Zazen (坐禅) is bodily action of Zen Buddhist practice. Zazen is sitting meditation. The objects of meditation vary among the various schools and are done either through koans, Rinzai's primary method, or whole-hearted sitting shikantaza, Dogen's method.
In Zen Buddhism, zazen : literally "seated meditation" is a meditative posture aimed to discipline the practitioners' body, calm (samatha) the body and the mind and experience insight (vipassana) into the nature of existence (Shunyata) and thereby gain enlightenment (satori).
The posture of zazen is seated, with folded legs and hands, and an erect but settled spine. The legs are folded in one of the standard sitting styles Padma asana. The hands are folded together into a simple seal mudra over the belly. The eyes are not closed.
History and Tradition
Long periods of zazen, usually performed in groups at a meditation hall (Zendo), may alternate with periods of walking meditation kinhin. The beginning of a zazen period is traditionally announced by ringing a bell three times (shijosho), and the end of a round by ringing the bell once (hozensho). Before and after sitting on the zafu, zen practitioners perform a gassho bow to the cushion, to fellow practitioners, and to the teacher.
In AKBAN the instructor just says loudly: "Mukso!" (concentrate!). Minimal of ceremony is the Israely way.
In Japan, seated zazen is traditionally performed on a mat called a zabuton while sitting on a cushion called a zafu. The common positions used to sit on the zafu are:
- Kekkafuza (full-lotus)
- Hankafuza (half-lotus)
- Burmese (a cross-legged posture in which the ankles are placed together in front of the sitter)
- Seiza (a kneeling posture using a bench or zafu)- Used for only short periods of Zazen.
In addition, it is not uncommon for modern practitioners to sit zazen in a chair, often with a wedge behind the lower back to help maintain the natural curve of the spine.
Very generally speaking, zazen practice is taught in one of three ways.
- Koan Introspection
- Shikantaza (just sitting)
Shikantaza is usually associated with the Soto or “gradual” school, and koan practice with the Rinzai or “sudden” school. In reality many Zen communities use both methods depending on the teacher and students.
The initial stages of training in zazen will usually emphasize concentration. By focusing on the breath at the hara, often aided by counting, one builds up the power of concentration, or “joriki.” In some communities the practice is continued in this way until there is some initial experience of “one-pointedness.” At this point the practitioner moves to one of the other two methods of zazen.
Having developed the power of concentration, the practitioner can now focus his or her attention on a koan as an object of meditation. Since koans are not solvable by the intellectual reasoning, koan introspection is designed to shortcut the intellectual process leading to direct realization.
Shikantaza (just sitting)
Shikantaza is objectless meditation, in which the practitioner does not use any specific object of meditation, but uses the power developed in concentration to remain completely aware of all phenomena that arises and passes in the present moment.
Comparison with other practices in Buddhism
Concentration practice in Zen is likened to the practice of samatha (concentration) in other schools of Buddhism. One apparent difference is that the eyes remain open in Zazen, whereas in the Theravada tradition they do not. Tibetan Buddhist practioners keep their eyes open during samatha practice.
Concentration is foundational to most other forms of meditation in Buddhism. In actuality, all meditative practices, Buddhist and non-buddhist, take concentration to execute, and therefore are concentration practices in and of themselves. Some teachers do not teach concentration as a separate practice, believing that it is developed through other practices.
Koan introspection and shikantaza are more likened to the vipassana (insight) practice in Theravada, but are sometimes considered to be a condensation of vipassana and samatha into a single practice. For this reason, shikantaza can also be referred to as samatha-vipassana. Similarly, koan introspection, while leading to insight, requires an immense amount of concentration on the object of meditation (the koan).