Great Plum Mountain - Listening to the Dharma Zen Temple
a Seattle Zen Temple in the Rinzai Dharma line
The historical Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama was born in the kingdom of
Magadha as Prince Siddhartha of the Shakya tribe in 565 B.C. He gave up
a nobleman's life at the age of twenty-nine with the aim to relieve
the world's suffering. For six years he practiced the spiritual paths
of his time. He hoped to discover the cause of suffering. At one
point he sensed that he was reaching a crisis point. He knew that he
was ripe to break through the veil that separated him from true
understanding. In this frame of mind, he decided to sit, to just sit,
just breathe, and just be. To achieve this he had to learn to be
unmoved by all of his internal demons and attachments. This practice of
"sitting" is called today zazen. It is said that on the
morning of December 8th while doing seated meditation, Gautama glimpsed
the morning star Venus and became fully awake. From this point on
Gautama was called Buddha or "The One Who Woke Up." In this
moment of awakening or enlightenment, Shakyamuni Buddha realized
intimately that he was not separate from the planet Venus, or the
entire universe. From his now fully awakened wisdom and compassion
arising from a non-separate, yet present and unique perception, he
exclaimed that all beings are naturally in harmony and union with the
universe, but because of distorted or limited views and attachments
this can not be seen.
Shakyamuni proclaimed that anyone who followed his path could resolve or
dissolve any difficulty. If our view is wide enough, any problem or
difficulty is naturally penetrated and dwarfed by the fullness of our
perception. To achieve this condition of openness, understanding and
compassion we only need to follow Shakyamuni's example, and just sit.
Zazen requires a proper posture and a proper attitude.
The proper posture is best attained by sitting on a cushion (Zafu) on
the floor. It is important that a stable tripod is formed with the
legs. This can be accomplished by sitting either in the full-lotus,
half-lotus, Burmese or Seiza (kneeling) position. Nearly every human
physical form can easily manage at least one of these positions.
The tripod is formed between the points of the knees and the tailbone
placed about a third of the way back on the zafu. The zafu can be used
as a kind of wedge to support as much of the lower body as possible. If
the knees are not down, the posture will be no good. To help bring the
knees down use as much cushion height as necessary.
When the knees are down on the ground or zabuton, try and cross the
legs, by drawing the outer leg up over the inner one. If this is easily
accomplished, try a full-lotus (both legs crossed). If the half-lotus
(one leg crossed position) is painful, forget it, and just leave the
legs folded, but not crossed (Burmese).
Next and most important is an arched back. Bend forward and do a big
stretch. When you stretch your back it takes a very natural arch.
Without allowing your spine to become flat, relax your back and sit
perpendicular to the floor. In this way you can rest the upper half of
your body on your arched back, which is in turn resting on the tripod
formed with your bent knees and posterior.
Next, place your hands together at the top of your lap with your palms
facing up, left hand on top of the right and thumbs gently touching at
the top making an oval. The hands should be held at your waist with
the thumbs rising to about your navel. When you are sitting your thumbs
will inform you how you are doing. Thumbs held tightly means that you
are too rigid and tense. Thumbs held too lightly will separate or
collapse signifying that your mind has fallen asleep. Keep them gently
touching in an oval.
Keep your shoulders relaxed, but remember to leave your back
comfortably arched. Keep your chin parallel with the floor, and your
ears perpendicular to your shoulders. Keep your eyes and ears open,
mouth shut, and breathe through your nose. The eyes should be about a
third open looking down and forward, but do not select a spot on the
floor, and do not let your eyes wander. It is better to have your eyes
glued open than to have them all the way shut in zazen. If the eyes are
closed the mind easily wanders. To help hold your position comfortably
lean back in your seat about one degree. When the bell rings signaling
the start of a sit, don't move. Sit like a great stone or mountain.
The breath is a very important instrument of zazen. Gently prod your
breath into a natural rhythmic pattern. Breathe from the bottom of the
abdomen so that you can feel your diaphragm rise and fall. To help find
your body's natural rhythm for rest, use a little concentration and
extend your out-breath until all of your breath is gone, but not forced.
The body will naturally respond with a gentle inhalation when it is
ready. It is most important that the breath be slow, gentle and steady.
Large volumes of air are not needed. To sustain the body during a sit
requires very little air, but it is crucial that the breath be deep;
that is to say, it must start at the abdomen.
The proper attitude in zazen starts with the proper body position, and
the proper breath. To broaden and deepen the level of our perception,
we must let go of everything, but the present moment. When our mind
wanders to the troubles or joys of yesterday, today or tomorrow, we
must be careful not to scold ourselves, but gently return to the
present moment, and the present breath. To help us achieve harmony with
the present, we count our exhalations up to ten and then begin the
count again. If we lose track of the count we very simply and gently
return to the count of one. Continue this counting until the end of
the sit, or until the counting naturally drops away of its own accord
when we have achieved harmony with our physical form and surroundings.
Sensations (thoughts, feelings, imaginings, sounds...) will naturally
arise internally or externally. Do not discourage or encourage
sensations, simply see them for what they are and let them go. Cut,
cut, cut, do not follow thoughts or sounds, but do not exclude them.
Let them pass, and like the clouds of the sky, they will periodically
drift away leaving a clear blue-sky-mind. The mind is like a pond, it
is often disturbed, unreflective and full of silt. If we just let the
pond be, the silt will eventually settle, and the pond will become calm
and clearly reflect reality. Imagine what it would be like to try and
force the water to quiet; it would only make things worse. Don't try
and stop thoughts, it's impossible, but don't follow them (i.e.
don't judge, analyze, fix, solve or discriminate in any way). Leave
yourself alone, and your mind will eventually become naturally clear and
The painting at the top of this page is by Daishin Zenji (d. 1730) of
Bodhidharma, the verse that goes with it is as follows:
Daruma departed from South India
And came to China;
The Kingdoms of Liang and Wei could not comprehend him,
So here he sits in solitary splendor contemplating the wall.
--- In Zen_Forum@yahoogroups.com, "DP" <dave.dplat...@...> wrote:
I have been doing basically as you describe. It was fine with 10
making the move from 10 to 20 or 30 was very hard.
> I don't know if the feeling of boredom will pass for you. It did for
> people I know of that sit. Of course maybe it didn't for those that
> sitting but quit.
> How are you sitting? I suggest you find a competent teacher to
> you. Second best is find an instructional book or website. There's are
> many good sites on the web, or check out JMJM's site. He's a frequent
> poster on the Zen Forum and will probably respond to this.
> If all else fails, follow these instructions:
> 1. Sit in a comfortable position. It should be a position in which
> the back is upright but not supported, and that opens up your hips so
> you can breathe well. Full-lotus is preferable. Half-lotus or
> is okay. Kneeling is okay. Sitting upright on the front of a
> straight-backed chair is okay too.
> 2. When you first get into the position close your eyes and sway from
> your hips like an inverted pendulum, first back and forth and then
> side. Slowly decrease the angle of your swaying until you are upright.
> This will help you find an upright position that puts the least amount
> strain on your back and legs.
> 3. Fold your hands one inside the other and rest them on your legs.
> 4. Open your eyes, lower your gaze to a point about 3 or 4 ft in front
> of you. If you're facing a wall pick a point low on the wall as if you
> gazing about 3 or 4 ft in front of you. A solid-colored wall is best.
> White or cream-colored is best. De-focus your eyes.
> 5. Take a deep inhale and exhale slowly. Do this 3 times. Your
> breathing should be 'belly breathing' - your belly should be going out
> in with the breathes. It should NOT be 'chest breathing' - where your
> shoulders go up and down with the breathes. These should not be so
> to strain you, but as deep as is comfortable.
> 6. Take a deep inhale and then count '1' (in your mind) while exhaling
> 7. Count '2' while inhaling slowly.
> 8. Repeat until you've reached '10', and then start over.
> 9. If you lose count, or find your mind wandering, or find you're on a
> number greater than 10, start over.
> 10. Count your exhales and inhales like this until you can do it
> consistently without losing count.
> 11. Then change and count '1' on your exhale/inhale cycle, '2' on your
> next exhale/inhale cycle. Do this until you can do it well.
> 12. Then change and drop the counting, and only 'follow the breathes',
> just direct your attention to following the breath as you exhale and
> Do this until you can do it well.
> 13. Then drop the 'following' the breathe and 'just sit'. This is
> taza (clear mind). This is zazen.
> I'd suggest you only sit as long as you feel comfortable. If that's 10
> minutes, then that's okay. Just sit 10 minutes at a time. Sit this way
> a couple days or a week and then jump it up to 15 minutes, then 20. I
> think you ever need to go more than 20 minutes at home, but most zen
> sit at least 30 minute or even 40 minute periods.
> Hope this helps.Bill!
> > I've tried to do the half-hour sitting in a chair, but I find myself
> > bored after 10 minutes. Will this pass? Will I be able to do longer
> > future if I keep it up?