Every spiritual warrior must be a student of the ways of meditation. With its increasing popularity meditation has sparked the interest of many people but most don’t know where to begin. The internet has so much information on meditation that starting off on your journey can feel overwhelming and confusing. What is the right way to meditate and who is a reliable authority of this ancient subject?
Here is zazen, a Zen meditation practice, that I was first exposed to in, The Zen Way to the Martial Arts by Taisen Deshimaru. This old samurai master and practitioner of Zen is as a legit of an authority on Zen meditation as it gets. (That’s a picture of him practicing zazen in the cover photo.) I strongly believe this book is an essential read for anyone who is a martial artist or is interested in Zen practices. Zen is a term that is not done justice when described with words, however, in an attempt to be simplified, most of Zen has to do with attaining a state of consciousness that has abandoned ego. How do you do this? By practicing zazen. The instructions I learned zazen through can be found in, The Zen Way to the Martial Arts. The following instructions are not an exact quote, but fairly close with my own bit of commentary.
LEGS: Lotus position or half- lotus (if you are not flexible enough for lotus), both knees pressed firmly against the ground. ( A cushion called a zafu is used to give the pelvis slight elevation so that the knees may be pushed against the ground. You can use anything you wish to achieve this, just make sure you are comfortable.)
BODY: Trunk straight. Pelvis tilted slightly forward; head straight. The chin is drawn in so the the nose is directly above the naval and ears perpendicular to the shoulders. ( In all meditation practices it is essential the keep your spine straight. The purpose of this is so that energy may flow efficiently through the body. The spine, which contains the majority of the nervous system, is an energy highway.) “Push the sky with your head, push the earth with your knees.” – Taisen Deshimaru
HANDS AND SHOULDERS: Wrists lie on the thighs, palms up, with the left hand cradled in the right. Thumbs touch, forming a straight line, neither a mountain nor a valley. Pinky fingers rest against the abdomen. (The ninja call this hand position “Zen”, it is one of the Nine Cuts of the kuji- kiri.) Let your shoulders and arms fall naturally.
MOUTH AND TONGUE: Mouth is closed and without tension. The tip of the tongue touches the palate behind upper teeth. (My master called this positioning the “Sky and Earth” connection.)
EYES: Half closed, looking at, but not focused on, the ground about a yard ahead, unmoving.
BREATHING: When posture is correct, breathing is also, and natural. Outward breath is longer than the inward breath, powerful and calm. At the end of the outward breath, inward comes automatically. During exhale there is a downward pressure on the intestines, and the lower abdomen, beneath the naval, expands. ( My master taught me that this area is a spiritual center called the hara.) Breathing should be inaudible and natural, never forced.
“Zazen is neither thinking nor not- thinking; it is beyond thought, it is pure thought without any personal consciousness embodying it, in harmony with the consciousness of the universe.” – Taisen Deshimaru
“That is the dimension of thought in which there is no individual consciousness. That is the essence of Zen, of zazen.” – Hishiryo
What I believe these wise old masters meant is that it is possible to achieve action without ego by wholly immersing body and mind in an act (zazen). You are to condition mind an body to perform pure action (the essence of zazen), which would be breathing, performed in the zazen posture. It is to return to the normal human condition. You must practice zazen without objective, it is not to obtain some kind of “enlightenment”.
“Zazen means becoming intimate with oneself, finding the exact taste of inner unity, and harmonizing with universal life.” – Taisen Deshimaru
Not only is meditation a get form in discipline, but it comes with numerous health benefits for both mind and body. Pick up a copy of, The Zen Way to the Martial Arts, to read what Deshimaru wrote about the health benefits of zazen or research the health benefits of meditation on the internet. There’s no good reason why you shouldn’t be making meditation a part of your daily life, and now with zazen you have a place to start or a new technique to practice. Happy meditating!