Dogen Sangha Blog

  by Gudo NISHIJIMA

Japanese / German

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Sitting Alternatives.

Master Gudo,

I know that traditionally that one needs to be in the Full Lotus or Half Lotus in order to technicallt be doing Zazen. Are there any exceptions?

I think that I tired a little to aggresively to get into the half-lotus and as a result have severly strained the Lateral Collateral Ligament in my right knee. Even the Burmese postition hurts. What about chair sitting or a seiza bench?

Thank you in advance.

Al


Dear Al San

Thank you very much for your questions, and unfortunately to the first question whether we can select another posture other than the Full Lotus Posture or Half Lotus Posture, my answers are negative.
Because the Full Lotus Posture or Half Lotus Posture have been used since when Gautama Buddha has
begun the practice of Zazen, and such kinds of methods haven't been changed for about 2,500 years
in Buddhist Societies at all. Therefore if we want to change the method of practice, it suggests that we want to change the Gautama Buddha'practice itself, and so it suggests that we want to change the Buddhist teachings themselves. Therefore it is completely impossible for me to avoid the method of Half Lotus Posture or Full Lotus Posture.
During it is painful for us to utilize Full Lotus Posture, it is necessary for us to use the method of Half Lotus Posture. And we should change the right and left legs when it is necessary. Because we can think that the reason why Gautama Buddha decided that Half Lotus Posture was also the authentic posture in Zazen, came from Gautama Buddha's very kind benevolence.
But at the same time Buddhism can never be a kind of asceticism, and so we should make our efforts to prepare the conditions and methods of practicing Zazen easier, as far as possible.
For example if the room, which is used for Zazen, is wooden-floored, we must use mat, carpet, and so forth, and we should guard our feet, legs, knees, and so forth carefully.
In the case of Western people, their legs are usually much longer than Eastern people, and so generally speaking, the Western people should usually use thicker and higher Zafus, or cussions for Zazen, than the case of the Eastern people.
If it is difficult for us to find such a thick and high Zafu, we can use a blanket, which is being folded many times in stead of a big Zafu.
It was very big benevolence of Gautama Buddha, that he had presented us the very excellent method to make our autonomic nervous system balanced in a few moments, and so it is our duty that we make the conditions of Zazen easier as far as possible.
But at the same time it is also necessary for us to pass some kind of painful process to get the Truth, and so it is necessary for us to experience such efforts in our daily practice too.

Even though in Soto Sect recently they sometimes recommend for secular practioners to use chairs for Zazen, but I think that such a kind of idea might be serious rebellion against Gautama Buddhas' teachings.

In the case of utilizing seiza chair, I think that the practitioner will avoid the suppresing their legs with the weight of their body, and so the effects of Zazen might be decreased.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

7 Comments:

Blogger keishin.ni said...

Dear Al:
I saw your question. I also have experienced difficulty sitting because of my knees. For some reason (I have a shallow groove for one of the stabilizing ligaments) my knees subluxate (go 'off track'--a 'mild' dislocation) rather easily. This is extremely painful, as I'm sure you know.
For me, the solution has been to sit Burmese style on a zafu with a small pillow under each knee. I then have a good stable position--base of spine, and each knee in good solid contact with the floor thanks to the cushions. The lateral sides of my feet are also in contact with the floor, but their contact is not a weight bearing function and does not influence my posture.

I hope you find a good stable position to maintain good posture. It really is very important.

I look forward to learning also from Nishijima Roshi's answer to your question.

gassho
Keishin

1:40 AM, August 22, 2007  
Blogger Al Coleman said...

Keishin,

Thank you for the comment. i'll try the pillows. One of my issues is that my right hip is EXTREMELY tight. I was a baseball player for the fist 26 years of my life and my right leg was my posting leg and shortened over time. When I sit in the Burmese position, my left knee ca n touch the floor but my right knee is closet about 8 inches off the foor. A regular streching routine has been of no help. My wife had bought me a seiza bench at a yard sale and that's what I have been using, but I feel that based on what I have read that I'm not authentically practicing when using a seiza bench. i await Nishijima's response.

2:51 AM, August 22, 2007  
Blogger Mysterion said...

Look further down the page...

Chas said:
"I no longer sit Zazen (2 years now) due to hip pain. Sitting meditation for me is sitting in a firm chair."

Gudo Wafu Nishijima said:
(Unfortunately without Zazen there is no Buddhism at all.)

[THWAK!!!]

So I think a thicker pillow may be o.k. And Yoga exercise helps. I found that taking daily walks and loosing 16 pounds helped a lot. In time, I hope to drop another 26 pounds, I am 6'3" and 219 pounds.

Best regards,
OCha-ryu

7:10 AM, August 22, 2007  
Blogger Gregor said...

I think a seiza bench is acceptable for Zazen, and many well qualified people would agree.

Of course Roshi may have a different opinion and I hope to hear of it.

take care,

Greg

11:24 AM, August 22, 2007  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

Thank you very much for your important question. Because to practice Zazen is the central point of Buddhist study, and so we should think that the difficulty of practicing Zazen is the main problem of studying Buddhism. And what I think now is as follows.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima

(Al San's question)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007
hSitting Alternatives.

Master Gudo,

I know that traditionally that one needs to be in the Full Lotus or Half Lotus in order to technicallt be doing Zazen. Are there any exceptions?

(Gudo) Even in my case it was so
painful for me to practice Zazen even in the half-lotus posture so much at the beginning of my practice. Therefore I have also tried many kinds of contrivances to make the situations easier, but I have found only simple fact that to endure the pain has been necessary for me to practice of Zazen.
But at the same time there were several methods to make the situations better.
1) To use a little bigger and a little higher Zazu, or cussion, for Zazen. Especially in the case of the Occidentals the length of thighs are usually longer, and so it is necessary for them to use bigger and higher Zazu, or the cussion.
2) The half-lotus posture is also available. The half-lotus posture and the full-lotus posture are both the orthodox methods of Zazen, and so at the beginning it is very nice methods to use the half-lotus posture, and by changing between the right leg and the left leg you can make the pain easier.

I think that I tired a little to aggresively to get into the half-lotus and as a result have severly strained the Lateral Collateral Ligament in my right knee. Even the Burmese postition hurts. What about chair sitting or a seiza bench?

(Gudo) I think that it is giving up to practice Zazen if we use chairs when we practice Zazen. Because when we use chairs in practicing Zazen the situations of muscles of legs and thighs are perfectly different from Zazen, and so it is impossible for us to expect the same effects as Zazen by utilizing the chair instead of Zafu.

Thank you in advance.

Al

posted by Al Coleman | 3:37 AM
4 Comments:

keishin.ni said...

Dear Al:
I saw your question. I also have experienced difficulty sitting because of my knees. For some reason (I have a shallow groove for one of the stabilizing ligaments) my knees subluxate (go 'off track'--a 'mild' dislocation) rather easily. This is extremely painful, as I'm sure you know.
For me, the solution has been to sit Burmese style on a zafu with a small pillow under each knee. I then have a good stable position--base of spine, and each knee in good solid contact with the floor thanks to the cushions. The lateral sides of my feet are also in contact with the floor, but their contact is not a weight bearing function and does not influence my posture.

I hope you find a good stable position to maintain good posture. It really is very important.

I look forward to learning also from Nishijima Roshi's answer to your question.

(Gudo) I am perfectly agreeable with Keishin.ni San's opinion.

gassho
Keishin
1:40 AM, August 22, 2007
Al Coleman said...

Keishin,

Thank you for the comment. i'll try the pillows. One of my issues is that my right hip is EXTREMELY tight. I was a baseball player for the fist 26 years of my life and my right leg was my posting leg and shortened over time. When I sit in the Burmese position, my left knee ca n touch the floor but my right knee is closet about 8 inches off the foor. A regular streching routine has been of no help. My wife had bought me a seiza bench at a yard sale and that's what I have been using, but I feel that based on what I have read that I'm not authentically practicing when using a seiza bench. i await Nishijima's response.
2:51 AM, August 22, 2007

(Gudo) I do not have an agreeable idea to use a seiza bench, and I rather prefer to use much more natural method to help us. Because by utilizing a seiza bench, it is inevitable for us to lose the good effect of pushing the legs and thighs with our natural weight of the body.

Mysterion said...

Look further down the page...

Chas said:
"I no longer sit Zazen (2 years now) due to hip pain. Sitting meditation for me is sitting in a firm chair."

Gudo Wafu Nishijima said:
(Unfortunately without Zazen there is no Buddhism at all.)

[THWAK!!!]

So I think a thicker pillow may be o.k. And Yoga exercise helps. I found that taking daily walks and loosing 16 pounds helped a lot. In time, I hope to drop another 26 pounds, I am 6'3" and 219 pounds.

Best regards,
OCha-ryu
7:10 AM, August 22, 2007

(Gudo) I revere Mysterion San's method sincerely. It is nice to use cushions, to utilizing Yoga method too, and especially to lose 16 pounds by daily walks, and furher more to lose 26 pounds
in future.

Gregor said...

I think a seiza bench is acceptable for Zazen, and many well qualified people would agree.

Of course Roshi may have a different opinion and I hope to hear of it.

take care,

Greg
11:24 AM, August 22, 2007

(Gudo) I think that it is one of the preferable effect for us to push our legs and thighs naturally during Zazen, and so if we prefer using the seiza bench, we have to lose the good effect of Zazen.

(Gudo) Thank you very much for many questions from many questioners. Relying upon such our method, we can clarify the Truth more and more.

Gudo Wafu Nishijima


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4:21 PM, August 22, 2007  
Blogger Al Coleman said...

Thank You Master Gudo. I will hit the mat a little harder and try to get my hip lossened up. Until that time I will try to raise the height of the Zafu.

Al

5:19 AM, August 23, 2007  
Blogger Franzzup said...

Al,

You are probably right that your real problem is your hip. When learning to do the Full Lotus, I found it very helpful to stretch my hips by placing the soles of my feet together and pressing down on my knees. Since this doesn't place stress where it was not intended to go, I think it is much less dangerous than forcing a Lotus position when your knees are the weakest point. You will probably have to be very persistent, though, before your hip becomes mobile enough for a Full Lotus.

Now if I am stiff and do the Lotus position, I concentrate on my hips and rock my body forward gently until I feel my hip joints relax.

Best wishes,
Franzzup

10:07 AM, August 23, 2007  

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