This is exactly how I was taught to sit – which is not too surprising since
the founder of Zen Mountain Monastery is John Daido Lori Roshi who is a
dharma successor of one of same zen masters that instructed me.

The only difference was an additional step after the two versions of
counting the breaths.  That was ‘following the breath’ without counting.
Then dropping that all together for shikantaza.

I still do everything stated here (with the addition of ‘following the
breath) every time I sit.  Most times I just do each step for one cycle of
1-10, but some days if I am particularly agitated for some reason it might
take more cycles of each to settle down my mind.


From: [] On Behalf
Sent: Sunday, November 28, 2010 12:07 AM
Subject: [Zen] Breathing in Zazen

Zen  Mountain Monastery
Zen Meditation Instructions
Breathing in zazen
Breathing in Zazen
Begin rocking the body back and forth, slowly, in decreasing arcs, until you
settle at your center of gravity. The mind is in the hara, hands are folded
in the cosmic mudra, mouth is closed, tongue pressed on the upper palate.
You're breathing through the nose and you're tasting the breath. Keep your
attention on the hara and the breath. Imagine the breath coming down into
the hara, the viscera, and returning from there. Make it part of the whole
cycle of breathing.
We begin working on ourselves by counting the breath, counting each
inhalation and each exhalation, beginning with one and counting up to ten.
When you get to ten, come back to one and start all over. The only agreement
that you make with yourself in this process is that if your mind begins to
wander - if you become aware that what you're doing is chasing thoughts -
you will look at the thought, acknowledge it, and then deliberately and
consciously let it go and begin the count again at one.
The counting is a feedback to help you know when your mind has drifted off.
Each time you return to the breath you are empowering yourself with the
ability to put your mind where you want it, when you want it there, for as
long as you want it there. That simple fact is extremely important. We call
this power of concentration joriki. Joriki manifests itself in many ways.
It's the center of the martial and visual arts in Zen. In fact, it's the
source of all the activity of our lives.
When you've been practicing this process for a while, your awareness will
sharpen. You'll begin to notice things that were always there but escaped
your attention. Because of the preoccupation with the internal dialogue, you
were too full to be able to see what was happening around you. The process
of zazen begins to open that up.
When you're able to stay with the counting and repeatedly get to ten without
any effort and without thoughts interfering, it's time to begin counting
every cycle of the breath. Inhalation and exhalation will count as one, the
next inhalation and exhalation as two. This provides less feedback, but with
time you will need less feedback.
Eventually, you'll want to just follow the breath and abandon the counting
altogether. Just be with the breath. Just be the breath. Let the breath
breathe itself. That's the beginning of the falling away of body and mind.
It takes some time and you shouldn't rush it; you shouldn't move too fast
from counting every breath to counting every other breath and on to
following the breath. If you move ahead prematurely, you'll end up not
developing strong joriki. And it's that power of concentration that
ultimately leads to what we call samadhi, or single-pointedness of mind.
In the process of working with the breath, the thoughts that come up, for
the most part, will be just noise, just random thoughts. Sometimes, however,
when you're in a crisis or involved in something important in your life,
you'll find that the thought, when you let it go, will recur. You let it go
again but it comes back, you let it go and it still comes back. Sometimes
that needs to happen. Don't treat that as a failure; treat it as another way
of practicing. This is the time to let the thought happen, engage it, let it
run its full course. But watch it, be aware of it. Allow it to do what it's
got to do, let it exhaust itself. Then release it, let it go. Come back
again to the breath. Start at one and continue the process. Don't use zazen
to suppress thoughts or issues that need to come up.
Scattered mental activity and energy keeps us separated from each other,
from our environment, and from ourselves. In the process of sitting, the
surface activity of our minds begins to slow down. The mind is like the
surface of a pond - when the wind is blowing, the surface is disturbed and
there are ripples. Nothing can be seen clearly because of the ripples; the
reflected image of the sun or the moon is broken up into many fragments.
Out of that stillness, our whole life arises. If we don't get in touch with
it at some time in our life, we will never get the opportunity to come to a
point of rest. In deep zazen, deep samadhi, a person breathes at a rate of
only two or three breaths a minute. Normally, at rest, a person will breathe
about fifteen breaths a minute - even when we're relaxing, we don't quite
relax. The more completely your mind is at rest, the more deeply your body
is at rest. Respiration, heart rate, circulation, and metabolism slow down
in deep zazen. The whole body comes to a point of stillness that it doesn't
reach even in deep sleep. This is a very important and very natural aspect
of being human. It is not something particularly unusual. All creatures of
the earth have learned this and practice this. It's a very important part of
being alive and staying alive: the ability to be completely awake.
Once the counting of the breath has been really learned, and concentration,
true one-pointedness of mind, has developed, we usually go on to other
practices such as koan study or shikantaza ("just sitting"). This
progression should not be thought of in terms of "gain" or "promotion"; that
would imply that counting the breath was just a preparation for the "real"
thing. Each step is the real thing. Whatever our practice is, the important
thing is to put ourselves into it completely. When counting the breath, we
just count the breath.
It is also important to be patient and persistent, to not be constantly
thinking of a goal, of how the sitting practice may help us. We just put
ourselves into it and let go of our thoughts, opinions, positions -
everything our minds hold onto. The human mind is basically free, not
clinging. In zazen we learn to uncover that mind, to see who we really are.
• Download these Instructions in printable PDF format

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