To sit zazen well, one must harmonize the mind, body and breath. Only when the three are realized as one will it be possible to succeed in stabilizing and tranquilizing the body and mind at the same time. Any one of these three things is inseparably related to the other two. Beginners tend to overstrain the area of the lower abdomen because of the emphasis put on this area. Each individual is different in his physical structure and so must guide himself accordingly. One should sit in such a way as to cause his energy to pervade the whole body instead of forcing himself to put physical pressure in the lower abdomen.
It is important to wear clothes that are loose enough for good circulation. It is also important to look neat; there must be dignity in appearance to establish the proper mood for sitting. As zazen is not a test of quiet endurance, it is meaningless to sit for long periods without concentrating and unifying the mind and body. Thirty or forty minutes – the time one incense stick takes to burn – is adequate for beginners. Of course, five or ten minutes will be enough if we sit fully and seriously. The crucial point is the degree of concentration rather than the length of sitting.
Placement of Cushions
Select a wide cushion and two or three small ones. Stack the smaller ones on top of the wide one so they act as a wedge. Sit with the buttocks placed near the center of the top cushion.
Positions of the Hands
Grasp the first joint of the left thumb between the web of the thumb and the index finger of the right hand. Form a loose fist with the right hand and enclose it with the left.
The Full and Half Lotus Positions
To take the full lotus position, place the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh. To take the half lotus position, place the right foot near the base of the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh. (The legs can be reversed in both of these positions.)
Stabilizing the Body
A well seated and very stable body is in the form of a pyramid. The base is an imaginary triangle formed by the lines connecting the two knees and the coccyx. The diagonal ridge lines extending from the two knees and the coccyx to the top of the head complete the pyramid. Rock the body from right to left and again from left to right. The amplitude of the oscillation should be large at first and gradually decrease until the body stops moving and becomes stable.
Straighten the spine perpendicularly by inclining the upper body forward. Then, push the buttocks backward without moving it while raising the upper body gradually as if to push heaven with the back of the head. This action will straighten the spine into a natural position.
Advance the lower abdomen forward to straighten the hips. Raise the upper body until it becomes perpendicular; the neck will be upright and the lower jaw will be drawn in. The center of gravity will now coincide with the geometrical center of the plane triangle.
Check and see that the lower jaw is drawn in and the back of the neck is straight. If they are in the correct position, the ears and shoulders should fall in the same perpendicular plane.
Check also the position of the lower abdomen and the hips. If the lower abdomen is forward and the hip bone is upright, the nose and navel should be aligned.
Let the tip of the tongue touch the upper jaw with the teeth in light contact with each other.
Sit at ease, heavy and in alert dignity like Mt. Fuji soaring into heaven and overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Adjusting the Vision:
Adjusting the vision helps to focus attention and prevents it from being taken up by internal or external stimuli. The eyes should look straight ahead, and the visual field should span 180 degrees. Lower the gaze to a fixed position on the floor approximately three feet ahead. The eyes should be halfclosed in selfless tranquillity, neither seeing nor not seeing anything.
Do not close your eyes. In order to enter the state of Zen concentration and to raise your inner power to the utmost, it is important to keep the eyes open. If you remain quiet with your eyes closed like lifeless water, you will never be useful to society. It may seem easier to unify yourself spiritually by closing the eyes, but then it will be inert zazen. Interpreting it more lightly, keeping your eyes open prevents you from falling asleep in meditation
Initial Deep Breathing:
Deep breathing harmonizes the mind and the body. Exhale slowly through the mouth as if to connect the atmosphere with the lower abdomen. Empty all the stale air with the strength created by the contraction of the lower abdomen. At the end of exhalation, relax the lower abdomen.
Due to atmospheric pressure, new air will naturally enter through the nose and fill the vacuum in the lungs.
After inhaling fully, pause slightly. With the koshi* extended forward, gently push the inhaled air into the lower abdomen with a scooping motion. The key to this is to contract the sphincter muscle.
Start exhaling again just before you feel uncomfortable. Repeat this type of breathing four to ten times.
*Koshi and hara both refer to the lower abdomen, hips, lower back and buttocks functioning as a unit. Koshi emphasizes the physical body and hara has more spiritual significance.
Breathing in Meditation
When the respiration is adjusted, start breathing naturally through the nose with the mouth closed. If you relax the muscles around the pit of the stomach, as you inhale, it will feel as if air is filling the area below the navel.
Exhale through the nose. The breath should be long and directed toward the tanden with the power of the abdominal muscles. Contract the muscles around the anus and push the hips upright and slightly forward. The power should feel as if coming out of the area below the navel. The concentration on the lower extremities of the body should relax the shoulders and the upper body.
Inhaling should be left to occur naturally as new air fills the vacuum in the lungs.
In exhaling and inhaling, instead of using physical force, concentrate energy on the lower abdomen. Gradually, conscious effort will lessen and the frequency of breathing will naturally decrease. When the vital power is at the tanden and confined in the hare, this spiritual strength and vital energy will radiate through the entire body.
Count your respiration with all of your spiritual power as if trying to penetrate to the core of the earth. Count the frequency of the exhalation from one to ten. Count in syllables as long as the exhalation. One Two and so on. Let your mind’s eye follow the
exhaled air in counting. If you miscount before reaching the count of ten, or count beyond ten, start again from one.
In order to avoid incongruence between your respiration and the count, it is essential to concentrate your mind on the count rather than on the respiration as such and feel as if you are breathing in accordance with the count.