAZEN MEDITATION GUIDE - Chapter 06. What to Do in Sitting Zazen
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This is the main practice of the Rinzai Zen practitioners. In this practice, you do not have to count or follow breaths but you must be assigned a koan by your Zen teacher who has his own working experience with koans.
The Koan is usually from a saying of the Buddha, a Zen master, a conversation which happened between a student and a Zen master, or a story from the fact of everyday activity.
The Zen master picks it up and gives it to the student to work with as a means to concentrate his mind's power to break through his own deluded mind and get in the world of enlightenment. For example:
When a monk asked Joshu, one of the greatest Chinese Zen masters: "Has a dog a Buddha-nature?" Joshu replied: "No". This is one of the famous koan in the book "Mumonkan" (Gateless Gate), and was compiled by Zen master Mumon in the 13th century in China.
Another famous koan was devised by Hakuin, one of the greatest Japanese Zen masters, and is as follows:
"You can hear the sound of two hands clapping together. Can you hear the sound of one hand?"
There are more or less 1,700 koans, only a number of them are in use at the Zen monasteries or Zen centers around the world. All of them indicate the same thing in you: your Original Face or own nature or Buddha-nature.
When you work with a koan (Jap.) or hua-tou (Ch), you need to become one with it. Whenever the koan and yourself are separate there will be random thoughts or feelings arising in your mind. In this case you need to become one with koan or hua-tou again. And this is the one way to work with it.
One of the aims and effects of working with a koan is to exhaust your random thoughts and random feelings to set the mind free from them and become ready for kensho (seeing into one's own nature). (Actually, the other three practices: breath counting, breath following, and silent illumination do the same thing).
Some following excerpts that I borrow from three different Zen masters will help you to understand better how to work with a koan. Koan practicing under a real Zen teacher's guide might be the shortest way to kensho. That's why they are also used by the Zen teachers who do not even belong to Rinzai Zen .
Out of the three essentials in zazen practice, doubt-mass is most needed in this practice. About this method of practice, there is a Zen saying that goes like this: "The bigger doubt, the bigger enlightenment." You should start your koan with a doubt-mass: "What is the sound of one hand?" or "What is it that hears sounds and sees colors?" or "What is my Original Face before my parents were not born yet?" Try one of these until you got it, if you really want to.
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