“Immersion removes image and form and all multiplicity from the human mind. It enters into a perceptive ignorance of itself and of all things and is carried into the abyss of interflowing unity, where it experiences bliss according to the highest truth. Beyond this, there is no striving nor toiling, for beginning and end have become one, and the spirit – having sunk into itself – has become one with the divine. ”Heinrich Seuse
The practice of Zazen is the framework for entering into stillness and immersion. This practice has developed over many centuries and offers us a wealth of helpful techniques and allows us to share in the wealth of experience of many thousands of practitioners. Although there is no right or wrong in and of itself, it is helpful to get into the habit of consistent routines during exercise.
Instructions for Meditation (Zazen) at Home
The video below clearly shows how to sit down well for meditation at home and gives important tips for posture variations, dealing with breath and rising thoughts.
The procedure in the meditation room when practising in groups
Hand position when greeting, walking and standing
For the numerous bows that are common in Zen, there is a characteristic hand posture: the so-called Gassho. It is a gesture of greeting and expresses your respect for the people in the room. The palms of the two hands are placed together, the fingertips approximately level with the nose, without touching it. Keep the elbows away from the body so that the forearms form a straight line.
The hand position when walking and standing looks like this: Place the thumb of the right hand on the palm and close the fingers into a fist. Place the right fist in front of the chest so that the thumb is against the breastbone and the back of the hand is facing upwards; then place the left hand on the fist of the right hand. Keep the elbows away from the body so that the forearms form a straight line.
Entering the Meditation Room
When you enter the room, bow to the altar. If there is no altar, bow to the centre of the room. Then walk to your seat with your hands in the walking posture described.
Arriving at the place
Bow once facing the place or row in which you are sitting. Then turn clockwise around your axis and bow towards the group. After another clockwise rotation, take a place on your cushion facing the wall.
There are different sitting postures. Every human being is different in terms of physical form and constitution. That’s why it’s good to find a sitting posture that doesn’t strain us too much. Find the sitting posture in which you can manage the meditation calmly and upright and without major tension. Get the advice of an experienced person.
Sit on the front edge of your cushion (or bench) and bring your legs into position. Regardless of the specific sitting posture, it is crucial that the knees and buttocks form an isosceles triangle that keeps the upper body upright in a supportive manner. The body weight should be distributed as evenly as possible on both knees and the buttocks.
Pull your chin a little towards your chest without lowering your head. Stretch your neck as if you want to touch the ceiling. Your ears should be in line with your shoulders and hips; similarly your nose with your navel. After stretching your back straight, relax your shoulders, back and abdomen – without changing your posture. Sit upright without leaning to the right or left, nor forward or backward.
Swaying the upper body back and forth
To sit upright, sway your upper body back and forth in ever decreasing movements until you realize that you are now completely upright.
This is the posture of the hands during contemplation: place the right hand below the navel, palm up, against your belly and then place the left hand inside. The tips of the two thumbs should touch lightly. This posture is called the cosmic mudra: the place where the world comes to gather. Keep the tips of your thumbs in front of your navel and your arms slightly away from your body. Do not use force to squeeze the thumbs together and vice versa, do not let the touch of the thumbs break off or go slack.
The eyes and the alertness of the senses
Keep your eyes half open. Direct your gaze downwards at a 45° angle so that you are looking at the ground about one metre in front of you without focusing on any particular object. Let everything in your field of vision have its place. When your eyes are closed, you can easily drift into sleepiness or daydreaming.
Like your eyes, keep all your senses open to the present moment: your hearing, your smelling, your feeling and tasting. Notice with all your senses what IS right now without holding on to it.
Mouth and respiration
Keep the mouth closed and place the tongue against the roof of the mouth, just behind the teeth. Let the breath flow through the nose and not into the mouth.
Some deep breaths
When your sitting posture is settled, take some quiet deep breaths in and out. Then continue to breathe, trusting your natural breathing rhythm. Now that everything is in place, follow your breath. It may help to follow the breaths, counting from one to ten each time.
The attitude is essential
The art of “non-thinking” in Zen also applies to contemplation practice. It is the invitation to venture into the “cloud of unknowing” and to remain there. This means sitting without words, images and thoughts.
Don’t focus on a particular object and don’t try to control your thoughts. If you maintain your sitting posture as described and your breath has calmed down, your mind will also naturally become calmer. When thoughts arise in your mind, do not try to capture or fight them. Do not follow them or try to escape from them. Let the thoughts and allow them to come and go in all freedom.
The crucial thing is not to fall into active thinking, dullness or inertia, but to come into a state that we call “Pure Sitting – Awake Presence”.
Duration of Zazen periods
With a little practice, it is possible to sit upright for 25 minutes. Initially, it may be helpful to start with shorter intervals until the usual duration is not too challenging.
Practice in the group
When we practise as a group, sounds signal the beginning and end of a unit. The single beating of the timbrels indicates that the unit is about to begin and consequently the sitting posture is to be adopted. From then on, one rests in immobility.
Three gong beats of the singing bowl indicate the beginning of the unit, two beats the end of the unit followed by walking meditation and one beat the end of the contemplation period.
With the sound of the gong at the end of the unit, while still seated, the hands are placed in the Gassho posture and a bow is made. Now stand up mindfully and face the centre of the mat.
During the walking meditation, the practice continues through mindful walking in space. Standing in the starting position in front of your mat, the walking meditation begins with the beat of the timbrels. As soon as you hear the “click” of the timbrels, you bow, turn 90° to the left and start walking without hesitation. Walk mindfully and be aware of the contact with the ground with each step. Don’t leave big gaps between you and the person in front of you. Walk the corners at right angles. As soon as the timbers sound again, walk in short, quick steps to your place and, facing the centre, stop in front of the mat.
After bowing together, turn clockwise and sit again for contemplation.