The Complete Guide To Zazen

The benefits of zazen can include increased attention span, self-confidence, and discipline; better management of fear and anger; and a greater ability to feel genuine joy, compassion, and gratitude. But mostly, zazen is entirely personal. Only you can experience transformation for yourself.”

- Maezen


When you do zazen, find a quiet place where you can sit without disturbances. It should be neither too dark nor too bright, warm in the winter and cool in the summer. The sitting place should be neat and clean.

1. If possible, a statue of Manjushri Bodhisattva should be enshrined in the room. If there is none available, any statue or painting of a Buddha or a Bodhisattva is fine. Also, when possible, place an offering of flowers on the altar and burn incense.

2. Avoid wearing soiled clothing or garments which are luxurious or expensive. It is also advisable to avoid heavy garments. Wear your clothing loosely but neatly. In Japanese Zen monasteries, socks are not worn in the Zendo.

3. Place a thick square mat (zabuton) in front of the wall and put a zafu on it. Sit down, placing the base of your spine at the centre of the zafu so that half of the zafu is behind you.

4. After crossing your legs, rest your knees firmly on the zabuton. Rest both knees firmly on the zabuton, straighten the lower part of your back, push your buttocks outward and hips forward, and straighten your spine. Pull in your chin and extend your neck as though reaching toward the ceiling. Your ears should be in a line parallel to your shoulders, and your nose should be in line with your navel.

5. After straightening your back, relax your shoulders, back, and abdomen without changing your posture. Sit upright, leaning neither to the left nor right, neither forward nor backward.

6. Place your right hand, palm-up, on your left foot, and your left hand palm-up on your right palm.The tips of your thumbs should be lightly touching each other. This is called Cosmic Mudra (hokkai-join).

7. Place the tips of your thumbs in front of your navel, and your arms slightly apart from your body. Keep your mouth closed, placing your tongue against the roof of your mouth just behind your teeth.

8. Keep your eyes slightly open. Cast them downward at about a 45-degree angle. Without focusing on any particular thing, let everything have its place in your field of vision.

9. If your eyes are closed, you will easily drift into drowsiness or daydreaming. Quietly make a deep exhalation and inhalation. Slightly open your mouth and exhale smoothly and slowly. In order to expel all the air from your lungs, exhale from the abdomen. Then close your mouth and continue to breathe through your nose naturally. This is called kanki-issoku.

10. Place your hands palms-up on your knees and sway the upper half of your body from left to right a few times. Without moving your hips, move the trunk as if it were a pole leaning to one side then the other, so that the waist and hip muscles are stretched. You may also sway forward and backward. At first this movement should be large, gradually becoming smaller and smaller, and ceasing with your body centred in an upright position.

11. Once again forming the hokkai-join with your hands, assume an unmoving upright posture.

12. During zazen, breathe quietly through your nose. Do not try to control your breathing. Let it come and go so naturally that you forget you are breathing. Let long breaths be long, and short breaths be short.

13. Do not make noise by breathing heavily. Do not concentrate on any particular object or control your thought.

14. When you maintain a proper posture and your breathing settles down, your mind will naturally become tranquil.

16. When various thoughts arise in your mind, do not become caught up by them or struggle with them; neither pursue nor try to escape from them. Just leave thoughts alone, allowing them to come up and go away freely. The essential thing in doing zazen is to awaken (kakusoku) from distraction and dullness, and return to the right posture moment by moment.

17. When you finish zazen, bow in gassho (palms together at the heart), place your hands palms-up on your thighs, sway your body a few times, first a little, and then more extensively.

18. Take a deep breath. Unfold your legs. Move slowly, especially when your legs are asleep. Do not stand up abruptly.


Zazen is a strict Zen Buddhist practice in which zen monks sit continuously for hours in pursuit of enlightenment. Zazen is different from meditation in that it has more rules and is focused on disciplining the mind.


The End!

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