Yokoji-Zen Mountain Center

Zazen  (Zen Meditation)

A video covering the basics of zazen, or seated meditation. A great starting point to learn meditation.

Upcoming Meditation Retreats

At the heart of Zen training is zazen, or seated meditation. Here at Yokoji we sit zazen on a daily basis year round—check the schedule and join us when you can.

Through the practice of sitting quietly, the mind reflects one's environment and the self that is based on thought and description can be lost. This experience of reality is direct and intimate. Tenshin Roshi and Keizan Sensei co-wrote a book called Way of Zen which says this about zazen:

In our daily lives, zazen provides us with a situation in which we can remove ourselves from external acivities, turn our activity inward, and face ourselves. Zazen is not about achieving some particular state of consciousness. Rather, it is about discovering who you are and what your life is.

Zazen can be practiced by anyone, at any time. It is best practiced in a quiet space, using one of the postures shown. The video on this page shows all the different zazen postures and gives basic instruction as to how to sit. By sitting correctly and comfortably, it allows both body and mind to settle down. A core practice of zazen, is either counting or following the breath. The breath functions as a natural anchor point to come back to when the mind wanders. The practice of counting or following the breath is often given to beginners but it is not limited to those new to the practice—the sensation of breath entering and leaving your body will be with you your whole life. You can always return to the breath.

There are two main practices associated with Zen—Koan and Shikantaza. Koan is a Japanese word, from the Chinese gong'an, and literally means "public case", from the time in China when magistrates would travel from village to village to settle disputes. Like a legal precedent, koans establish a standard of insight and understanding that must be matched by the student. A second meaning of the term koan, is to make even that which is uneven. Koans work by revealing to a student the gaps in their understanding of reality, and by looking into the question, the gap can be bridged, and reality and understanding made to match-up seamlessly. One famous example of Koan is Hakuin's "What is the sound of one hand?" Another example is from Master Joshu: "A monk asked Joshu, 'Does a dog have Buddha nature or not?' Joshu replied, 'Mu.'"

Shikantaza is another Japanese word that means "just sit hit mind". This is the direct experience of the reality of this moment, over and over. The practice is to return repeatedly to the direct experience of whatever is coming in, whatever is "hitting" the mind. It might be the breath, the sound of the birds outside, or the cars and people of a city, the light shifting below your gaze or physical sensations in your body. The mind does not need pointing in any direction, it naturally is all these things and awareness shifts accordingly. The trick is to stay focused rather than drifting off in to thought and fantasy. The abbot at Yokoji, Tenshin Roshi, is a master of both koan and shikantaza and uses both in his teaching.