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Thursday, March 1, 2007

The First Enlightenment : Zazen (3) The Practical Side

A concrete explanation of Zazen practice itself

(1) Place

Master Dogen instructed for us about a place, where Zazen should be done, concretely in his works, for exsample, Fukan-zazengi, Zazengi in Shobogenzo, and so forth. Therefore if I describe the outline of his opinion about the matter, they are as follows.
1) The place, where Zazen is practiced, is preferable to be indoor. In some lineages, they are sometimes agreeable to practice Zazen outdoors, but Master Dogen recommends ua to practice Zazen indoors. Because in the case of Zazen outdoor the wind might blow and smokes will come, and so the conditions might be inadiquate.
2) The place of Zazen should be always bright day and night. Recently in Japan they like to practice Zazen in a dark Zazen-do, but this habits are completely opposite of Master Dogen's thoughts.
3) The place of Zazen should be warm in a cold season, and it should be cool in a hot season. If someone likes to practice Zazen in a cold place in a cold season, and to practice Zazen in a hot place in a hot season, such a habit is completely opposite of Master Dogen's thoughts. Buddhism can never be similar to a kind of ascetic thoughts.
4) The place of Zazen is preferable to be quiet, but we should not be too much nervous on such a problem, because it is perfectly impossible for us to find an absolutely quiet natural palce on the earth at all.
5) The place of Zazen is not always necessary to be wide, therefore Master Dogen wrote in Shobogenzo Zazengi (58) that "Set aside an area that can contain the body."
6) The place of Zazen are either adequate in a mountain village, or in town. It is not always necessary for us to attach a beautiful natural circumstances.

(2) Kashaya (In the picture what I wear, which is light brown, is Kashaya.)

In Shobogenzo (93) Doshin, or The Will to the TruthThere there is a description that "Again, constantly we should wear the Kashaya and sit in Zazen." And those words are understood that not only Buddhist monks and nuns, even secular men and women should wear Kashaya when they practice zazen. Because it is usually supposed that the Chapter Doshin was written not only for Buddhst monks and nuns, but it was written also for laymen and laywomen. Because reading the sentences of the Chapter, we can recognize that the sentences of the Chapter are unusually soft and easy comparing with other chapters of Shobogenzo, and so a Japanese Buddhist scholar supposed that the Chapter might be lectured for not only Buddhist monks and nuns, but also for the constructors, carpenters, and so forth at the time when the buildings of Eihei-ji were just being constructed.
Therefore I have a very strong hope that when we practice Zazen in Dogen Sangha, it is very desirable that all members, not only in the cases of Buddhist monks and nuns, but in the cases of Buddhist laymen and laywomen too, they should inevitably wear Kashaya, when they practice Zazen. Actually, however, if we like to realize such a kind of habits, there are so many difficulties as follows, which should be solved before the accomplishment.
1 ) If we want to buy a sheet of Kashaya in a professional shop today, it is very expensive now, for example, about from 50 thousand yen to 100 thousand yen as the cheapest one in Japanese yen. Therefore in the case of professional Buddhist monks, or nuns, if they use their Kashaya throughout their life for their business, it might be endurable for them to pay such a lot of money, but in general in the case of laymen and laywomen, it might be very difficult for them to pay such a lot of money to pay for their unprofessional matter.
2) Therefore, if we want to have a situation for us to be able to get cheaper Kashaya, it is necessary for us to make our efforts to establish a social system, in which we can supply much cheaper Kashaya to the market acctually.
3) Fortunately, however, it is not impossible for us to supply cheaper Kashayas to the market.
For example, it is not necessary for us inevitably to use silk, which is usually very expensive, therefore we can use a much cheaper chemical fiber actually. On the method of sewing, it is not always necessary for us to rely upon hand-sewing, and so we can utilize the method of using sewing machines. On the problem of size, there are much difference according to a scale of each constitution, which awears it, if we prepare to decide several different sizes beforehand according to the grades, it is possible for us to supply a suitable size of Kashaya to almost all users. As for colors, if we decide a kind of one color, for example, called Mokuran-ji, which is very popular in Soto Sect today, the bright mixture between yellow and brown, it might be possible for us to decrease the cost of Kashaya much more cheaper.
4) Even though it is possible for us to plan such ideas, but for waiting for such a person, or a company to realize the plan, it might be necessary for us to wait for several years, or so, therefoe I think that it might be impossible for us to accomplish such a system before my death, but I am sincerely expect such a kind of production as my rather romantic dream in future.

(3) Zafu (In the picture the round black cushion is Zafu.)

When we practice Zazen we usually use a black round cushion, which is called Zafu today. In Fukan-zazen-gi, it is called Futon, and fu means cushion, and ton means round, and so we can interpret that the word "Futon", which indicated the round black cushion for Zazen in the Age of Master Dogen, has become to be used for common bedding today in the long historical processes, and nowadays the cushion, which was called Futon in the Age of Master Dogen, is called Zafu.
1) Zafu is a round cushon, which has a length of about 36 cm as the diameter. It is packed up with kapok so tightly that it holds its hight about from 15 cm to 25 cm even when a practioner sit on it. If we use, for example, cotton for packing, there is possibility that the cotton will become too much hard in a long time, and so it is necessary for us to avoid such a possibility by usin kapok, and so forth.
2) If it was impossible for us to get Zafu, it would be sufficient for us folding a blanket many times to make the thickness of the blanket about 25 cm high, and we can use it as substitute of
Zafu. In anothr case we can pile up 3 or 4 pieces of Zabutons, or Japanese cushions, and we can
practice Zazen utilizing the piled up corners of the Japanese cushions too.
3) When we make Zafu by our selves, it is necessary for us to use the cloth, which is not slippery. It is not necessary to be expensive, but it should be strong, and easy in the case of sewing.
4) Even when we use a room, which is covered by Tatami, or Japanese mat made of plant stalks, if we use Zabuton, or Japanese idividual mat, it might be useful to lighten the painfulness of legs.
5) Expecting the cases of monks and nuns, it is sufficient for everyone to wear Kashaya on the ordinary clothes, but having no Kashaya it is also available for everyone to practice Zazen with ordinary clothes. When people have Rakusu, or an abbreviated Kashaya, it is also good for every one to use it.
6) In some Buddhist Sects they use a small oblong cushion, which is similar to a small Zabuton, when they practice zazen, but in such a case I am afraid that it might be too much difficult for practioners to keep the spine straight verticully because of the thin cushions, and so it might be too difficult for them to stop their consideration or feeling.

(4) Posture of Zazen

The most important matter in Zazen is the posture of Zazen itself. Because, even though we are practicing Zazen, if we do not have the posture, which is authentic in Buddhist tradition, it is impossible for us to enter into the balanced state of the autonomic nervous system, and so it is also impossible for us to realize Jijuyo-zanmai, or the Samadhi of receiving self and utilizing self. The meaning of Jijuyo-zanmai is that the Jiju, or receiving self, is the function of the parasympathetic nervous system, and the (Ji)yo, or utilizing self, is the function of the sympathetic nervous system. And when the both have become the same strength, and those two factors set off with each other, then the consciousness of consideration is not recognized, and the consciousness of perception is not recognized. Therefore such a situation in Zazen is called "Shinjin-datsuraku, or the state which is free of body and mind."
I guess that many people would doubt whether there were any kind of such a strange situation, which is called "the state which is free of body and mind" in human conditions. Actually thinking, however, in a case of an excellent runner in a hundred meter running, when he is running so sincerely in a race, even though his consciousness is conspicuously clear, but he might be very difficult to consider or perceive anything in his running. Similarly to this example, in our daily life there is a chance, when our consideration and perception have disappear almost completely, and only our action manifests itself so clearly. And I think that the establisher of Buddhism, Gautama Buddha, recognizing such a fact, he noticed that the most important facts in our human life are neither consideration nor perception, but the most important fact in human life must be our real act at the present moment. And I think that his such a kind of very sincere and realistic intuition comes from the fact when he is practicing Zazen having the state of the autonomic nervous system balanced at the present moment.
And the main points of the authentic posture in Zazen might be as follows.
1) First we should keep the lower spine vertically. Master Kodo Sawaki sincerely recommended us to keep the lower spines straight vertically as if the lower spines would be winded forward actually.
2) On the lower spines, which have been kept straight vertically, the backbones should be also placed vertically, but in the case of backbones, they have a natural curve backward, and so we should keep them as straight as possible.
3) We put also the neck straight as far as possible, and so it is necessary for us to keep the chin
a little downward and backward. Master Kodo Sawaki told that putting the end of rope a little backward from the top of the head, and we should make our efforts as if we were pulling up the another end of rope to the ceiling vertically.

(5) Folding the legs

(The Half-Lotus Posture)

(A Process to The Full-Lotus Posture)

(The Full-Lotus Posture)

In the methods of folding legs in Zazen, there are two kinds of ways traditionally. The one is called the Half-Lotus Posture, and the other is called the Full-Lotus Posture.
In the case of the Half-Lotus Posture, we place one of the leg on the floor keeping the heel touching zafu. And we put the other foot on the thigh, which is placed on the floor.
In the case of the Full-Lotus Posture, first we make the same posture as the Half-Lotus Posture, and then we put the foot, which is placed on the floor, on the thigh of the other side. Being described with words, it seems to be very hard and painful to keep the posture, and it is true that those postures are sometimes very hard in the case of beginners, but at the same time after the feet have become accustomed, keeping the postures are not so difficult, and when we have accustomed to the postures, we can recognize that the postures of Zazen are rather comfortable.
Before having become accustomed, however, it is very painful for us to keep the Full-Lotus Posture, and so we can suppose that Gautama Buddha has selected the Half-Lotus Posture as also the orthodox posture of Zazen, because of his benevolence to human beings, thinking the very painful situations of the Full-Lotus Posture in the cases of beginners .
Actually in the case of Fukan-zazen-gi by Master Dogen, he wrote the posture of the Full-Lotus Posture exactly that "first put the right foot on left thigh, then put the left foot on the right thigh." But in the case of the Half-Lotus Posture, he wrote in a little vague expression that "just press the left foot onto the right thigh." Therefore we can suppose that Master Dogen described a little easier posture for the Half-Lotus Posture for his benevolence to beginners.
In Fukan-zazen-gi Master Dogen wrote that "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 vertical and sit 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.

(5) Beginning the practice

When the physical posture is already settled, make one complete exhalation and sway left and right. Sitting immovably in the mountain-still state, "Think about this concrete state beyond thinking." "How can the state beyond thinking be thought about?" "It is different from thinking." This is just the pivot of Zazen.
At the beginning Zazen, we usually hit a bell three times, and the strength of hitting the bell is, the first is the middle, the second is the smaller, and the third is the biggest.
About the right and left of hands and feet, in Fukan-zazen-gi, Master Dogen wrote only the case, in which the just left foot was placed on the right thigh both in the cases of the Half-Lotus Posture and the Full-Lotus Posture, and so in the former time, there was an opinion that Master Dogen permitted us only to use such a specifically decided order, but Master Kodo Sawaki explained that "Master Dogen has described only one example," and thinking about situations I have much prefered Master Kodo Sawaki's opinion.

(6) During Zazen

During Zazen, we should not think anything, and we should not feel anything, but we should concentrate our efforts to keep ourselves in the authentic posture. Therefore Zazen is never consideration or perception, but it is just sitting, or action.
But I think that this description might sound very strange in the western societies, because in the western societies there were very excellent idealism and very excellent materialism, but there the philosophy of action hasn't become never popular.
For example in the western civilization the Aristotelian logic is so famous and so powerful, and it has the principles of law of identity, law of contradiction, and law of excluded middle. Among them if we maintain the law of excluded middle, we can never affirm Buddhist philosophy. Because the Buddhist philosophy is based on the affirmation of the middle. Buddhism denied the reality of consideration, and at the same time it denied the reality of sense perception, but it affirmed the real existence of action at the present moment, and so Gautama Buddha could establish the Buddhist philosophy, which is based on human action itself. Therefore we can say that Buddhist philosophy is established on the denial of both idealism and materialism, and the practice of Zazen is just the action, which is perfectly different from idea, or matter, but it is just the middle itself. In other words we are studying just the real action in the practice of Zazen, by keeping our body and mind together in the regular posture. By practicing Zazen we want to ged rid of the area of concideration and perception perfectly to enter into the area of action, or reality itself.

(7) Finishing the practice

At the end of the practice, we strike a bell once, then we make our heds lower with joining hands. After that, we make our folded legs loose slowly to cure the painful situations of feet and legs gradually, and then we stand up slowly. We should never be hasty, or violent.

After standing up, it is necessary for us to push the side of Zafu for making the shape round, and bow down to the own seat, then turning around to the opposite side, we should bow down again at the front of the seat. The second bowing is the salutation of all members in the room, but when we practice Zazen alone, we can interpret that the second one is for the salutation to the Universe.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for the graphical presentation Roshi.

When I do the half lotus position I can keep it up for half an hour. After the meditation I need a couple of minutes for my ankle to be flexible again. I'm still hoping to learn the full lotus position as well.

9:03 AM, March 05, 2007  
Blogger element said...

Hello Hamza,
Here is a link with yoga exercises, it may be helpful.

9:26 PM, March 05, 2007  
Blogger SlowZen said...

Master Nishijima,

I think the problem of making a Kashaya available for everyone may be simple.

In the west there are many practitioners who have already sewn their own Rakusu based on patterns available online for free.

If someone were to provide a pattern, and instructions for how to ware the Kashaya, I think a lot of motivated Buddhists would gladly sew their own.


4:28 AM, March 07, 2007  
Blogger SlowZen said...


Thanks, I have actually used that pattern for myself; however I think that Master Nishijima is referring to the Kesa or kasaya. There is a Blog dedicated to this but I am unsure if that is what the Master has in mind.


9:00 AM, March 08, 2007  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Also thanks to you element for the yoga instructions. I have used them and noticed a difference. I have now twice been able to sit in the Full Lotus position for about ten minutes each.

Shave head, check
Lotus position, check.

All I need now is a kashaya and a master :P

6:29 AM, March 10, 2007  
Blogger Michael said...

Dear Nishijima-sensei,

Can you recommend a teacher in the New York City area, perhaps one of your Dharma heirs? There is no shortage of teachers here. But I suspect that finding a good teacher will be a challenge.

12:20 AM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger Michael said...

"Good" is an awfully loaded word. Perhaps "qualified" would be better.

12:21 AM, March 14, 2007  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

For Michael San

Unfortunately I do not have my Dharma heir in New York area.

Thank you very much for your teaching on "good."

7:17 PM, March 22, 2007  
Blogger GUDO NISHIJIMA said...

For Zushi San

Yes, fortunately, my Dharma Heir in Germany Dr Juergen Seggelke, has begun his efforts to translate Dogen Sangha Blog in English into German.

12:41 PM, April 25, 2007  
Blogger jivraj said...


I bow to you in gratitude for teaching the Zazen in detail. This digital teaching though seeming dead, makes the Zazen experience alive.

I also will reqeust you that similar teaching articles on Breathing, Mind Attitude, and Walking during Zazen may be given on internet.

Thank you and Namastey

Kishor Lal

6:22 PM, January 23, 2010  

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