Zazen is at the heart of Zen Buddhist practice and is an excellent way to get started with meditation. The word zazen literally means “seated meditation” and is the primary practice of Zen. The goal is to reconnect with the core nature of existence and our true selves as Buddha nature.
While meditation can have many objectives and benefits, zazen focuses on engaging the awareness in the present moment as pure consciousness. In this way, the practitioner becomes the nexus point before formless consciousness takes the form of a thought. Zazen in effect cultivates the ability to experience the present moment as pure awareness, without a story or inner dialogue.
Zazen practice can be coupled with the study of koans or other teachings to enhance clarity. However, it is also as simple as sitting and counting the breath.
- A Commitment to Practice
There is no substitute for experience, and success in zazen starts with committing to practice each day. It is fine to begin with short sessions at first, but working up to 20 to 30 minutes of sitting per day is ideal. Meditating in the morning can help set the tone for the entire day.
- Your Meditation Environment
A quiet, uncluttered space in which to meditate can help support your practice. Try and sit in the same place each day. Buddhist statues, imagery and other accents can help to set the tone.
- Sitting Posture
The best sitting posture is the one that maximizes both comfort and alertness. A zafu (cushion) can be helpful. Body posture should be comfortable yet alert, with head and back erect. You may sit in a half lotus or a full lotus, but sitting with crossed legs is fine, too. Sitting on a bench or straight-backed chair can work as well.
- Attention and the Breath
Use a soft, unfocused gaze looking at about a 45 degree angle ahead of you. Direct your attention to your breathing, noticing the air sensations with each inflow and outflow of breath. Now inhale counting one, exhale counting two, inhale counting three, and so on. The goal is to get to at least 10 without being distracted by thoughts. Eventually you can dispense with counting and just watch the breath.
- The Space Before/Between Thoughts
Thoughts may still come and go – let them. Don’t resist or energize thoughts; simply watch them from the perspective of the formless space that precedes and surrounds them.The goal of zazen meditation is to reside in this formless space as much as possible. Resting in the space between thoughts reconnects you with your true nature, for it IS your true nature. As you let go of ideas about your identity, mind and even space and time, you reconnect with Buddha nature.