Zazen: What is it? Why am I staring at a wall?


Zazen is only one of many forms of Buddhist meditation but it is the central practice of Zen. It is the introspective practice of placing your “self” on equal ground with your perceptions by not giving it the free range that it ordinarily has. It is really a process of training the mind. One can be seated in any number of ways. The most preferable method is to sit in full lotus but half lotus, quarter lotus, Burmese, or sitting in chair is also utilized depending on personal preference. Personally, I do not have the flexibility to sit without discomfort in the full lotus so I prefer quarter lotus. Individuals will hold their back straight but not inflexible, chin out with gaze directed to a point on floor 3-6 feet ahead. Hands are held in cosmic mundra and focus is on the breath. Some count inhalations or exhalations and many simply focus on the breath without counting. Thoughts are not actively discarded but rather they are allowed to enter and then leave on their own time.

Generally we see our body, our breath and our mind as separate entities. Zazen helps us unite them from their diaspora into one reality. Usually our thoughts and energy keeps us separated from our daily lives and from ourselves. Through the process of sitting, our minds can slow down and focus naturally like eyes adjusting to a change in light (darkness or light make little different when time is required to adjust). Far from the common misconception that Buddhist practice promote detaching from reality – zazen practice leads to a clearer and deeper connection with the current moment. If I were blindfolded and in darkness, I would still remove the blindfold to allow my eyes to adjust. We are allowing our minds to adjust by removing a blindfold. We may not like what we see but now we provide tools to be able to meet it on our own terms.

To roll out another clichéd analogy: Our minds can be seen as a body of water like a pond. When wind blows over the surface, ripples form and nothing can be seen clearly underneath. Once the ripples are removed we can see ourselves reflected. Zazen removes ripples. You can’t fight this process or will it into submission to still your mind since that just causes more ripples. You just gotta sit. The crazy part is that through that work we need to realize that we are only seeing a reflection. If we are the reflection, what is the water. Give it a name.



John Pappas is a struggling Zen practitioner with a slight Vajrayana palate (but he won’t admit it) stumbling between the relative and absolute through the Buddhist Purgatory otherwise known as the Great Plains of South Dakota. Emerging writer, librarian and aspiring hungry ghost John spews his skewed perception of the dharma all over his personal blog, the irreverent Sweep the Dust Push the Dirt as well as on the ephemeralElephant Journal and occasionally (while having no artistic ability to speak of) on Dharma/Arte. John also loves tacos, homebrew, yoginis and obscure Cthulhu references. You can follow him on twitter under the handle @zendirtzendust

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