ZaZen Meditation

What is ZaZen Meditation?

ZaZen meditation (or "sitting") is an optional addition to karate training in the dojo. No one forces you to sit if you don't want to, although we believe ZaZen is one of the strengths of our club. Indeed, Sensei Rick is of opinion that training in the dojo is an optional addition to sitting.

This is Sensei Rick's explanation of ZaZen...

Za means sitting and Zen, meditation, so on the surface ZaZen simply means to sit in contemplation but, as with all symbols used to point the way, it has far deeper implications. This sitting is not a thing of the body, it means to sit within the mind. Externally this means to place the physical body in a certain posture where it can attain a comfortable stillness. This stillness will then be reflected within the spirit, or mind, slowly removing the dichotomy of mind and body. Internally it is the practising of 'the middle way' , as taught by the Buddha. For example: the reasoning mind moves within two extremes, positive and negative, or being and non-being, whilst it identifies with one it cannot be the other. This is reflected in the extremes of bodily positions, lying down or standing up, so sitting in this sense is the middle of the two extremes, as it can become either although, in itself, it is neither. It means keeping the mind 'still', not grasping at form and not grasping at emptiness, in this way it views all things as equal.

When we think in extremes we become 'fixed' to the idea of self and other as opposing entities. When we are self we cannot view self thus see everything as other. When we are other we can not see other, so, view everything as self. Just as fire cannot burn fire, it has to become 'not-fire' in order to know itself. The golden lion is a good example: a lion made entirely of gold can be viewed in two extremes; if we see the body, or form, of the lion we will not see the gold and if we see the gold we will not see the lion.

The middle way is to see both, simultaneously, by dropping the 'thing' and becoming the function which perceives. For it is not 'self' which is the reality, neither is it other than self, it is the resulting function which occurs on the point of contact between these extremes. Put more simply: spirit, or mind, is the gold; it is the invisible force, which functions through phenomena giving it movement and life (the 'self'). The lion is 'other', a body, or form, in itself empty of being yet animated through mind. Without form the function of mind would not be revealed, without mind there would be nothing 'to' reveal, they are an indivisible whole. Through the form we see the truth and through the truth we see the form. And that truth is the 'seeing'!

From 3rd Kyu onwards it becomes 'necessary' to practise ZaZen meditation. Without this it is virtually impossible to realise any of the aforementioned principles as a reality. If we train hard enough in our physical practise we will begin to materialise some of the effects of Fudochi in our movements. However, we will not be self aware as to how we achieve this, hence the 'blind cat bumping into a dead rat' understanding.

If we view Yang to be the positive aspect of physical training, or active element of the way, then we can see Yin as the negative principal of non-activity, or internal practise of the way. These are like the two wheels of a cart: neglect any one and we will simply go around in circles.

The 'secret' to Karate-Do is attaining 'Joriki' (single point concentration). This is achieved through the silent sitting of ZaZen where we take the 'mind ox' by the horns and learn to control him. Remember, we have spent our lives at the mercy of our sub-conscious, letting the ox go wherever he wants, unaware that we actually create our own sufferings by directing the 'law' through our sub-conscious mind. As we begin to call him to task he will 'fight'. Physical Karate training is hard; silent sitting is 'harder' but what we gain from our efforts will be in exact proportion to those efforts. "The iron ore thinks itself, senselessly tortured in the blast furnace but the tempered steel blade looks back and knows better"!

You will be shown how to sit during training but here are some pointers to help (or hinder as the case may be). Sit in seiza (traditional kneeling posture); you can use cushions for comfort if required. Grasp your left thumb in your right palm and wrap the left hand around the right gently gripping into fists. Rest your hands in your lap and, keeping the back perfectly straight, gently drop the shoulders and pull your chin in to straighten the neck. Then, closing your mouth, place the tip of your tongue on the upper palate, just behind your front teeth. Half close your eyes and look down your nose to a position about three feet in front; when done correctly your vision will blur allowing light in but no distinguishable object of sight. It will take a little practise to become comfortable but, once you get your back perfectly straight and relax your eyes, you will find it a very stable and relaxing position. Once seated comfortably take a large breath, in through the nose, inflating your chest to its maximum. Push this breath into your Hara (your belly) and breathe out through your mouth as slowly and controlled as possible. After this one breath all other breathing is performed through the nose only, by using the diaphragm. Do not chest breathe.

Method one

Begin by counting your exhalations, concentrating on breathing with the stomach. You count each out breath as one until you reach ten; then, returning to one, begin again. Visualise each number as you count, keeping your mind on the work at hand. Every time it slips away into thought, gently bring it back and begin counting from one to ten again.

Method two

When you can sit for twenty minutes without losing count once, begin to 'follow' your breath with the mind's eye only. This is slightly more difficult because you have removed the minds 'prop' of counting. Here you keep your concentration in the Hara and simply watch your breath without trying to influence it in any way. Just be aware of whether it's a long breath or a short breath. Notice how breathing and mind are linked; when the mind is quiet the breath will be subtle, sometimes indistinguishable. When the mind is agitated the breathing will reflect this by being coarse. As with, method one; every time your mind escapes into thought, gently bring it back without being too concerned.

Method three

As your mind becomes more concentrated you will reach a stage where you are not sure if you are watching the breath, or the breath is watching you. This usually takes about two month's earnest sitting but it will vary with each individual: more effort better results, but do not try to 'force' anything. When you reach this stage you will know!

At this point you can begin Shikentaza (natural sitting). This is true meditation. Up until now you have been merely concentrating and concentrating is not meditation. With Shikantaza we simply sit, with no object in mind, in the faith that silent sitting is in itself, the manifestation of Fudochi. How long it will take to produce true Shikentaza is of no concern. Just keep your mind still but fully alert, aware of everything, grasping at nothing, like a clear mirror reflecting yet never influencing. Then, slowly, you will become mindful of the very mind that is mindful!

Once you enter the Samadhi (existence) of Shikentaza, the 'way' will begin to materialise of itself and you will start to realise 'true mind'. Just as empty space encompasses everything equally, from a dust mote to a Universe without any gain or loss to itself, so this mind of Shikentaza embraces all phenomena without once being tarnished by its encounter. It is the 'gold' which conceals undifferentiated form within itself and 'sitting' is the form that reveals this gold.

"Just as clouds obscure the sun, so thought obscures the face of wisdom."

Again, using the principle of a trinity method one is equal to Kihon where we produce the body of technique, giving the mind an objective discipline of creating correct posture and counting. Method two materialises when we no longer need to think about our posture etc., we then enter 'function only', as in Kumite, only here we become aware of the subconscious energy which breathes. Then finally, when all effort to produce method one and two has dropped and we attain posture and follow function automatically, we can enter method three. This is the same mind we are looking for within Kata practice, when we experience shikentaza during sitting we will understand where to put the mind during Kata, then the three become one.

One of the main problems when we begin to sit is the expectation of wanting something to happen. What? Sitting means just sitting. Hallucinations and self-hypnosis are not what we are looking for; we are not looking for anything. Just sit, as explained above, concentrating on breathing into the Hara, inflating it on the in breath and gently contracting it on the out breath and let your sitting evolve naturally. Every time your mind moves away from the task, bring it back but do not get agitated by this. Thoughts rising and falling in the mind are not a problem and do not try to stop them.

As your concentration improves you will become aware of more thoughts than when you began. This is because sitting is like shining a light into a darkened room. As your mind becomes quieter it will shine the light of awareness into every corner, illuminating the darkness of the subconscious: Do not be bothered by these thoughts, whether they are good or bad, profound or shallow. Just be aware of their coming and going without getting pulled into them and they will slowly cease of their own accord.

Just sit, watch your breath with your mind centred in the Hara and have faith. When you find the 'place of silence', where all things return to the one, you will realise instinctively that emptiness conceals form and form reveals emptiness, this is Fudochi.

"Sitting quietly, doing nothing, spring comes and the grass grows by itself"

Shotokan Karate Martial Arts Ying Yang Meditation
Back to top