Introduction to Zen Meditation

John Daishin Buksbazen


Sitting Zen is a “way” — a path for getting in touch with the true Self. Not just with the narrow self or personality; that much can be accomplished through psychotherapy or a number of other disciplines. But sitting deals with the "big-S"-Self, that most basic level of reality that has nothing to do with culture, social status, intellect, or even personality.

Zazen — Zen practice — deals with who you really are beyond all the specifics of time and place. And who you really are, ultimately, is the universe itself.

Beyond experiencing the Self in this way, zazen is also a direct expression of what Shakyamuni Buddha found — of what you, yourself a Buddha, find out. That’s why you’ll discover that sitting is not just a tool — a means toward an end — but also a way of life that is a model of living itself.

“Meditation” is something of an umbrella term for practices some of which are similar and some of which very different. For now it’s important for you to hear that in Zen meditation we’re not trying to shut out the external world, nor are we trying to manipulate our minds artificially to obtain some state of consciousness. So for now, let’s say that zazen is studying yourself but not thinking about yourself (or anything else).

Meditation is a great deal more than simply concentration. Although concentration is an important part of the zazen and you will learn techniques for zazen that require concentration, it is not the discipline itself.


What is zazen? The word is a Japanese rendering of the Chinese tso-chan which is in turn a transliteration of the Sanskrit term dhyana – which is usually translated as meditation. As za means sitting, zazen is sitting zen.

Zazen is also referred to as sitting meditation. Dhyana, however, has meanings beyond what we usually think of as “meditation.”

Dhyana can also mean stillness – a dynamic stillness – and from that perspective zazen is more than an activity (“meditating”), it is also something one is. Dhyana also refers to a state beyond dualities, beyond subject and object, a state in which one apprehends unity in the presence of what we normally experience as difference.

While much of what you read and hear about zazen is about sitting Zen, zazen is not just sitting..

Our practice is to be mindful, as completely mindful as we can be. And in that mindfulness we neither indulge in pleasantness nor try to end or move away from unpleasantness. Rather we remain in a state of not knowing. So this a quality of our practice that goes beyond concentration, that goes beyond thinking about, that goes beyond manipulating our consciousness.

It’s being completely natural and present and not trying to do anything with it other than that.

Non-thinking is to actively engage each present moment while refraining from any editorializing about it. It's bare attention, which in its very simplicity is quite a challenge to sustain. To experience each moment in this very lear and uncolored way is the heart of zazen. Zazen is a state of being much more than it is a state of doing. We say we’re “doing” zazen, but really our practice is being zazen.

The practice of zazen is an operation of the unified body and mind. We can examine zazen from three perspectives: Physical posture, the process of breathing and the practice of reality body, breath and mind coexist and mutually influence each other. The more stable your posture, the more well-aligned you can make your spine, the easier and more natural your breathing can become and the quieter your mind will be. The clearer your mind and the stronger your concentration, the more readily you will be able to maintain upright posture and not distract yourself by fidgeting or changing position.

From the Ashoka online course Zen Meditation: Entering the Path taught by John Daishin Buksbazen.