Here is the information on how to do suggested sitting meditation methods as practiced in the Soto Zen tradition. This is also known as zazen (ざぜん, Japanese for “just sit”).
This page will give some basic instructions on zazen.
NOTE: This is the form of meditation taught and practiced during a Meditation & Dharma Discussion broadcast on the Taizen channel on Twitch. That said, during the show, all forms of meditation are acceptable and, while these streams present Buddhist teachings, ALL ARE WELCOME. We ask that you be compassionate, civil, and respectful of others’ beliefs. For more information on the streaming program, go to https://live.taizen.org.
How To Meditate
Here is some guidance on how to meditate indoors as taught in Soto Zen Buddhism.
If you haven’t done so already:
- Place a zofu (ぞふ, meditation cushion) upon a zabuton (ざぶとん, soft mat) or a chair (if needed) close to a wall. If you’re using a chair, it should face the wall.
- Stand as straight as possible in front of your zofu or chair opposite of the wall and facing away from the wall (180 degrees away from the wall).
- Put your hands together, palm to palm, several inches in front of you with your fingers together and pointing straight upward. The tip of your middle finger should align with the tip of your nose. (🙏)
- Bow from the waist at about 45 degrees. This shows respect for your meditation space (and to others meditating with you in a zendo, ぜんど).
- Turn clockwise toward the wall (this should be a 180 degree turn), then bow again the same way as before. This shows respect to your seat.
Now you’re ready to seat yourself for meditation and begin.
- Sit upon a zofu in the lotus position, half lotus position, or as according to your comfort. Alternatively, you can sit in a chair if needed.
- Once you’re seated, if using a zofu, then turn yourself clockwise so you’re facing the wall using your hands. If you’re using a chair, simply sit in the chair with your feet placed flat on the floor facing the wall.
- Cup both of your hands and place them on your lap (if possible). Your palms should be faced up, the fingers of your left hand placed on top of the fingers of your right, and your thumbs barely (but not quite) touching at the tips. This is known as mudra.
- Straighten your back.
- Your head should be facing forward lowered slightly as if the body is being suspended from the topmost point of your skull by a string.
- Be sure that you’re comfortable. Adjust accordingly.
- Close your eyes between ⅓ to ¾ of the way. Lower your gaze downward at about a 45º angle. Try not to close your eyes completely, they should remain barely open.
Now for the meditation, itself.
- Consider how much time you plan to set aside for meditation. The standard time for mediation in Soto Zen is 40 minutes. Some leaders, teachers, and practicers will stop meditation when 30 minutes have passed. During our show, meditation sessions are only 20 minutes. If you’re meditating on your own, choose the amount of time that’s feasible to you, in which case you may set an alarm if you prefer.
- In a zendo and during the show, you will be given a few minutes to sit and settle in.
- In a zendo and during the show, the person leading the meditation will ring a bell three times. This indicates that meditation time has begun.
- Breath slow and steady through your nose (if/as much as possible).
- Now that you’re in a sitting position, relax and allow your thoughts to come and go. Try not to linger on or cling to any thought that pops up in your head. The point is to completely remain in the moment, thinking not of the past, present, or future. Let the mind wander freely without your intervention.
- In a zendo and during the show, after the allotted time has passed, a bell will be rung just once. This indicates that meditation time has ended. If you’re meditating on your own, this is when the alarm you may have set earlier goes off.
- You may turn away from the wall using your hands (on your zofu) or turn your chair around and sit back down.
- If you used a zofu, fluff it as if it were a pillow, then place it back on the zabuton. If you used a chair, straighten the chair and, if you used one, fluff the cushion used on your chair.
- At this point, if you’re meditating on your own, skip to step 4.
Provided you are in a zendo for a service or you’re participating with the streaming show, the Dharma based discussion (or Dharma talk if lead by a teacher who is Dharma transmitted) will begin. Stay seated, listen, and participate as is acceptable. If you’re participating at our streaming show, return to your computer, tablet, or smartphone screen to participate in chat. Remain until the talk or discussion is over.
- Put your hands together (🙏) and bow from the waist toward the wall just as you’ve done before. Turn around clockwise (180 degrees) and bow again.
- If applicable, put your zofu and zabuton or chair away.
Here are some resources on zazen and meditation as practiced in the Soto Zen tradition (with photos and illustrations):
- SOTOZEN-NET: https://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/practice/zazen/index.html (English)
- Soto Zen Buddhist Associate: https://szba.org/soto-zen/how-to-meditate/
- Lion’s Roar: https://www.lionsroar.com/how-to-practice-zazen/ (English)
You can also check with your local zendo or Zen center.
It’s important to mention that other traditions and religions teach other methods of meditation. All methods of meditation are just as valid to one another and no methods are superior. That said, we encourage you to explore different kinds of meditation to find a method that’s right for you. That said, you are welcome to use other methods of mediation during our steams. If, however, you finish meditating before the indication bell, please be courteous and wait quietly.