What is Zen?

1. Zazen

Zazen is:

  • the self-realising Nirvana (peace and joy)
  • the completion of existence and life
  • the complete realisation of the dignity of human existence
  • in eternal presence, here and now, with all creatures and living beings in this world.

Principles of Practice

In order to practise this Zazen the following three aspects should be observed and practised:

  • settle the body
  • settle the breath
  • settle the mind

1. Settle the body

One should not lean to the left nor to the right, the spine is upright, the shoulders are relaxed, the head not falling forward or backward.

If possible, the lotus seat (half or full) shall be adopted.

For the half lotus one foot rests on the other thigh, for a full lotus both feet rest on both thighs. The hands are kept at the waist in an oval shape, resting on the soles of the feet. The thumbs touch each other slightly. The eyes are slightly open, the gaze is directed slightly downwards towards a point approximately 1.5 – 2 meters away. Awareness is directed inwards.

2. Settle the breath

Be aware of breathing in and out while sitting. Let go: wanting to control breath, wanting to become calmer by counting your breath, let go all of this intentions completely.

The breath goes deep down into the abdomen and comes from there, neither long nor short. Natural, balanced breath while sitting is the basis of peace of body and mind.

3. Settle the mind

Mind means in this context the mental-spiritual condition, in other words “Heart-Mind”.

To settle this mind, in Zen tradition and in the Mahayana teachings (Heart Sutra) we practise “Not-Thinking”,  “Not-Gaining” and “Not-Enlightenment”. That means that emotions and thoughts are never repressed.

Shinjin-mei (China, 6th century):

“The Perfect Way knows no difficulties. Except that it refuses to make preferences. Only when freed from hate and love. It reveals itself fully and without disguise.”

(transl. D. T. Suzuki)

Teachings of Dogen Zenji (Japan, 13th century):

“Sitting itself is the practice of the Buddha. Sitting itself is non-doing, it is nothing but the true form of the self. Apart from sitting there is nothing to seek as the buddha-dharma.” (Shobogenzo Zuimonki, 2-22, transl. Okumura)

“To transcend the whole universe at once, to live a great and valuable life in the house of the Buddhas and ancestors, it is to sit in the full Lotus posture (kekka-fuza)”. (Shobogenzo Zanmai-O-Zanmai)

“This birth and death is the life of buddha. If you try to exclude it you will lose the life of buddha. If you cling to it, trying to remain in it, you will also lose the life of buddha, and what remains will be the mere form of buddha. Only when you don’t dislike birth and death or long for them, do you enter buddha’s mind. However, do not analyze or speak about it. Just set aside your body and mind, forget about them, and throw them into the house of buddha; then all is done by buddha. When you follow this, you are free from birth and death and become a buddha without effort or calculation. Who then continues to think?” ( Shobogenzo Shoji, transl. Tanahashi/Kotler)

F. S. Nakagawa:

In this sense, “Zazen” is nothing but the realisation of a dignified existence, together with all and everything in the universe. “Be worthy in this life, with all, here and now” – this is being expressed and practised in the form of Zazen. That is the reason why Zazen is a true home for everyone. Peace and joy are the ultimate meaning in this life in this world. From this basic root of human existence, all doing and not-doing makes perfect sense. Through realisation of the dignity and the meaning of our own existence, the whole world around us reveals the ultimate meaning and the final orientation towards life: to feel peace and joy here and now, to preserve and express it.

2. The essence of Zen

Life is being born, growing up, work, play, rest, age, sickness, death – and everything else. Life in this world is a school for the soul. Zen is life. Therefore Zen or Zazen, “sitting in self-absorption”, is no means to achieve something we wish for. It is more a realisation of the reality of our life and the whole world. Zen is no religion in the common sense of the meaning but it is still a deeply experienced religious practice. Zazen helps us to wake up to the realisation that the world with all its problems exists within ourselves and yet we live always in the universe of eternal peace. This awakening is nothing but the light within ourselves that lets us see our own path of life in the light of peace.

We know the pictures that the astronauts took from the moon. Our earth like a shimmering blue planet in the darkness of the universe. Somewhere out there we sit, fighting wars over pieces of land, running after our desires trying very hard to get even more of everything, at the same time destroying our planet bit by bit.  Seen from a distance, from the moon, this is all quite ridiculous and very sad. This global, deep, and clear vision from the moon – this is the awakened eye of the Buddha. To recognise the world with this eye, full of compassion and wisdom, that is Zazen practice. We do not need a spaceship for that. A place to sit is sufficient, one square meter on this earth, here and now.

(according to: „Zen weil wir Menschen sind“, Fumon Nakagawa Roshi)

For further information please visit:

http://global.sotozen-net.or.jp/eng/index.html (english)