Do it Right! Zazen Meditation Posture

To learn a zazen meditation posture is not hard.  It is the very core of Zen practice.  Actually Zen itself is the “meditation” form of Buddhism.  According to Alan Watts Zazen is the seated form of Buddhist practice.  There isn’t just one sort of zen practice, however. Zazen by all means is merely the “seated” form of Zen practice.  There are standing forms, walking forms, and lying down forms. For that very reason, in the West, it’s become associated with meditation. I guess maybe it’s because the Monks practicing seated Mahayana Buddhism were sitting down and thought, what the heck.  Suffice it to say though there are other forms of zen.

Zazen is a seated meditation. That’s for sure. Master Dogen once said.

“To study the buddha way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things.”

Don’t get caught up in fancy postures.  Ultimately your goal. through meditation, is enlightenment.  Just think of your unity with the entirety of being.  The Buddha sat in meditation under the Bodhi tree and he was enlightened in a day.  It’s different for everyone.  For some people it takes 30 seconds for others it takes 30 years and still others it takes a lifetime.

Anyway, the Buddha spread his art of meditation across India, China and it eventually reached Japan.  Finally, in the 19th century, it reached the West, but only with much resistance.  From that now we are able to greatly reap the given benefits.  Zazen practice of meditation is hella easy.  You just sit down and you close your eyes.  Yeah, there are some other things involved.  Breathing, consistency, mental guidance and lastly posture.  There are some important things for you to understand about Zazen posture my friend.  If you are advanced or a beginning practitioner of Zazen you need to know the best forms of zen practice.

Zazen Meditation Posture

All reality is unity.  Being is inseparable.  For some reason, body position is very important in the practice of Zazen.  The idea is if you can awaken your posture and relax your body you’ll be able to meditate deeper.  It’s really important.  Sometimes with bad posture, you can not go deep enough into your meditation, you can mess up your joints or even fall asleep entirely.  Our bodies are so tied to our mentality that by affecting one you affect the other. Believe me, it’s far easier to influence your body than it is to influence your mind. So the idea goes like this.  First the body, then the mind.  It’s that simple.

With a proper zazen meditation posture, you’ll find that you can maintain a more relaxed demeanor during your practice.  You’ll also stay more awake and able to go deeper into meditation.  Posture is a good focal point for any meditation. It’s like breathing.  When we focus our minds on our breathing, a mantra, or posture our minds can be more adept at reaching the states of meditation that we want to achieve.  Monkey’s mind tends to always bounce from one thing or another. Therefore it’s important to have a given practice to focus on.  So without further ado the first basic posture of Zazen.

Bhumisparsha Seated Buddha Position

Image of Buddha

Gaze upon the seated Buddha in repose.  So tranquil, so silent.  The Buddha is the sage by which meditators must attain.  You are probably a little bit confused to see the buddhas seating arrangement to be one of the most beginner zazen meditation postures.  This is because it is true! Effectively Buddha’s seating is fairly simple.  In the common tongue, it is referred to as “criss-cross apple sauce.”    The reason for this is to remember.  It is not the posture that is meant to be the aim of zen.  Rather it is to be like the buddha.  Buddha’s internal enlightenment from being is the ultimate goal of any meditation practitioner.  Mind you though any meditation is a lot easier when you use the right tools.  For Buddha’s sake, you’re going to be sitting there with both legs on the mat.  Your butt and nether regions should be protected at all times.  That’s why proper meditation posture is recommended.  And while you’re at it you might as well get a high-quality meditation mat so your bum will be elevated. Otherwise, it’s just you and the floor. And that isn’t necessarily a pretty picture either.

 

World Famous Burmese position

So it’s not always extremely comfortable to be seated cross-legged. Aka Crisscross Apple sauce.  Burmese position is on the next level of the zazen meditation posture.  Here your legs are crossed and both feet are flat on the floor.  Your knees should be touching the floor as well. It’s not uncommon traditionally that it may take a bit of stretching for your legs to be able to drop down that far.  Don’t worry though.  After a while, your muscles will certainly loosen up.  For this reason, you’re not only going to need a good high-quality meditation mat.  you’re also going to need a zafu.

To loosen up your muscles shift your body forward a little bit.  Set your bum on the Zafu. Stretch your head upward toward the ceiling. Imagine like there is a string that aligns your back perfectly and your butt is sort of balancing you straighten right out from your body.  Your back should be straight.  This is going to give you a good core workout.  Now when you’ve got the position down just let your muscles go soft and relax.  Your stomach is sort of going to be doing a good amount of the support here. Don’t worry if there is a little big a curvature to your lower back region there.  You should have it by now dag rabbit. realize though that this is only rung 2 of the zazen meditation posture hierarchy.

 

Semi-Pro: Half Lotus Position

half lotus zazen meditation posture

 In regards to professional Zazen meditation posture, you’re halfway there.  This is the semi-pro arena.   Set your left foot up onto the right thigh.  Yes, naturally it is asymmetrical. In this zazen meditation posture, one may find that the upper body needs to somewhat compensate for that general imbalance.  Because your posture, in this position, should remain, absolutely straight. So in order to combat this pesky wobble, you should work a habit into this zazen meditation posture.  Simply alternate which legs.  Switch them out.  You’ll get the hand of this one in no time.

Full Lotus: The Ultimate Zazen Meditation posture

Full lotus zazen meditation posture

Full Lotus is the most balanced of every zazen meditation posture.  Coincidentally though, it is also the most difficult.  This is because you’re going to be placing each of your feet up, upon the opposite thigh.  Now realize this is the most symmetrical posture.  It’s sturdy and you definitely won’t wobble around.  However, you’ve got to really remember to stretch out your hips.  Turning your knees in that position for a long amount of time can cause some discomfort in the knees.
   Full Lotus zazen meditation posture is not for everyone. By all means, you’re going to want to work your way up to this advanced posture anyway.

Seated Seiza Position

zazen meditation posture: Seiza

Now you’re definitely going to need a pillow for this one.  Seiza basically means “kneeling” or something like that.  The only way to really do this comfortably is with Zafu pillow to pin up under your butt.  That way your weight will be off of your ankles.

I highly recommend using a seiza meditation bench.  Not only does it allow for the perfect Zazen Meditation posture.  But it gives a certain level of ritual into your meditation.  A Seiza meditation bench is a dynamic tool that is geared specifically towards helping you to achieve your peak level of meditation.  I find that with my seiza bench I can achieve a deeper meditation and afterward I feel refreshed. As if I’ve actually done some sort of physical exercise to boot.

Seated Chair Position

This one is rather straight forward.  Sit in a chair.  Your feet should be flat on the ground. Easy breezy, lemon greasy.

sokushinbutsu

Dead mummy in seated meditation repose
Per Meistrup via Wikicommons

This is the deepest zen that anybody could ever attain to. Basically what happens is that these monks are so deep into their meditation, that they commit death by meditation.   As a result, their bodies atrophy and turn into mummies.  However, there are some monks that believe that these dried out beef jerky corpses are actually still alive.  It’s just that they’ve attained a state that is so deep and vast that someday they’ll just spring out of this.  This type of Zazen meditation is incredibly hard to do. You’re actually transcending the body altogether.

Basic Instructions on Meditation

Body position

I mean it’s pretty obvious that your back should be straight.  Don’t slouch for god’s sake.  You want to allow the best flow of air. Supporting your diaphragm is key.  There should be freedom of breath.  Keep in mind that stability is of the utmost importance here.  With a spine that is firmly upright, your breathing will be much easier.

Breath

Breathe relaxed.  There are many different breathing methods that you can choose from in your meditation practice. One of the most basic concepts through zazen meditation is that you breathe through your nose.  Set the tongue lightly up against your upper palate.

Eyes: To close or not to close?

Keep your eyes closed if you want.  You may want to also just lower your eyes to rest on the ground about two to five feet in front of you.  Always focus mainly on your breath above all else.

breathe

Chin

Slightly tuck your chin in.  Think of your neck as an extension of your spine.  Align your nose to your belly button.  This will help so that you’re not leaning forward or backward.
Hands
Your hands should be in the cosmic mudra.  Your dominant hand is palm up with your other hand also palm up inside of it. The knuckles of both hands are going to be overlapping.  Thumbs should be slightly touching and the entire figure created by the mudra is that of an oval.  Rest this hand position gently into your lap or feet if you can pull off a full lotus.
  The cosmic mudra is a very powerful hand position.  It brings attention inward.  It may not feel entirely natural at first, but give it some time.  With your zazen practice, your attention should mainly be on your breath anyway.

What to do after you’ve achieved the zazen meditation posture?

Now, this is the real meat and potatoes of zazen meditation. All that other stuff is really just fluff.  What you are really aiming for is to perfecting your meditation practices.  As for meditation, there are so many different methods to attain the settled state of heightened awareness that comes.  You can check out some of our other articles on meditation.  As for zazen meditation, your primary aim is to achieve Joriki.

Joriki is the energy that comes out when your mind has been unified.  It is the pinnacle of meditative concentration.  It is a moving and flowing energy by which you are unified.  You are no longer trying to swim against the current of life.  You are forever in the flow with the river.  A person who has developed joriki is not impulsive or at the mercy of others or the environment.  The mind is at the command.  Zen master Yasutani Hakuun Roshi said this about the power of Joriki:

“It is a dynamic power that enables us even in the most sudden and unexpected situations, to act instantly, without pausing to collect our wits, and in a manner wholly appropriate to the circumstances.”

 

Be patient with your development as a practitioner of Zen.  For some, enlightenment can happen in 30 seconds. For others, it could take 30 years.  It just depends on your journey and how the cosmos chooses to disclose itself to you.  Probably the most important aspect of taking on this sort of practice is consistency.  Don’t let yourself fall into a period of laziness.  When you aren’t continuously developing your practice you are going to atrophy.  Meditation is to the mind what lifting weights are to the muscle.  If you set aside a small amount of time every day to meditation, you will develop a routine for that.  You can get our perfect meditation routine

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