When one tries to explain Zazen beyond the obvious instruction of sitting down straight and shutting up, one runs the risk of making something that is beautifully simple into food for our ever hungry intellect.
Nevertheless, since most individuals in our culture may have difficulties at first to appreciate the direct and radical openness of Zazen, allow me to spit out a few additional words.
Zazen, which literally means „sitting meditation“, is a direct awareness practice we might want to call silent sitting, Shikantaza or pure (in the sense of „nothing other“) sitting.
This way of silent sitting is the essential practice expression of Moon Mountain.
The moment „we“ seperate ourselves from our open, radiant and intimate nature, heaven and earth are split asunder.
Unfortunately, we do this all the time.
By practising Zazen daily, followers of this practise approach aim to cultivate a habit which at the very least allows them to learn how to rest within the activities of their busy minds, without being attached to them and without the need to judge them.
As the ability to rest becomes stronger, recognising the deeper intimacy of our experience becomes a distinct possibility.
Of course, the question arises how far one really wants to follow the white rabbit down its hole.
Zazen is no stress reduction or wellness technique, it is a living approach to facing reality directly and consciously, again and again. Rather than trying to search for reality and awakening over the hills and far away, Zazen itself is a living expression and celebration of our fundamental and timeless Buddha nature.
Although this path is theoretically open to everyone, it may not resonate with each and every practitioner in the same way. Luckily there are many authentic Buddhist practise paths available for seekers to choose from. At Moon Mountain we do not waste our time by trying to convince people that Zazen is the only game in town worth playing. In master Dogen’s FUKANZAZENGI (Nishijima/Cross translation), some practical key points are expressed in the following way:
In general, a quiet room is good for practicing zazen, and food and drink are taken in moderation. Cast aside all involvements. Give the myriad things a rest. Do not think of good and bad. Do not consider right and wrong. Stop the driving movement of mind, will, consciousness. Cease intellectual consideration through images, thoughts, and reflections. Do not aim to become a buddha. How could [this] be connected with sitting or lying down?
We usually spread a thick mat on the place where we sit, and use a round cushion on top of that. Either sit in the full lotus posture or sit in the half lotus posture. To sit in the full lotus posture, first put the right foot on the left thigh, then put the left foot on the right thigh. To sit in the half lotus posture, just press the left foot onto the right thigh.
Spread the clothing loosely and make it neat. Then put the right hand above the left foot, and place the left hand on the right palm. The thumbs meet and support each other. Just make the body upright and sit up straight. Do not lean to the left, incline to the right, slouch forward, or lean backward. The ears must be aligned with the shoulders, and the nose aligned with the navel. Hold the tongue against the palate, keep the lips and teeth closed, and keep the eyes open. Breathe softly through the nose. When the physical posture is already settled, make one complete exhalation and sway left and right. Sitting immovably in the mountain-still state, ìThink about this concrete state beyond thinking. How can the state beyond thinking be thought about? It is different from thinking.
In BENDOWA, Master Dogen quotes another ancient master’s words:
Sitting in zazen is the peaceful and joyful gate of Dharma.
It may seem strange at first that a practise involving the possibility of discomfort due to prolonged sitting should be seen as joyful, but it can actually be rather wonderful.
Btw. if due to your age, illness or other factors, you cannot sit on the ground anymore, you are welcome to sit upright in a chair as well.
No matter what your metaphysical outlook on life may be, the power and depth of sitting in silence is a blessing beyond compare.
Both the BENDOWA and FUKANZAZENGI chapters can be found in the wonderfully accurate Nishijima/Cross translation of the Master Dogen’s Shobogenzo.
The four volumes are freely available at the BDK (Bukkyo Dendo Kyokai America) website: