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How to Begin Zen Meditation (Zazen)

Zazen is a type of meditation unique to Zen Buddhism that functions at the heart of the practice, Zen is the Japanese word for meditation, so Zen Buddhists could be called "Meditation Buddhists." This article will outline how a beginner can practice zazen, which literally means sitting meditation.


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    Get a zafu or small pillow. This is optional, depending on your position and your preference.
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    Get into position. The literal translation for zazen is "seated meditation". So, how you sit is very important. There are a few different positions used in zazen:
    • The Burmese Position. This is the simplest position in which the legs are crossed with both knees resting flat on the floor. One ankle is in front of the other, not over.
    • The Half Lotus Position (Hankafuza). This is done by placing the left foot onto the right thigh and tucking the right leg under your left thigh.
    • The Full Lotus Position (Kekkafuza). This is by far the most stable of all positions. It is done by placing each foot onto the opposite thigh. This might be slightly painful at first but keep trying and the muscles in your legs will loosen up. It is very difficult and if it is still painful after a week of practise, then either get a doctor's advice or put a hot water bottle on your leg. It is not recommended, however, if you have chronic knee pain. For tips on how to do it, press on the blue 'lotus position' writing above.
    • The Kneeling Position (Seiza). Kneel with your hips resting on your ankles.
    • The Chair Position. It's perfectly fine to sit on a chair but it's essential that you keep your back straight.
    • The Standing Position. This is a helpful position, practiced in Korea and China, for people who cannot sit for long periods of time. Stand straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Your heels should be slightly closer together than your big toes. Lay your hands over your belly, right hand over left. Do not lock your knees.
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    Fold your hands in the cosmic mudra. This is done by placing your dominant hand faced palm up, holding your other hand also faced palm up. The thumbs are lightly touching. This is optional.
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    Begin by clearing your mind and thinking of nothing but your breath. You can keep your eyes open, or half closed, or you can shut them completely.
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    Count each inhalation and each exhalation, until you get to ten.
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    Start back at one again. If your mind wanders, which it will, cast off the thought and then continue back counting from one again.
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    Continue this for about 15 minutes. When you are able to get to ten repeatedly without any intruding thoughts, it's time to start counting an inhalation and an exhalation as one rather than counting them separately. Eventually you will be able to just concentrate on the breath and abandon the counting. For this to happen you need to practice zazen on a daily basis.
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    Open your eyes and warm up your legs and arms, so as to increase your blood pressure to its normal rate.
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    Meditate for 15 minutes for the first week and go up by 5 minutes each week until you reach 45 minutes to an hour, if you can. If you practice zazen regularly and gradually, your meditation sessions will be very relaxing and you will experience a wonderful stillness. Don't try to make your breath be any special way, let yourself breathe in any way that is natural for you.
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    Explore the stillness. Zazen is more than quiet sitting and can lead to a profound uncovering of hidden awareness within us. This final step is achieved by exploring the stillness we create or discover within us through sitting. Take time to observe yourself and the world when sitting and afterward. Use all your senses. When you acknowledge thoughts as you sit in meditation or go about your day, observe what is acknowledged...and what acknowledges.


  • The hand position is important. One side of the hand represents the physical plane, the other, the spiritual plane. Putting them together reminds the practitioner that both planes need to be in harmony. Also, the thumbs touching is a way to manage your subconscious. If you find yourself pressing the thumbs together, then you are too stressed and need to relax. If they fall, you are falling asleep. They should be lightly touching each other.
  • The importance of having your back straight is to allow the diaphragm to move freely. Your breathing in zazen becomes very, very deep.
  • You should try to meditate on a regular, if not daily basis.
  • If you are feeling too much pain or discomfort in a position, don't sit through it. Get up and try a different position.

Things You'll Need

  • A zafu or cushion to sit on.
  • A quiet room where you are unlikely to be disturbed.
  • An alarm to go off after the amount of time you should be meditating for. If an alarm is used, make sure it is a soft alarm. An abrupt, loud sound should not interrupt/terminate a meditation session.
  • Comfortable loose clothing.

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