Instructions for Practicing Zen Meditation

I. Disposition of the Body

The physical posture during zazen should be alert and stable.

Sit on a small round cushion or zafu. Cross your legs and put them on the floor. There should be a firm tripod between your knees and buttocks. Use either the full lotus leg posture with one foot placed over the opposite thigh and the other foot on the other thigh or the half lotus leg posture with one foot placed on the opposite thigh and the other foot tucked under the other thigh. Also, any other cross-legged posture can be effective for zazen practice. Zazen can also be practiced kneeling seated on the zafu turned on its edge or in a chair with the feet planted on the floor. However, the stability which one experiences when sitting cross-legged on the floor makes this the preferred zazen position.

The spine should be straight. Do not lean to the right or the left, front or back. Your ears and shoulders should be in line with each other. Relax your shoulders and push up toward the ceiling with the top of the head. Tuck in the chin, straightening the spine in the neck area. Your nose should be in line with your navel. The mouth should be closed. Breathe through your nose and keep your teeth and lips together. Keep your eyes open at all times. Place your right hand palm upward in your lap against the body. Cover this with the left hand (also palm upward) with the fingers parallel and the middle joints of your middle fingers touching. Join the thumb tips lightly forming a smooth round oval with the thumbs and fingers. The thumbs should be at the level of or slightly below the navel.

Keep the body absolutely still during zazen.

II. Disposition of the Breath

Breathing should be deep and natural during zazen.

Allow the breath to be deep during zazen. Relax the lower abdomen and allow it to expand during inhalation, and contract during exhalation. This is deep settling breathing for the mind and body.

III. Disposition of the Mind

The mind should be a perfect observer, like a shiny mirror, reflecting everything perfectly but never marred by the reflection. Watch the rise and fall of the breath from moment to moment. During zazen the mind is used for observing, not thinking. Look inwardly at your state of mind before any thought arises. When a thought arises, cut it off and get back to the work. What work? Looking inwardly at your state of mind before any thought arises. Whenever you find that you are thinking, daydreaming or in some manner following a chain of thoughts during zazen, immediately cut off the thoughts, and bring your awareness back.

To quote Takashina Rosen, Primate of the Sōtō Zen sect, "Think that which cannot be thought—think nothing."

Further instructions

Please consult the following texts for further zazen instruction.
"Zazen Instruction," Sanshin Zen Community
"How to do Zazen," Sotoshu
"Shōbōgenzō-zuimonki," Eihei Dōgen zenji
"Fukan Zazengi (Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen)," Eihei Dōgen zenji