In Zen Temples, Monasteries, and Zen Centers, practitioners traditionally sit Zazen (sitting meditation) as a group in a Zendo (meditation hall). The practitioner sits on a round cushion called a zafu, that is placed on top of a low flat mat called a zabuton.
Before taking one's seat, and after rising at the end of the period of Zazen, a Zen practitioner performs a Gassho bow to sangha, and then a bow to their seat.
The beginning of a period of Zazen is traditionally announced by ringing a bell three times (shijosho), and the end of Zazen meditation by ringing the bell either once or twice (hozensho). Numerous periods of Zazen may have a period of Kinhin (walking meditation) between them.
The posture of Zazen is seated, with folded legs and hands, and an erect but settled spine. The hands are folded together into a simple mudra over the belly, right hand on top of left hand.
In many practices, the practitioner breathes from the hara (the center of gravity in the belly) and the eyelids are half-lowered, the eyes being neither fully open nor shut so that the practitioner is neither distracted by, nor turning away from, external stimuli. The legs are folded in one of the standard sitting styles:
One can sit comfortably, but not too comfortably, so as to avoid falling asleep. While each of these styles is commonly taught today, Master Dogen recommended only Kekkafuza and Hankafuza.
Sōtō and Rinzai Zazen Practice
Practitioners in the Rinzai school face in, towards each other with their backs to the wall, and in the Sōtō school, practitioners face the wall or a curtain. This can very depending on the monastery.
Generally speaking, Zazen practice is taught in one of the following ways, or a combination of both.
1. Koan Introspection
Koan practice is usually associated with the Rinzai school.
2. Shikantaza (just sitting meditation, no koans)
Shikantaza with the Sōtō school.
In reality many Zen communities use both methods Sōtō and Rinzai depending on the teacher, students, monastery or center.
The initial stages of training in Zazen resemble traditional Buddhist Samatha meditation in actual practice, and emphasize the development of the power of concentration, or Joriki , in Sanskrit, Samādhibala.
The student begins by focusing on the breath at the Hara/Tanden with mindfulness of breath (ānāpānasmṛti) exercises such as counting breath, Sūsokukan or just watching it, Zuisokukan.
Mantras are also sometimes used in place of counting. Practice is typically to be continued in one of these ways until there is adequate "one-pointedness" of mind to constitute an initial experience of Samadhi.
At this point, the practitioner moves to one of the other two methods of Zazen.
Having developed awareness, the practitioner can now focus his or her consciousness on a Koan as an object of meditation. Since Koans are, ostensibly, not solvable by intellectual reasoning, Koan introspection is designed to shortcut the intellectual process leading to direct realization of a reality beyond thought.
Shikantaza is a form of meditation, in which the practitioner does not use any specific object of meditation; rather, practitioners remain as much as possible in the present moment, aware of and observing what passes through their minds and around them.
Dogen says, in his Shobogenzo, "Sitting fixedly, think of not thinking.
How do you think of not thinking?
This is the way of Zazen.