“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” - Lao Tzu


The most vital aspect of any spiritual quest is having the courage to begin. At Eiryu-ji Zen Center, we take the time to warmly welcome all newcomers and to give each person individualized guidance and support. If you would like to explore Zen practice, please contact us prior to your visit, so we can arrange a specific time to welcome you and to review basic instructions.

Basic instructions for Zazen

lotus meditation positionZazen means "sitting Zen". It the simple and profound practice of deep observation, without the burden of specific goals and expectations. During a meditation period we make a conscious effort to presence all experiences, rather than to be engaged by them. In other words, we choose to silently witness the arising thoughts, emotions, sounds, scents, and sights, allow them to stay as long as they need, and let them subside on their own accord. Through the practice of meditation we sharpen our awareness, raise the attention level, and gradually become more engaged in all aspects of our lives. Regular meditation can greatly enhance a person’s life, and will contribute to well being and a deep sense of unconditional contentment.


Posture

While meditating, it is very important to pay careful attention to the posture. Correct posture will help you cultivate a supple and alert the state of mind. You may sit on a chair, a crossed legged position, or on the knees. Note that the second and third positions require a cushion or a special "Seiza" bench.

Your spine should be straight, your ears and shoulders should be in one line, and your chin tucked. Relax your shoulders, jaw, facial muscles, and scan your body for any tension. Make a conscious decision to release any tension you notice.

With palms up, place the left hand on top of the right hand, resting both on your thighs in front of your center. Your thumbs should touch lightly, as if you are holding a piece of paper between them. Keep your arms and shoulders relaxed. Check your posture and and gently correct it as needed during the meditation period. After getting comfortable in your position, gently close your lips and teeth. Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth behind your front upper teeth and swallow once. This creates a partial vacuum and will reduce salivation, thus minimizing the need to swallow as often.


Breath

seiza meditation positionBreathing is a naturally occurring physiological process which does not require volitional thinking process. Beyond the purpose of oxygenating the body and removing carbon dioxide, this natural process is directly related to our state of being and can act as an indicator for positive or negative changes in the mind. 

By monitoring our breathing closely, we quickly notice that it becomes deep when we feel at ease, and shallow when we feel stressed. Since this mind-breath connection works in both directions, we can change our state of mind by bringing our attention to the way we breathe. Through deepening the awareness of this natural ebb and flow, we can improve our ability to ride the currents of life. Become aware of the following breath qualities, and use the breathing techniques to move towards the first of each pair: Slow/Fast • Deep/Shallow • Long/Short, Smooth/Coarse • Even/Choppy.

The natural breathing process acts as an anchor during meditation. When the thinking process becomes overwhelming, gently bring your attention back to the sensation of the breath, and to the counting technique.


Breathing Techniques

Counting exhalations: While breathing evenly and naturally, count only the exhalations from 1 to 10. Repeat this cycle continuously while you meditate.

Bamboo breathing: Take a deep breath and exhale a bit of air, then hold your breath for a couple of seconds, exhale some more and hold, exhale more and hold. Keep going until you empty out your lungs using 6-8 stops through one exhalation. This technique may be used 2-3 times during a meditation period, or as needed throughout the day.

Square breathing: Inhale slowly as you count from 1 to 6, then exhale slowly as you count from 1 to 6. This technique may be used occasionally during a meditation period, or as needed throughout the day, as often as you like.

Holding the breath: Inhale slowly and fill your lungs with as much air as you can, hold your breath while counting from 1 to 8, then exhale slowly. This technique may be used as needed throughout the day, as often as you like.


Working With Thoughts

seated meditation positionThe common notion that while meditation we stop thinking, is simply incorrect and unrealistic. Our ability to think is a powerful gift that when harnessed and used correctly, can be very beneficial. However, when we become enslaved by this gift we loose touch with a sense of well being, become depleted of vital energy, and experience increased turmoil in everyday life.

Most of the thinking process we experience is non-volitional, on-going, and irrelevant to what we encounter at any given moment. So rather than try to stop a continuous stream of thoughts we did not intentionally initiate, we learn how to not be taken by this habitual process, and let it become ‘white noise’. We learn to not identify with arising thoughts and emotions.

During meditation you will naturally encounter arising and vanishing thoughts, appearing out of nowhere, and disappearing back into the nowhere they came from. In Zazen we become anchored in the seated position, ride the ebb and flow of the breath, and observe the thoughts without being engaged by them. When a thought comes we allow it to be, without commenting, judging, denying, or resisting. Recognize that you are always surrounded by a vast space that has the capacity to hold unlimited number of thoughts and emotions. When you get hooked by a thought and realize that you have embarked on a chain-thinking journey, gently return to the physical aspect of your being, as manifested in your posture and your breath. Your anchored seated position is the post from which you learn to unconditionally observe everything that comes.


- Further personal guidance is offered by Roshi Junryu and senior members of Eiryu-ji.