Za Zen Meditation


Zazen refers to sitting meditation. It’s a meditative practice that’s meant to give insight into your true nature of being.

There seems to be a common misunderstanding about zazen, which some people think of as a technique for reaching a state of “no thought.” Such an understanding of zazen assumes that a certain state of mind can be reached by manipulation, technique or method. In the West, zazen is usually trans­lated as “Zen meditation” or “sitting medi­tation.” More and more, in contempo­rary usage, zazen is considered one of the many methods from Eastern spiritual tra­ditions for attaining objectives such as mind/body health, skillful social behav­ior, a peaceful mind or the resolution of various problems in life.

It is true that many meditation prac­tices in the Buddhist tradition are helpful in achieving these objectives, and these may certainly be skillful uses of meditation tools. However, zazen, as understood by Dogen Zenji, is something different, and cannot be categorized as meditation in the sense described above. It would there­fore be helpful to us to look at some of the differences between zazen and meditation.

Dogen (1200-1252) was the founder of the Soto Zen tradition and a medita­tion master par excellence. His Shobogenzo is one of the great masterpieces of the Buddhist doctrinal tradition. Contempo­rary scholars are finding much in this text to help them understand, not only a unique approach to Buddhadharma [the teaching of the Buddha], but also to zazen as practice. For Dogen, zazen is first and foremost a holistic body posture, not a state of mind.

Dogen uses various terms to describe zazen, one of which is got-za, which means “sitting immovable like a bold mountain.” A related term of great im­portance is Pekka-fuze—“full-lotus position”—which Dogen regards as the key to zazen. However, Dogen’s understand­ing of Pekka-fuze is completely different from the yogic tradition of India, and this understanding sheds a great deal of light on how we should approach zazen.

In most meditative traditions, practi­tioners start a certain method of medita­tion (such as counting breaths, visualizing sacred images, concentrating the mind on a certain thought or sensation, etc.) after getting comfortable sitting in full-lotus position. In other words, it is Pekka-fuze plus meditation. Kekka-fuze in such us­age becomes a means for optimally con­ditioning the body and mind for mental exercises called “meditation,” but is not an objective in itself. The practice is struc­tured dualistically, with a sitting body as a container and a meditating mind as the contents. And the emphasis is always on meditation as a mental exercise. In such a dualistic structure, the body sits while the mind does something else.

For Dogen, on the other hand, the objective of zazen is just to sit in Pekka-fuze correctly—there is absolutely noth­ing to add to it. It is Pekka-fuzz plus zero. Kodo Sawaki Roshi, the great Zen master of early 20lh century Japan, said, “Just sit zazen, and that’s the end of it.” In this understanding, zazen goes beyond mind/body dualism; both the body and the mind are simultaneously and completely used up just by the act of sitting in Pekka-fuzz. In the Samadhi King chapter of Shobogenzo, Dogen says, “Sit in Pekka-fuze with the body, sit in Pekka-fuze with the mind, sit in Pekka-full of body-mind falling off.”

Meditation practices that emphasize something psychological—thoughts, per­ceptions, feelings, visualizations, intentions, etc.—all direct our attention to cortical-cerebral functions, which I will loosely refer to as “Head.” Most meditation, as we conventionally understand it, is a work that focuses on the Head. In Oriental medicine, we find the interesting idea that harmony among the internal organs is of greatest importance. All the issues associ­ated with Head are something merely re­sulting from a lack of harmony among the internal organs, which are the real bases of our life.

Because of our highly developed cor­tical-cerebral function, we tend to equate self-consciousness, the sense of “I,” with the Head—as if the Head is the main char­acter in the play and the body is the ser­vant following orders from the Head. However, from the point of view of Oriental medicine, this is not only a con­ceit of the Head but is a total miscon­ception of life. Head is just a small part of the whole of life, and need not hold such a privileged position.

While most meditation tends to focus on the Head, zazen focuses more on the living holistic body-mind framework, al­lowing the Head to exist without giving it any pre-eminence. If the Head is over­functioning, it will give rise to a split and unbalanced life. But in the zazen posture, it learns to find its proper place and function within a unified mind-body field. Our living human body is not just a collection of body parts but is an organically inte­grated whole. It is designed in such a way that when one part of the body moves, however subtle the movement may be, it simultaneously causes the whole body to move in accordance with it.

Zazen originates from the teachings of Buddha, who lived in India 2,500 years ago and founded the religion and philosophy of Buddhism. These teachings were brought to schools of Chinese Buddhism and then to Japan.

The aim of the practice is to let go of all judgement and goals. The meditator is aware of all sensations and thoughts that arise and pass by. Meditation is the practice of seeing things as they really are and being aware that everything is temporary. It allows you to do this by focusing on the present moment.

Meditation can improve your life and self in profound ways, and it allows you to develop concentration of mind.

Keep reading to learn more about Zazen meditation and five common types of practice.

How to get into position

How to sit

To practice Zazen, you need to be sitting upright and attentive. This posture helps you keep your awareness on the body and the present moment. If possible, sit facing a wall. You should be balanced between staying grounded and being open. Half lotus and full lotus are ideal postures for Zazen.

If you can’t sit like this, you can try a different position.

  1. Sit in Burmese position, with one ankle in front of the other.
  2. Sit back on your heels and use a meditation cushion for support.
  3. Sit on a chair or stool with your feet flat on the ground.

What to do with your hands

Bring your hands into a mudra of your choice. Try these options:

  1. Put the backs of your palms on your thighs if you’re in a lotus position.
  2. Place the right hand on top of the left hand with your palms facing up, arranging your fingers so they are pointing to the side.
  3. Place the small fingers against your lower belly, gently pressing the tips of your thumbs together above the palms of your hand.

Keeping your awareness on your hands can help you stay focused and alert.

How to keep your posture

Keep your shoulder blades engaged without tensing your shoulders. To do this, keep your head straight and your chin tucked in slightly toward your chest. Your spine should be straight with a tilt in the lower back. You’ll feel weighted and grounded in the lower part of your body, and your upper body will feel light.

Place the tip of your tongue at the front of the top of your mouth. Keep your teeth together and your lips shut.

Don’t completely close your eyes or open them wide, either. Keep a soft gaze ahead of you.

What to do with your breath

Your thoughts have a direct effect on your breath. Keeping your awareness on each breath as it rises and passes can help you stay present.


  1. Feel the breath instead of watching or following it.
  2. Focus your mind by bringing your attention back to each breath when your mind wanders.
  3. Breathe as you normally would so your breath stays natural.
  4. Keep your belly soft and relaxed.

How to keep your mind focused

Your thoughts will probably fluctuate, moving and jumping all over the place. Use the stillness of your body and the rhythm of your breath to stabilize your mind.


  1. Always be gentle with yourself as you seek to quiet or steady the mind.
  2. Any force on your part will be met with resistance of the mind.
  3. Allow yourself to become an observer. Sit still as your thoughts run their course.

Other tips

Your formal practice is your seated meditation, and your other practice is to bring what you learn from it into every aspect of your life. Use the same awareness you have in seated meditation as you go about your day.

There’s no set schedule for how much time you need to dedicate to your practice. You have to create your own practice and decide how much time you can dedicate.

For example, start with an attainable time of 10 to 30 minutes per day. On days when you have more time to meditate you can increase the amount of time. As you develop in your practice, you may find it necessary to devote large blocks of time to meditation.

It’s best to seek out a qualified teacher who can guide you through the practices. You may find it beneficial to meditate in a group, at least from time to time.

Now that you’ve learned how to focus your mind and position your body, let’s explore the five common types of Zazen meditation.

Type 1: Bompu Zen

Bompu means “ordinary.” This meditation is suitable for all people. Bompu Zen has no philosophical or religious content. It’s thought that practicing Bompu Zen can improve physical and mental health by bringing about feelings of happiness and well-being. It has no negative side effects.

Bompu Zen can teach you to concentrate and to control and calm your mind. You can learn how to restrain your thoughts, resist temptations, and get rid of attachments. Bompu Zen allows for intellect, feeling, and will to develop. It helps cultivate your personality and strength of character. It allows you the strength to face any difficulty in your life with ease.

The following therapeutic practices can be considered Bompu Zen:

  1. martial arts
  2. Taoist longevity practices
  3. Noh theatre
  4. Zen arts
  5. most forms of modern Western meditation

Type 2: Gedo Zen

Gedo translates to mean “outside way” and refers to teachings outside of the Buddhist tradition. It also means outside the normal experience of your life.

Gedo Zen is connected to religion and philosophy. Instead of Buddhism, Gedo Zen relates to Hindu yoga, Confucian sitting practices, and Christian contemplation practices. It doesn’t adopt Zen Buddhism in a formal way, but it does use components of it.

Gedo Zen is frequently practiced to develop powers or skills not available to the average person. The intent is to reach an altered state of consciousness or perform physical feats of which you’re not normally capable.

Type 3: Shojo Zen

Shojo literally means a small vehicle. It focuses on the teaching of moving from illusion into enlightenment. It’s a small vehicle because it’s meant only for you. You’re responsible only for yourself and your own peace of mind.

This type of meditation allows you to examine the cause of any suffering and confusion. It’s an exploration of the world around you through direct experience. Shojo Zen is Buddhist, but it differs from Buddha’s highest teaching. Through awareness, you learn that you are part of a whole and not separate from anything.

Shojo Zen is for people who believe in the dual nature of reality and see themselves as separate from the whole. Shojo Zen believes that some states of mind are better than others and practitioners should strive to achieve equanimity.

Get Answers from a Doctor in Minutes, Anytime

Have medical questions? Connect with a board-certified, experienced doctor online or by phone. Pediatricians and other specialists available 24/7.

Type 4: Daijo Zen

Daijo Zen is known as the great practice. It’s a truly Buddhist Zen that allows you to see your true nature in each moment. It’s the type of Zen that was taught by Buddha.

Daijo Zen allows you to understand that you are inseparable from all beings. You learn that you affect everyone else, and they affect you. This understanding allows for deeper intimacy and compassion.

Daijo Zen teaches you to break free from the illusions of the world to experience an absolute, undifferentiated reality. You learn to remove boundaries and limitations. It focuses on the nature of the self and is a religion of enlightenment.

It teaches you to awaken and actualize your true nature. The more you practice this technique, the more you’ll want to practice it and feel the need to do so.

Type 5: Saijojo Zen

Saijojo Zen is the highest vehicle of Buddhist Zen. It’s said to be the greatest practice because the focus isn’t on trying to realize or achieve anything.

Proper practice of Saijojo brings you back to the essence of your true nature, which is perfect. You refrain from wanting, grasping, or trying to achieve something. Rather, you have faith that you will reach enlightenment from dedicated practice. Its focus is practicing the practice. Your seated practice becomes simply sitting and being. You’re fully awakened to your pure, true nature with this practice.

The bottom line

The variety of choice in Zazen meditation can be beneficial because your needs and focus may change over time. Start with the type that appeals to you most at this time. You can experiment with different types to discover what types best suit you.

Make a commitment to the practice and remember that Zazen isn’t going to help you fly away from reality. Its focus is grounded in the present moment, and it will help you be more balanced and centered. The more you practice, the easier it will be for you to have awareness of the present moment.

Remember that the object is to be aware of what’s happening and not to judge it as good or bad. Zen meditation will get easier over time, as it’s a discipline that can be learned with practice. If you can, seek out a qualified teacher who can help guide your practice.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *