What is Zen sitting?
Zen sitting = Zen meditation, or zazen, is an ancient and simple form of meditation. Zazen can be practiced with folded legs, while sitting on a cushion, or zafu, or using a seiza bench (this allows you to kneel with the bench supporting your weight) or in a chair. It is important to sit with an upright posture to allow the breath to flow easily. We keep the eyes open and maintain a soft gaze. This supports alertness.
Meditation was defined by one master as “Attention! Attention! Relaxation! Relaxation!” Not rigid, not slumped, but alert and relaxed. Really alert. Relaxed, letting go of holding on to anything, physically or mentally.
You begin with focusing attention on a single object. This can be the breath, it can be listening to sounds, it can be a single word. But the focus is on just this, just the object of awareness, newly met each moment and then let go of. The mind relaxes and settles, therefore, instead of trolling through and becoming involved with thoughts and concerns, memories, plans, etc. Come back over and over and over and over, as long as often as you need to and whenever you need to, so that the attention becomes stable. It is this supple, stable attention which allows insight to naturally emerge.
By gently directing alert attention back to breath or sound, whenever you notice that that you have become involved in a thought or fantasy or planning or emotion, you cultivate patience and right effort. When the mind is calm and concentrated you can see more deeply into the nature of the self and experience. you will notice equanimity and compassion naturally developing. It is no longer covered over by worries and agendas.
You don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice zazen. People of all religions can practice zazen.
During our formal sitting periods we also practice walking meditation as well as chanting. Both are to be done with the intention of paying wholehearted attention to each unfolding step, each moment in the flow of breath in a syllable.
- In chanting we don’t hold back. We chant in both English and Sino-Japanese. The meaning of the syllables is not so important as moment by moment presence to exhalation and vibration in the body.
- In walking meditation, we are not going anywhere, but simply and minutely attentive to stepping and breathing.
Sometimes people who are not accustomed to Zen practice are bothered by the formality of it, how everything during practice times is prescribed. It can make us feel uptight.
So, it’s helpful to understand the intention behind this approach. It is considered a skillful means. The style comes to us and reflects centuries of Japanese cultural influence as practice developed there, after coming from China. We have inherited these forms and use them still, as a skillful means. The idea behind this is not that this is the only way to do things, but rather that it is one way to do things. Rather like a choreography. Once we learn the steps, we are relieved of the necessity of making any decisions, of having to choose. Choosing reinforces the self that we are working to see the nature of. By being freed from having to choose, we are undistracted and free to engage the unfolding routine wholeheartedly, freed of our own notions. Leaving preferences aside for the time being, we can simply relax into the choreography of the zendo with our full attention. Our awareness is not sidetracked by having to make any choices.
What is a practice session like?
On Sundays we have two periods of zazen, kinhin (walking meditation), a chanting service, and a teaching. At the end we have a brief sharing circle where the sangha can exchange news and announcements.
If you come in after the start of zazen on Sunday, just take a seat on the cushion just inside the entrance to the zendo. Someone will show you to a seat at the next transition. When coming to meditate please wear comfortable, loose clothing that will not be distracting to others. Please do not wear shorts, tank tops, hats, beeping watches, or strong scents.
Tuesdays – 6:30 Zazen, 7-8pm – Dharma discussion
Thursdays – 6:30 full chanting service, 7-8pm Zazen, Dharma interview.
An orientation to Zen practice and meditation is offered on a regular schedule. This offers you guidance in how to meditate and establish a sustainable posture. Handling physical and mental discomfort is often a part of a new practice. We also go over the schedule and answer any questions. All questions are good questions.
As you settle into practice and establish a daily habit of meditation, you may want to participate in more offerings at our center to deepen your understanding.
- After a month of practice with us you are welcome to have Dharma interview with Mushin to talk over your practice and receive support and guidance if needed.
- We have full days of Zen practice in silence every month or so, called zazenkai.
- After awhile we may suggest that you volunteer for a training position, which helps you to include Sangha practice as part of your path.
- Experience with longer silent retreats, called sesshin, are an essential Zen training experience, available to our members both here in Corvallis and at Great Vow Zen Monastery in Clatskanie.