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True Zen Teachings

Zazen

Kusen by Robert Livingston Roshi

In zazen we have concentration and observation.

Concentration in zazen is at first deliberate, conscious. We must concentrate on posture.
Stretch the spinal column: head presses the sky, knees press the ground. The back is arched in the lower lumbar region. The collarbone is raised, this throws back the shoulders and the neck. Straighten your head, straighten your face. Everything hangs off the backbone. Shoulders drop down, the lower abdomen falls forward and down, let it drop. (That is why if you ever wear trousers when you do zazen, loosen the belt and the top button, so there is no obstruction against your lower abdomen.)

You must concentrate on each point of the posture. Thumbs cross over above the fingers, just touching. It's as if you're holding a large egg in your palms. Hands should be against the lower abdomen. You don't want the thumbs to drop down in a valley or push up in a mountain.

Concentrate on the breathing: long, slow, gentle exhalation. Fill the lungs, then slowly let it drop down, down, all the way towards the crotch, slowly, gently. Only concentrate in the hara: a few inches below the navel, deep in the abdomen. Don't be concerned with the air in the nose, throat, trachea. The exhalation is imperceptible, very slow coming out. The inhalation is naturally rapid: release that downward pressure when most of the air is out of the lungs, and the lungs will fill up quickly. Then begin again the long deep exhalation. Always be conscious of this posture and this exhalation.

Thoughts arise constantly, but it doesn't matter. Let them pass, without attaching, without running after. Let them pass. Keep your concentration on posture, breathing, then thoughts won't disturb, they will just drift by, like clouds in the sky.

At the same time, we observe those thoughts, but not consciously. As they arise and pass, unconsciously, automatically, the thoughts are registered in our memory, deeply in our being. We're not missing anything.

We're not here to think about anything, just to concentrate on posture and breathing. As thoughts arise, let them pass. If you find yourself concentrating on your thoughts, following your thoughts, getting involved with your thoughts, quickly bring your concentration back to the posture, to the exhalation, to the hara.

As thoughts arise, observation is natural, unconscious. Deep in one's mind we come to know ourselves profoundly, to observe and understand our mind, our thoughts, our ego.

We learn to think with the body, not just the brain. So when you're sitting on your zafu in the dojo, it is not necessary to think. Only concentrate: posture, breathing. Just let the thinking brain, the cerebral cortex, cool down naturally. The central brain, the body brain (hypothalamus, thalamus) becomes stronger, more active. So we learn to think with the body, with our entire being.

Concentrate.



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