14 votes

Anyone here practicing Zazen?

I recently finished "Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind" by Shunryu Suzuki and was deeply moved. I've meditated sporadically over the years and dabbled in various Buddhist traditions yet never have I been so taken with an approach as I was after reading this. If there is anybody out there practicing Sōtō Zen would you be able to recommend anything to read next?

18 comments

  1. [6]
    cfabbro
    (edited )
    Link
    Yep. I practice Zazen daily, and have done so pretty consistently for well over a decade now. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind is the book that initially got me interested in Zen 20+ years ago too, so...

    Yep. I practice Zazen daily, and have done so pretty consistently for well over a decade now. Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind is the book that initially got me interested in Zen 20+ years ago too, so you're not the first to have that experience with it. :)

    If there is anybody out there practicing Sōtō Zen would you be able to recommend anything to read next?

    I am no longer a regular temple or meditation center goer anymore, though I used to be, and I have gone on retreat a number of times over the years as well... so I have first hand experience with Soto Zen, Rinzai Zen, Kadampa Buddhist, and several Western Zen (MRO & White Plum) meditation programs. And while there is definitely noticeable doctrinal, philosophical, political and methodology differences between them all, IMO they were all still largely the same at the practical level... which is the only place I really concern myself. As such I don't like to claim affiliation to any one sect or school of Buddhist/Zen thought/practice over another, and largely agree with @mrbig that ultimately "Zen is zen", and so would also caution you against getting too hung up on the idea of the various schools at this point... and would especially caution you against developing a loyalty to any particular one before you have actually spent time with them first.

    E.g. Kadampa Buddhism often gets criticized pretty heavily for its sectarian political dogma (and rightly so, IMO), but despite that, every Kadampa center I have spent time at was wonderful, had great meditation programs with lovely people working there, and I never once felt any dogmatic or political pressure from them. Whereas traditional Soto Zen I have had some pretty negative experiences with over the years because of how insanely strict and oldschool some of the teachers I have had were. E.g. I really didn't appreciate being smacked in the face for "being distracted", nor smacked in the back with a cane for "poor posture", while trying to meditate... however I try not to hold that against the entire school for the poor behavior and practices of a few bad teachers.

    And I also have to agree with @mrbig that while reading is great, and I definitely encourage it, IMO the most important part of Zen is in the doing, and so I would also highly recommend focusing primarily on just tying to build your meditation and mindfulness habits first, instead of getting caught in the weeds reading dogma. However with that said, nothing is really stopping you from doing both, so I can still recommend a few books for you if you would like. It just depends on what sort of books you're looking for.

    E.g. If you're looking for more books similar to Zen Mind, then The Three Pillars of Zen and Cultivating the Empty Field are two more rather influential Zen related books in a similar vein that you might enjoy. However if you're looking for something a bit lighter, Zen Flesh, Zen Bones is another classic that's not overly serious, and is a very fun read IMO. I still regularly take my pocket edition of it with me whenever I travel. :)

    p.s. Semi-related side note: I recently started incorporating a Light Therapy Box into my daily meditation, and as someone in a Northern climate where sunlight is pretty minimal during the winter, I highly recommend it. It has dramatically improved my mood and energy levels.

    8 votes
    1. [5]
      milkbones_4_bigelow
      Link Parent
      Thanks for this cfabbro. I have a tendency to get a little lost in these things so appreciate the reminder that sitting is frequently enough. That said, the book recommendations are also...

      Thanks for this cfabbro. I have a tendency to get a little lost in these things so appreciate the reminder that sitting is frequently enough. That said, the book recommendations are also appreciated. I suppose in time finding that balance will become more apparent.

      In terms of habits, I'd love to get the perspective of a more experienced practitioner. Do you practice daily and if so for how long? Do you even sit for specific periods or just ride it out until you feel you have sat for long enough? ZMBM was great but I am still missing some practical details. Although perhaps that's not what's important here :) Thanks again.

      2 votes
      1. [4]
        cfabbro
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        No prob! When it comes to Zen & meditation I am far from an expert, but I have been at it for some time now, and am always glad to try to answer questions and help others with their efforts. :)...

        No prob! When it comes to Zen & meditation I am far from an expert, but I have been at it for some time now, and am always glad to try to answer questions and help others with their efforts. :) Speaking of which, here is an old comment of mine that should answer your questions:

        I suffer from recurring, debilitating panic attacks (clinically diagnosed panic disorder) and daily Zazen meditation has helped me a great deal over the years; Not only in just generally coping with them but also helping me mitigate their effect and even in preventing them entirely if I catch them coming on early enough. It's super easy to learn the basics, only requires 10-15min a day, requires no special equipment, and it just works... all it requires is persistence and consistency in order to get the benefits.

        It's also wonderfully flexible, too. I can do it wherever and whenever I need to, be it in the shower or even when I am out and about. Sometimes I just count my breaths, sometimes I use koans (repeating a phrase or word that has meaning for me, e.g. "Serenity"), and sometimes I listen to music or chanting (e.g. Gyuto monks) while doing it. Sometimes when I am having a really shitty/stressful/panic attack filled week I meditate for an hour or more a day, sometimes when I feel a panic attack coming I can just quickly take some deep breaths while counting them for a few minutes to re-center myself and prevent it from escalating, sometimes in the middle of a panic attack I can just start meditating and it helps me detach to take the edge off.

        For anyone else struggling with panic attacks or generalized anxiety I really can't recommend learning meditation enough, be it Zazen, mindfulness, transcendental or whichever you prefer.

        TL;DR - I'm pretty flexible in terms of my meditation habits, since I prefer (and often require) that flexibility due to the unpredictable nature of my panic disorder.

        5 votes
        1. [2]
          muh_tilde
          Link Parent
          Thanks for this comment cfab. I have a friend who has been struggling with panic attacks his whole life. I sent him this hoping it might help. I will try it myself as well as I've been...

          Thanks for this comment cfab. I have a friend who has been struggling with panic attacks his whole life. I sent him this hoping it might help. I will try it myself as well as I've been peripherally interested in meditation for a while now.

          3 votes
          1. cfabbro
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            No prob... I hope it helps you and your friend! And feel free to PM me if either of you have any questions. :) p.s. Since you're both new to meditation, another comment I made in that same old...

            No prob... I hope it helps you and your friend! And feel free to PM me if either of you have any questions. :)

            p.s. Since you're both new to meditation, another comment I made in that same old topic might also help:

            the biggest piece of advice I can give is to try your best not to get frustrated if you can't quiet your mind right away. If it starts wandering, don't fight it, acknowledge the stray thoughts but then let them pass through your mind and just resume counting again. It may take a few attempts at meditation before you are able to reach consistent and prolonged stillness of mind, so just keep at it. The more often you meditate, the easier and quicker you will be able to reach that state, too. Eventually you won't even need to worry about your posture or all the other trappings (but to start they are good to practice to help you build the habit!) and just counting breaths regardless of circumstances will get you there.

            2 votes
        2. milkbones_4_bigelow
          Link Parent
          I'm glad to hear it's helped with your panic disorder cfabbro. I can certainly attest to feeling calmer too.

          I'm glad to hear it's helped with your panic disorder cfabbro. I can certainly attest to feeling calmer too.

          2 votes
  2. [8]
    mrbig
    (edited )
    Link
    I did zazen this morning. That’s a good book you’ve read. You should focus on meditating and slowly digesting everything you learned. Don’t read any Zen for a while. Just sit. Also: unless some...

    I did zazen this morning. That’s a good book you’ve read. You should focus on meditating and slowly digesting everything you learned. Don’t read any Zen for a while. Just sit.

    Also: unless some tradition has physical presence in your area, don’t worry about school affiliation. Zen is zen.

    3 votes
    1. [7]
      milkbones_4_bigelow
      Link Parent
      Very sound advice. I suppose the key is balance here, learning enough but not drowning in dogma. Internalising non-gaining mind is already proving helpful, I'm trying as best I can to deeply...

      Also: unless some tradition has physical presence in your area, don’t worry about school affiliation. Zen is zen.

      Very sound advice. I suppose the key is balance here, learning enough but not drowning in dogma. Internalising non-gaining mind is already proving helpful, I'm trying as best I can to deeply consider this. A practical question if I may. Do you have a regular practice and if so is there a particular amount of time you practice for? Apologies, I have nobody to ask in person in my local area.

      4 votes
      1. [6]
        mrbig
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I am in the process of restarting my regular practice, so the point where I am now is not too distinct from someone that just started on zazen. I don't have a designated time of the day, but I...

        Do you have a regular practice and if so is there a particular amount of time you practice for?

        I am in the process of restarting my regular practice, so the point where I am now is not too distinct from someone that just started on zazen.

        I don't have a designated time of the day, but I always do at least 30 minutes.

        I can't remember where I read this advice, but I think the best is to start with the maximum amount of time you're able to remain seated without going crazy or super-anxious, and there is no universal value. Slowly increase duration from there.

        If you ask a monk they'll say start with something like 15 minutes, but 15 minutes is a lot for some people. I've done as little as three minutes, but it could be even less. Just don't count the time you're setting things up, or just procrastinating with thinks like achieving perfect posture or making the perfect mudra.

        To me that is more important to tradition than actual practice. Your back should be straight because otherwise you will feel pain, and your eyes should not be closed because otherwise you might fall sleep. Other than that, I say fuck it. Just fucking sit :D

        3 votes
        1. [5]
          milkbones_4_bigelow
          Link Parent
          This seems to be the crux of it, yes :) For anybody finding this thread in the future below is a list of notes I took on posture that Shunryu Suzuki recommends in ZMBM. Ensuring this posture is...

          I say fuck it. Just fucking sit :D

          This seems to be the crux of it, yes :)

          For anybody finding this thread in the future below is a list of notes I took on posture that Shunryu Suzuki recommends in ZMBM. Ensuring this posture is correct seems to be about the only pre-requisite alongside actually sitting. Hope they're helpful to someone out there.

          • The full lotus position is preferred but not required (unfortunately for me it's not currently an option).
            • If not, the half lotus is just fine.
              • Example: Place your right leg on top of your left thigh.
          • Keep your spine straight.
          • Your ears and shoulders should be in one line.
          • Relax your shoulders.
          • Your chin should be tucked in slightly.
          • Try to press your diaphragm down to your lower abdomen.
          • Your hands should form the cosmic mudra.
            • Example: The back of one hand should sit in the palm of the other. Your thumbs should form a triangle in your lap (as if you held a piece of paper between them).
            • Your thumbs should be about the height of your navel.
          • Try to hold your arms slightly away from your body, as if you held an egg between each arm.
          • You should be sitting upright.
            • Try your best not to slump.
          • Keep your eyes open a little, but do not focus (focusing on the tip of your nose can help).
          • Your tongue should be placed on the roof of your mouth.
          4 votes
          1. [2]
            mrbig
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            Zazen is the constant effort to zazen. You will slump, and try not to. You will close your eyes, and try not to. Your legs will cramp, you will try not too. You will engage in chain-thoughts, and...

            Zazen is the constant effort to zazen. You will slump, and try not to. You will close your eyes, and try not to. Your legs will cramp, you will try not too. You will engage in chain-thoughts, and try not too. You will TRY, and try not to try (and this is infinitely recursive).

            When seating becomes second nature, you will think "I'm doing zazen! I'm really good at this", and realize that now you're FUCKED because how can you get good at something that achieves nothing? You're just a vain asshole that can now sit for long periods of time. What are you doing anyway? What is zen? Who the fuck are you? You're fucking nothing. Not even something that seats. You're the cushion and the wall you're looking at. You never sat, and you will never stand up. Your back is not straight cause that is not your back, and you're not even breathing because you have no lungs. There's just a pair of lungs that happens to be objectively closer to you, but what's the difference between those lungs and every other lung? There's nothing close, and nothing far. You achieve nothing because you're just a revolving door through which air will pass for some time before it also fades into nothing.

            3 votes
          2. [2]
            mrbig
            Link Parent
            That's good overall advice, but I tend to have a non-fundamentalist perspective of such things. There are practical reasons for everything you say, but the mudra is meaningless for me. If instead...

            That's good overall advice, but I tend to have a non-fundamentalist perspective of such things. There are practical reasons for everything you say, but the mudra is meaningless for me. If instead of making the mudra you gave Buda the finger, he would simply smile and give the finger back.

            I would only worry about making the mudra if I was in a formal practice environment, because I'm not an asshole and would do it out of respect.

            3 votes
  3. [4]
    NoblePath
    Link
    It’s too soon to tell.

    It’s too soon to tell.

    2 votes
    1. [3]
      milkbones_4_bigelow
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Sorry, just to understand, should I spend more time with this book? If so, how much time is enough time? How to know when something is fully understood? I'm aware I'm getting a little lost in the...

      Sorry, just to understand, should I spend more time with this book? If so, how much time is enough time? How to know when something is fully understood? I'm aware I'm getting a little lost in the epistemological weeds but I'm quite lost with regards to those questions.

      1. [2]
        NoblePath
        Link Parent
        You asked if anyone practices zazen. It’s too soon to tell, for me, whether I’m practicing zazen. It’s a reference to an old zen story about an old man and his horse, I was curious if anyone would...

        You asked if anyone practices zazen. It’s too soon to tell, for me, whether I’m practicing zazen. It’s a reference to an old zen story about an old man and his horse, I was curious if anyone would catch it.

        1 vote