Making Zazen Personal

By: David Xi-Ken Astor, Sensei

Anyone can learn to sit and place the mind in a quite place for a few moments or longer depending on “cushion time”.  The desire to meditate can occur anytime, and can be adapted to any religious or spiritual practice.  As Ch’an or Soto Zen Buddhist’s we learn to sit zazen and we do so with very little structure.  I am speaking about the “sitting” part of our meditation practice.  We often incorporate intentional ritual around our zazen, but it is not necessary, it only enriches the experience and perhaps sets the mood.

As we move along in developing a sustained practice, be begin to polish our zazen which is different for each of us.  While engaged Buddhism celebrates the value of working for other’s well being, our zazen practice  is reserved for our personal spiritual development, the fruits of which are taken with us as we work to promote human flourishing off the cushion.  This state of zazen is very formal, and is also powerful when we awaken to it’s transformative nature.  From a personal point of view, a strong zazen experience feels like we have reached an end point.  Of course this is not possible considering the causal nature of any human endeavor, but you begin to feel like there is a completeness to each session.   At this point we don’t look around for any other support we just feel very confident about what we are doing.  When Siddhartha sat on his cushion, conquering negative dispositions, a similar thing must have happened internally in the reality of his mental achievement.   When we experience conflict and destructive thoughts as we sit, we come face to face with how we can choose to confront these thoughts and behaviors that, when allows to dominate the way we live, will result in a cycle of suffering.  These are not attacks that come at us from the outside, but come from within, so we need a strong sense of determination.  We work to seek changes that promotes a life of flourishing for us.  This is why zazen is intensely a personal experience.  We are challenged to apply rigorous self-honest that can melt away delusions so we can awaken to how we really are as expressions of this Universe.  When these personal changes are allowed to take control of our actions, we step on the path to wisdom that symbolizes what can happen in finding the way.  No one can do it for us.  When we sit, it is the most important personal action we can do, although the benefits our extended to all beings.  Without a solid personal practice, there can be no social-self or acts of compassion.

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