How to Do Zazen

“To study Buddhism is to study the self; to study the self is to forget the self.”


How to Sit

*Zazen instructions are available for everyone upon request. Please contact us for details.

To do meditation is to set aside time to be the real you. Meditation without any goal helps us see that who we consider our “self” may not be who we truly are.

All things change.

But the self of our thoughts and feelings cannot always accept change. So we suffer.

Meditation helps us experience things as they really are and ourselves as we are. Through meditation, we can forget the self and free up space to care for others in the world. The Dalai Lama has said that the point of Buddhism is to become kind. We become more joyful as well.

How to Begin

If you want to try sitting by yourself, find a place in your home where you can sit without being disturbed or distracted. Don’t sit in a very light or very dark room. Pull the shades or close the blinds or leave on a light. Turn off your phone. Light incense if you like.

Soto Zen Buddhists generally sit facing the wall. This form began with Bodhidharma, the founder of Zen Buddhism. You can sit on a chair, on a cushion or any substitute. Even a folded blanket.

If you sit on a chair, sit straight up on the chair.
If you sit on cushions, sit with your ankles crossed, under, or beside you.
You can also sit in half lotus or full lotus position
If you are sick or dizzy, you can meditate lying down.
Rest your left hand on your right hand so that your thumbs touch lightly above your fingers, forming an oval shape. (This is called a mudra.) Let your hands rest comfortably against the lower area of your abdomen about 3 inches below your navel.

How to Breathe

You sit upright to breathe fully. Your shoulders should be directly over your hips. Your ears should line up with your shoulders.

Keep your mouth closed and pull your chin in slightly. Look down at a 30 to 45 degree angle. Let your eyes partially close, without focusing on anything.

Relax your neck. Imagine a line running from the bottom of your spine to the top of your head – and on up to the ceiling.

Now inhale deeply through your nose. Breathe all the way in through your nose. Then exhale naturally — slowly and completely — through your nose. Your inhale will take slightly less time than than your exhale. If your breathing seems too shallow, put a slight weight on it. As your exhale ends, you will naturally inhale.

Count your breaths. Near the end of your exhale, say to yourself “one.” Repeat doing this. When you reach “ten,” start over again with “one.” But if you lose track, (which is easy to do), just begin again wth “one”. Whether you ever reach “ten”or not is not important.

What to Think About

Thoughts and physical sensations may pull at your attention. Don’t focus on them. Don’t try to get rid of them. “Let your thoughts come in and go out,” Suzuki-roshi would say. “Don’t serve them tea.”

You are solely with your body and mind. It may be your first awareness of body and mind completely together.

When to Sit

Any time is a good time for sitting.

Some like to sit in the moring just after rising. Or just after getting back from work. Or just before going to bed. These are easy times for you to schedule.

The important thing is to decide when to sit. Then stick to it. We mostly belong to our habits. If you don’t make a commitment to meditate certain days a week at the same time (or times), you may be much less likely to continue.

How Long to Sit

Starting with five minutes is fine. Eventually you may get up to 30 or 40 minutes. This is the amount you would be sitting if you sat with a group. At first just sit for the length of time you determined. Set a kitchen-timer or something similar to tell you when the period is over.

Sitting with a Group

Meditating alone is fine. However, sometimes it might be better to sit with others. When obstacles appear, it is sometimes harder to continue regular meditation when you are sitting alone.

It is good to have the help of others when meditating. It is helpful to be able to observe someone who has been sitting for some time. It is important to have people who can answer your questions about Buddhism and encourage you. The example of peers will help you with your practice.

The people you choose to practice with become your sangha (community). Your sangha helps you keep going when things become discouraging.

Hopefully you will find a group near enough to attend at least once a week.

If you are fortunate, you will find a group with an experienced teacher.

You may have a choice of different groups with different styles of meditation. It is not unusual for someone to study with several schools of Buddhism before settling on a group that feels comfortable for them.

No matter where you sit or how you sit
you are always welcome at Beginner’s Mind.