Upaya Sangha of Tucson
Sensei Al Genkai Kaszniak, Ph.D.
Instructions for Zazen (Sitting Meditation) and Kinhin (Walking Meditation)
Our Soto Zen meditation practice is quite simple, and simultaneously very powerful. It is a practice that can be taken up by anyone, regardless of experience, background, or self-perceived “meditation skill.”
In my own experience as a long-time Zen practitioner and teacher, I have yet to meet anyone who I thought was inadequate to this practice.
But, I’ve met many people who have a misunderstanding about what Zen meditation is.
So, in this brief document, I want to discuss our practice, what it is and what it is not.
How do we sit in Zazen? How do we walk meditatively in Kinhin?
What do we do with our body?
What do we do with our mind?
And, how do we relate to all that arises?
When taking our Zazen seat, whether on Zafu and Zabuton or in a chair, we begin by gathering our attention, …
… letting concerns, plans, to-do lists, regrets and expectations be temporarily allowed to rest, bringing attention as fully as possible into right here and now.
Feeling the support of our cushion or chair, connecting us to the support of the earth.
Being aware of our feet, the upright, dignified, though gentle extension of the spine.
The balance of the head on our neck and shoulders, without strain or great effort.
Chin tucked in slightly, tongue resting behind the teeth at the roof of the mouth.
Our face, relaxed, our shoulders dropping.
Eyes partially open with soft downward gaze about three feet in front of our seat.
Our left hand resting upon our right in our lap, thumbs gently touching, as if cradling a precious egg, …
… or, if it is your preferred posture, hands resting on the thighs.
We then recall our intention. Why are we really here? Who will this practice serve?
Perhaps we briefly bring to mind some person or animal whom we know is suffering, picturing them as vividly as possible, …
Extending to them our wish that they be happy, healthy, free of suffering and the causes of suffering, able to live with ease.
And then, broadening this wish to include all beings, throughout all space and time, not excluding our self.
We allow our attention to gently rest in the waves of the breath,
… through the natural, unforced in-breath and through the easy out-breath, …
… allowing attention to remain in the brief gap, noticing anything present in that spacious gap, …
… and then again through the next cycle of in-breath and out-breath.
If mind is particularly busy or drowsy and dispersed, we can count each out-breath, one through ten, then starting over.
And as inevitably will occur, mind becomes lost in memories of the past, imaginings of the future, or some narrative, we simply and gently acknowledge this, …
… and without self-judgement, bring attention back to the breath, each time beginning again …
… knowing that each time we become aware of mind being somewhere other than here and now, …
… this is the real gold of practice, the moment of waking up to the present.
Perhaps, if we have been practicing Zazen for a long time, resting attention in the breath may feel less necessary for attention to remain stable and present.
And, we may find our attention spontaneously broadening, resting in the wide field of awareness itself, …
… noticing whatever arises in the mental continuum, in this moment.
This is shikantaza, or just! sitting, in open awareness.
But we cannot force shikantaza to occur.
Like awakening itself, shikantaza is a kind of accident occurring when the body-mind is ready.
However, we can practice the stabilization and pliancy of attention in the breath, thereby becoming more accident-prone.
The near enemy of shikantaza, when it does spontaneously occur, is dispersion of attention, mind becoming distracted, drowsy, or sluggish.
So, we continue to exert gentle effort, bringing attention back to the breath, when we become aware that this has occurred.
We do not strive for a blank mind – this is not the goal of Zazen practice.
Mind-brains secrete thoughts, images, feelings, and other mental formations. That is simply what mind-brains do.
When, in providing instructions for Zazen, Eihei Dogen writes “Think non-thinking,” …
… what he means is to not chase after or pursue discursive thought.
If, in Zazen, we find that we have become caught up in discursive thought, no problem.
We simply and gently acknowledge what is and, without judgment, return to the breath.
Our relationship to anything that arises in the mental continuum is one of friendly curiosity, …
… a kind of brief nonverbal inquiry, “What is this?”, …
… but without discursive pursuit, without elaboration, …
… then beginning again by returning to the breath.
In kinhin, walking meditation practice, we rest attention in both the breath and in the feeling of each foot on the floor, one step with each in-breath.
Hands are held in shashu, thumb tucked into the curled fingers of the left hand, right hand covering the left, at chest height.
We stand tall, though not rigid, upright and dignified, though not stiff.
And we adopt the same practice as in our Zazen sitting meditation, …
… when mind moves from feet and breath, gently bringing it back into this moment.
Finally, when in a Zen retreat we have a tea break, eat a meal, or use the restroom, we remain in noble silence, …
… allowing the mindfulness of Zazen and Kinhin to continue through these activities.
This is our simple, though quite powerful practice.
As Dogen also wrote, continuous practice is the circle of the way.