HOW TO DO ZAZEN                                

Direct Key Points

1. Sitting Mat

When doing Zazen, use a thick mat. Legs will become painful if the mat is too thin. We cannot continue true Zazen if our mind is full of pain. Having to endure painful legs is not Zen practice. Please feel free to use a thick mat.

Place a Zafu (a circular stuffed cushion about 40 cm wide and 15 cm high) on top of the mat and sit with it under your hips.

2. Sitting style

Basically there are three ways to do Zazen. These are Kekkafuza, Hankafuza and Japanese - style

kneeling. Of these, Kekkafuza is the most formal. If it is not physically possible to do this you should do Hankafuza. If both styles are too difficult you may choose to do Japanese - style kneeling. Some people may sit on a chair until they become able to sit on the floor.

Sit with the right foot on the left thigh and left foot on the right thigh. Buddha statues sit the opposite of practicing students. Buddha is always saving people and therefore sits counter crosswise. We are practicing so please sit as explained above.

Sit with the left leg on the right thigh.

Japanese - Style Kneeling
Sit with the cushion under your hips in a kneeling position. The two big toes should be crossed behind you with a space of about two fists between the knees. If this becomes painful, place the cushion between the legs and sit on it like a horse.

We may use any of these sitting styles in our Zen practice. We may alternate our leg position from right to left and left to right as necessary.

3. Hands

Place the right hand under the left hand on top of the legs. Make an egg shape by lightly touching the thumbnails together. If you become sleepy or your mind is distracted this form may be lost. Please use awareness to keep good form. Relax the shoulders and separate the arms from your sides. 

4. Body  

Sit with a straight back and always try to achieve good form. This is very important. Sometimes, though we think we are sitting straight, our backs are curved. When you are sitting straight, you should feel that your back is a little bit arched. Students sitting with bad form should feel that they are not doing Zazen.

5. Eyes

Do not close the eyes while doing Zazen. Zazen is not meditation or a form of relaxation. In the case of meditation we may imagine God or something and feel that it is real. Many people say that they have had a special religious experience. Zazen does not produce such special experiences. During Zazen we keep our eyes open and look directly for our true self.
When doing Zazen, look down slightly about 1 meter in front. Do not try to look at some particular point. Only see.

6. Breath

When starting Zazen take one deep breath. Slowly inhale with the nose, pressing down to the bottom of your stomach. After a few seconds, slowly exhale a thin stream of air from the nose. From this deep breath, return to normal breathing.

7. Mind

There are 4 methods used to control the mind during Zazen. These are Susokukan, Zuisokukan, Shikantaza and Koan.

During Zazen count or breathe from 1 - 10. You may choose to count the exhale, inhale or both. Usually we say, count the exhale when you are sleepy or count the inhale when the mind is distracted. If you are very sleepy and distracted count both exhale and inhale. Please try these and choose the one that is best for you.
More importantly, become one with counting. Never think of this counting as a number. When 1, only「oneee…」when 2, only「twooo…」 Like this, we become one with this counting. If you lose your concentration, do not dwell on your mistake, stop such thinking and quickly return to this counting.

Without counting we become one with breathing. When inhaling, become inhaling. When exhaling, become exhaling.

This Zazen is only sitting with no method. This is the most simple and pure style of Zazen. 'Shikan' means 'just' and 'taza' means 'sit' without purpose. In fact, all other styles of Zazen lead to this level.
Because there is no method for Shikantaza people sometimes arrive at a mistaken understanding. There is no way to check. Those who are doing Shikantaza often think that only sitting is perfect Buddhism. This is only knowledge and not true Shikantaza.

Buddhism means to lose oneself. To support this practice we use Zen questions. These are called Koans. Some people criticize Koans because it studies Buddhist theory, this is a big misunderstanding. When we become one with Koans we can lose ourselves. When we lose ourselves we can get the answers to Koans. If we keep ego it is impossible to get the answer.
We need a good master and strong will for the truth otherwise Koan practice will become only a koan study or koan play. For this reason you must take care.
In Toshoji, we teach all beginners Susokukan. In some cases we use koans.

Indirect Key Points

1. Facing a wall

When doing Zazen, face a wall. The wall is not important. The reason we face the wall is because if we look at a far away place our mind will become distracted. In your house, use a door or wall to sit in front of. Sit about 1 meter away. 

2. Eating

You should eat 80% (70%) of your full capacity. After eating, take a short rest before starting Zazen. Just after a meal we tend to feel sleepy because we are full. Sleeping Zazen does not produce such a good effect and is not healthy for the body. If you sleep during Zazen it will become a habit. Also remember, if you do not eat, you will have no power to do Zazen. Eating moderately is best. If you are very serious and not sleepy it is possible to sit more and more.

3. Time

Thinking that a few minutes of Zazen is not useful or is equivalent to doing no Zazen is a mistake. Just one second of Zazen has an endless past and future. It has a great power to make the whole universe pure. Even if you cannot believe this, you must try Zen with this wisdom. How long and how many times we sit will depend on our environment and will. If you have a strong will, what others might consider hard you might find easy. Sometimes people say, "I have no time." If you have a strong will you can make time. It is not so good to sit for a long time because you will become tired and your mind unclear.
30 - 40 minutes is a good start for beginners. If you wish to continue longer please do Kinhin and take a short rest in between intervals. For example: 40 minutes Zazen and 5 minutes Kinhin, followed by a 15 min rest.
*We will explain Kinhin afterwards.

4. Timed sitting

Use something to check the time while sitting. The feeling of time is always different depending on the body's condition. Thinking about how long we have been sitting will distract the mind. Use a watch or incense stick during Zazen.
When using incense, pick a stick that will burn for the desired time and put it in front of you. The nice smell of incense is also helpful for concentration while doing Zazen.

5. Kinhin (Walking Zazen)

In continuing Zazen, stand up and walk in the room in between sessions. Naturally look downwards 2 meters ahead while walking. Hands are in Sashu. To do this, make a fist with the right hand and cover it with left hand. Bring the hands to the chest keeping the elbows up. Step heel first and walk forward.
Kinhin is not a rest. It is walking Zen. People who are doing Susokukan must continue counting while walking. Those doing Shikantaza must walk 'Shikan' (just) walking. Normally we think Kinhin is for refreshing ourselves and stretching the legs. In a quiet environment we do not receive outside influence. Moving and noises influence us and cause discrimination. For this reason, Buddha made Kinhin so that we can try true practice while moving.

Sashu and Walking
In my Soto sect, we make Sashu with the right hand covering the left hand.
The founder of Toshoji, Harada Sogaku Roshi, said that practicing students should always keep the hands and legs, with the right under and the left on top because Buddha sits the opposite of this. Toshoji as well as Rinzai follow this opinion.

In Soto, when walking, take half a step per breath. It is very slow. In Rinzai, Kinhin is done at a fast walking pace. These two sects are on opposite sides of the scale. I think that, case-by-case, we should walk slowly or quickly. In Toshoji, the speed is in the middle between slow and fast. This pace is a little more slowly than normal walking.
When I am in Italy, we use the same pace as the Soto sect because it is better for foreigners' legs.

6. Hitting stick

During Zazen we hit student's shoulders with a stick. This is called Kyosaku. It is not an instrument used for hard training or punishment. Kyosaku is used to motivate students to practice harder and reach enlightenment. Sometimes the shock of Kyosaku can help students to enlighten. In normal Zazenkai (Zen training) I lightly hit everyone equally. During Sesshin (5 days of hard Zen training) we give many Kyosaku for serious students. Most temples use Kyosaku for students who are sleepy or have bad form but this is not its true use. If we have bad form we can correct it and if we are sleepy it is better to return home.

Receiving Kyosaku
In Soto sect temples a light touch is given on the right shoulder. At this time tilt the head to the left and make a gassho (hands pressed together in pray fashion). In Toshoji, the founder said that when we start Zazen we should never break our form. Just tilt the head to the left and receive Kyosaku. After this, make a gassho and return to Zazen.

7. Keeping a Notebook

If you are doing Zazen keep a small notebook. If, during Zazen, you remember important thoughts, go quickly and write them down in your notebook. Immediately return to Zazen. Please note, in a temple, we may not write in the Zendo (Zazen room) or leave during Zazen. Writing in a notebook at home or between intervals of Zazen is fine.


What is Dokusan?

Dokusan means 'to study alone with a Master'. Each student goes alone to the Master's room and says their understanding of their koan. The student then receives the Master's criticism. Sometimes the Master and student may partake in Dharma fighting.
Dokusan is considered a private lesson rather than a group lesson. This private lesson is very important for the transmission of Buddhism between Master and disciple. Each person's life is different and this difference is itself real Buddhism. Searching for this real Buddhism is also different for everyone. The way is never the same. A way that is useful for one person may be of no use for someone else.
The Master checks each student's life situation and level of understanding. He then suggests the best way for the student to enlighten. This is Dokusan.

Caution for Dokusan
Conversations held in Dokusan must never be discussed with another person. If you discuss or listen to other peoples Dokusan you will naturally want to use the same way as them. In day-to-day life this is not a problem though in Zen, if you really want to enlighten, such knowledge will become a big problem. This is a terrible thing so please never disturb other people. 

How to Do Dokusan

Dokusan itself is 'no ego' practice. In Dokusan, Master and disciple both abandon common sense and the feelings of normal life. We must use our whole body to get the truth. Student's, with a saintly feeling, go to Dokusan with the spirit that they are going to Buddha's place.
Though the Master has human faults, when he receives Dokusan with a dharma eye, he becomes one Buddha. The Master, without reservation, kills all discrimination.
With this spirit we have to follow the rules of Dokusan.
In the entrance, bow three times before entering the Dokusan room. Enter the room with hands in Gassho form and bow three times before the Master. Kneel quietly and slide forward so that there is a space of about 50 cm between the Master and your knees. Put hands in Zazen form on your lap and sit up straight. Quickly say, "My Koan is …" and give your answer. Questions and answers should be simple and we should never talk about such things as Philosophy or Buddhism. Do not ask about theories and 'isms' in Dokusan. Such questions should be asked at another time, outside of Dokusan. Personal issues should not be addressed in Dokusan. In Dokusan, always do only practice.
When the Master rings the bell it is a signal for the next person to come and for you to leave. At this point, though you may wish to say more, you must leave.
Before standing up bow once. Exit the room and bow three times in the entrance before returning to your seat in the Zendo.
Basically, in Dokusan, we must always bow three times though in Toshoji, because there are sometimes many people doing Dokusan, we only bow once.
When going to Dokusan, do not go too quick nor too slow. We disturb other people with loud running or by taking too much time walking slowly.
Hands should be in Sashu when going to and from Dokusan and in Gassho while in the Dokusan room. Waiting for and going to and from Dokusan is not a rest time. Carefully and seriously we must always become one with our Koan.

Reading this report is a good cause and effect.
I hope that you practice Zen seriously because life is so short.