Sitting Meditation (Zazen)
Sitting meditation is the central practice at Santa Cruz Zen Center. Zazen is offered morning, noon, and evening five days a week, plus one period on Saturday and Sunday. We sit facing the wall, either on a cushion or in a chair, arranging our legs in a cross-legged, kneeling, or other posture. The back is kept straight yet relaxed, and the eyes left slightly open. The breath is allowed to settle naturally into the lower abdomen. The hands are formed into an oval encircling the lower abdomen, with thumb tips lightly touching.
Dogen Zenji, the thirteenth century Japanese lineage founder of Soto Zen, wrote that the essential art of zazen is to “think of what doesn’t think” or to rest the mind “beyond thinking.” This is also called “just wholeheartedly sitting” (shikantaza), simply being present, open, and aware of whatever is happening, letting go of conceptual thinking and all attempts to control, grasp, or reject any experience. Just sitting doesn’t
rely on any special techniques, such as counting breaths or investigating Zen sayings, though it can include virtually any other practice. The culmination of this simple noninterference with what is happening, receiving whatever arises with the understanding that what is happening is not what we think it is, is itself the realization and actualization of Buddha’s Way.
Gathering the mind (sesshin) is an all-day silent zazen retreat, with a lecture about practice and opportunity to meet one-on-one with a teacher to discuss your practice, ranging from one day up to seven days. Walking meditation (kinhin) is a ten minute period of very slow and attentive walking between periods of sitting meditation. You can experience kinhin on Wednesday evening between zazen and lecture. “Introduction to Zen” is offered one Saturday morning each month, demonstrating the details of the posture of zazen, as well as reviewing how to let the mind settle into the present.