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Thread: Zafu and zabuton?

  1. #1

    Zafu and zabuton?

    Hi,

    I've tried searching the forum for the answer to this question, but couldn't find anything. If you know of such a thread, please point me in the direction to it.

    People in zen talk about zafu and zabuton all the time, like they are mandatory. Are they? I never use either, mostly I sit directly on the floor, preferably on a mat though. I understand that some people may want to use a zafu for example to get lifted up a bit, so that the knees are touching the ground, and using the zabuton for a softer padding for the knees, but otherwise? Are there any special symbolism in using them? Is it preferred to use them even if one has no need? I mean, how does one instruct newcomers in the matter?

    I have been involved with a local sangha a while back, but I never thought about it then. I just used the zafu and zabuton when in the zendo, because they were there, and everybody else used them . Anyway, I have been into zazen for a long while, and I have had my posture checked so that should be OK. I'm also into yoga, so the posture isn't a problem. More interested in the philosophical side, so to speak, or when it started to show up in history, etc.

    Maybe not the most important question perhaps, one could do zazen everywhere and anytime, but I'm still curious.

    Thanks,

  2. #2

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Quote Originally Posted by anista
    Hi,

    I've tried searching the forum for the answer to this question, but couldn't find anything. If you know of such a thread, please point me in the direction to it.
    Actually, there have too many on this forum. :mrgreen:

    Here is one:

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2125&p=30402&hilit=zafu+postur e#p30402

  3. #3

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Quote Originally Posted by chicanobudista
    Quote Originally Posted by anista
    Hi,

    I've tried searching the forum for the answer to this question, but couldn't find anything. If you know of such a thread, please point me in the direction to it.
    Actually, there have too many on this forum. :mrgreen:

    Here is one:

    viewtopic.php?f=1&t=2125&p=30402&hilit=zafu+postur e#p30402
    Thanks! I've looked at that thread, but it doesn't quite answer my question (or maybe it does, and I'm just missing it ). I wondered specifically about the zafu and zabuton, not correct posture or something like that, which is something you can achieve without a zafu, no?

    Every zen teacher I've met, and every homepage on teh interwebs I visit, mention that little pillow and that little mat, but are they mentioned e.g. in the early suttas or sutras? If not, where did this tradition come from? (not saying that everything has to be mentioned in the suttas/sutras - I am really just curious!)

    Why emphasize the zafu and zabuton, why not use them as "tools to help your zazen when needed" (e.g. if you're not used to the lotus posture, if your knees doesn't reach the ground, etc., etc.). Apparently they are important, judging from the number of times they are mentioned - that's why I am interested in the 'philosophy' of the zafu and zabuton. If there's not a philosophy, i.e., they are just tools to help you, nothing special, then why does everybody emphasize exactly these two tools? Are they used in Theravada schools as well? Are they used in all Mahayana schools?

    Maybe this has been answered before. My search skillz are somewhat incomplete.

  4. #4
    Treeleaf Unsui Shohei's Avatar
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    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Hiya

    EDIT* LOL missed the bit about WHY historically...lol my bad. Skip this if youd like...just an opinion followed by speculation - er guess work XD!

    For this guy (so that means little really ) - I began sitting on a doubled over pillow on a folded up blanket for awhile then made my own zafu and zabuton. The zabuton is easier on the knees then the floor or a thin mat.
    That said got rid of mine as it was home made and very lumpy after i incorrectly washed it. It held one knee up the the other dipped way down throwing me off balance and causing fatigue/strain in any long sits. Im thin sheet to keep the zafu and robe off the floor.

    From what I have experienced the zafu or any cushion just helps even out weight distribution, plants the knees - if so flexible - when in cross-legged sitting, on the floor firmly and raises the butt up putting the weight forward - a very stable tripod... comfy for long sits and natually straightens/centers the spine with out alot of you straining to do so. Also seems to help prevent some circulation issues for me.
    I'm sure there are more reasons than what I am saying. But basically its for longevity, comfort, posture and stability.

    For historical references though... I think sitting right on the ground was cold, hard and dirty or hot hard and dirty and so... a mat...keep ur stuff clean. a zabuton came to keep stuff clean and in the colder climates a bit of insulation?

    Gassho
    Shohei

  5. #5

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Hi Anista,

    Anyway, I have been into zazen for a long while, and I have had my posture checked so that should be OK
    Well...There is a very good reason to use the zafu or any cushion that does the job, it is precisely to raise the hips a bit, ease up the release of the knees and help to keep the natural curve of the spine. In fact, even if it is thin, and sometimes it can be ( one has to explore and find out what fits), you should always use a form of zafu. The historical Buddha sat on a mat made of dry grass. The issue is that in the West zafus tend to be quite thick to help people' s sitting. I would strongly advise you to experiment in order to find out what suits you the best. You may also try a cushion made of seeds instead of kapock. A zabuton is not necessary but would provide more comfort.

    gassho


    Taigu

  6. #6

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu

    Well...There is a very good reason to use the zafu or any cushion that does the job, it is precisely to raise the hips a bit, ease up the release of the knees and help to keep the natural curve of the spine. In fact, even if it is thin, and sometimes it can be ( one has to explore and find out what fits), you should always use a form of zafu.
    Hi Taigu

    Thank you for your answer. I agree with you that the zafu can be of great help, no doubt! But is it possible to do without it, if, and only if, the posture is still intact (that's why I think it is interesting to know how they do things in other traditions as well as the history of its usage. Does all other traditions use something similar?).

    Or do you mean that the posture is impossible to keep intact without a zafu?

    I should say that I don't have anything against a zafu at all, I will gladly use one from now on. Just a little curious, that's all!

  7. #7

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Quote Originally Posted by Shohei

    EDIT* LOL missed the bit about WHY historically...lol my bad. Skip this if youd like...just an opinion followed by speculation - er guess work XD!
    No problem Shohei, I like opinions followed by speculations!

  8. #8

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Quote Originally Posted by anista
    Quote Originally Posted by Taigu

    Well...There is a very good reason to use the zafu or any cushion that does the job, it is precisely to raise the hips a bit, ease up the release of the knees and help to keep the natural curve of the spine. In fact, even if it is thin, and sometimes it can be ( one has to explore and find out what fits), you should always use a form of zafu.
    Hi Taigu

    Thank you for your answer. I agree with you that the zafu can be of great help, no doubt! But is it possible to do without it, if, and only if, the posture is still intact (that's why I think it is interesting to know how they do things in other traditions as well as the history of its usage. Does all other traditions use something similar?).

    Or do you mean that the posture is impossible to keep intact without a zafu?

    I should say that I don't have anything against a zafu at all, I will gladly use one from now on. Just a little curious, that's all!
    I believe that, in many South Asian traditions, meditators sit either directly on the floor, or on fairly small and thin sitting cushions. When I sat at a monastery in Vietnam last year and in Thailand a few years ago, they used fairly thin square sitting pillows, although rather firm to sit on.

    I would suggest that the higher Zafu does offer advantages for the hips, knees and back, however (as Taigu said), so you should try sitting that way before you reject it.

    Gassho, Jundo

  9. #9

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Here is a photo of a kind of mat sometimes seen in Thailand ...



    Here is another image from Thailand, I believe, and you can see the cushions ...



    These monks seems to be sitting flat on the ground, on a thin mat ...




  10. #10

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Quote Originally Posted by anista
    Thank you for your answer. I agree with you that the zafu can be of great help, no doubt! But is it possible to do without it, if, and only if, the posture is still intact (that's why I think it is interesting to know how they do things in other traditions as well as the history of its usage. Does all other traditions use something similar?
    Here is something from Wiki reg. chairs:

    During Tang dynasty (618 - 907 AD), a higher seat first started to appear amongst the Chinese elite and their usage soon spread to all levels of society. By the 12th century seating on the floor was rare in China, unlike in other Asian countries where the custom continued, and the chair, or more commonly the stool, was used in the vast majority of houses throughout the country.
    So, the use of zafu and zabuton at least in Zen circles have had historical aside from practical reasons. It's used because that what everybody used. The same reason I have curiously noted why do folks who were not raised in Japan or in Japanese culture start wearing Japenese clothes (aside from the Rakusu) for practicing meditation?

    At the least in the US, I have seen a trend to teach that, yes, you don't have to sit in a lotus position under a zafu and zabuton in order to meditate. Here is one example: Zen Mountain Monastery.

  11. #11

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Thanks for the pics, Jundo!

    It's interesting though, all the meditators on those pics are sitting with their knees all up in the air, even if some of them have cushions to lift them up a bit. I thought it was commonplace for buddhist meditation (in all of its forms and varieties) to sit with your knees touching the ground, for stability.

    Shows how much I know!

  12. #12

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Quote Originally Posted by chicanobudista
    Here is something from Wiki reg. chairs:

    During Tang dynasty (618 - 907 AD), a higher seat first started to appear amongst the Chinese elite and their usage soon spread to all levels of society. By the 12th century seating on the floor was rare in China, unlike in other Asian countries where the custom continued, and the chair, or more commonly the stool, was used in the vast majority of houses throughout the country.
    Thanks for the article! But does this mean that people started using a zafu because in China, they were used to sitting on stools and not directly on the floor? Could be, I suppose.

    The same reason I have curiously noted why do folks who were not raised in Japan or in Japanese culture start wearing Japenese clothes (aside from the Rakusu) for practicing meditation?
    Because you look cool? /Just kidding.

  13. #13

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Quote Originally Posted by anista

    Thanks for the article! But does this mean that people started using a zafu because in China, they were used to sitting on stools and not directly on the floor? Could be, I suppose.
    Probably. We take our chairs for granted. A cultural and economic given. We sit in chairs because we all do and that's what I am used to. If Buddha had started his teaching on 2010 A.C.E., I bet we would have statues of him sitting on a sofa recliner. :mrgreen:

    The same reason I have curiously noted why do folks who were not raised in Japan or in Japanese culture start wearing Japenese clothes (aside from the Rakusu) for practicing meditation?
    Because you look cool? /Just kidding.
    Oh hell yes! Ladies dig it! :twisted:

    BTW...I did start sitting in a chair and later evolved to a seiza chair. Never returned to a chair.

  14. #14

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Quote Originally Posted by anista
    Thanks for the pics, Jundo!

    It's interesting though, all the meditators on those pics are sitting with their knees all up in the air, even if some of them have cushions to lift them up a bit. I thought it was commonplace for buddhist meditation (in all of its forms and varieties) to sit with your knees touching the ground, for stability.

    Shows how much I know!
    No, it is important to have one's knees down on the ground, as about anyone here who has had trouble with that can attest. Also, just look at any image of the classic seating posture ...



    Those monks at the seashore may be having trouble with that, and be sometimes stooped over, because of the lack of a good cushion underneath them.

    I have no doubt that the Zafu was an excellent invention somewhere that greatly aided sitting (by getting the knees down, supporting the natural curve of the spine, as Taigu said).

    I also still believe that a variation on the Lotus Posture, if done correctly, has some advantages to balanced sitting over chair sitting. I only recommend a chair to those who truly have a physical condition which prevents sitting on the floor. (I believe Seiza on a bench is somewhere in between).

    However, the version of the Lotus which I recommend to most Western people (of large thigh, like me) is the Burmese ...




    The first and simplest is the Burmese position, in which the legs are crossed and both feet rest flat on the floor. The knees should also rest on the floor, though sometimes it takes a bit of exercise to be able to get the legs to drop that far. The Burmese posture is formed by opening the hips and placing the legs parallel to one another, knees touching the ground. The legs are not crossed in any way. You may need more height on the zafu to get the knees to touch the ground.


    The book I recently highly recommended to everyone, which seems very much in line with what Taigu is instructing on the sit-a-long ...

    viewtopic.php?p=30208#p30208

    , suggests a good cushion up the backside ... Search the word "cushion", and find page 26 here

    http://www.amazon.com/reader/1570622329 ... 1570622329

    Be sure to catch the pictures on page 25 and page 27 (although I am not so keen on the discussion of the "natural flow of the life force" that the author likes sometimes)

    I am hoping that Taigu will have more to say on this.

    Gassho, Jundo

  15. #15
    Treeleaf Unsui Shohei's Avatar
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    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Thanks for the information here!
    I have been Sticking hard to getting back in to full lotus form earlier with a bit more pain.
    Tonight for the long sit i was, prior to sitting, feeling cruddy to say the least and the snow falling outside usually causes some nice stiff/achy and raw knees - tonight was no exception and I decided before sitting to give it all a try as suggested here and by others prior. I started in half lotus for the first sit, sieza on my cushion turned on its side the second bit , Burmese (yeah the thigh thing applies here too still) and back to half for the last with a bit of cushion under the sorest knee. Long and short of it was it made what was bound to be a wiggly, fidgety mental battle against my knees into Zazen with far less intervention!

    So Thank you to all for your posts and for getting me to let that leg (and my grip) slip a little.

    Gassho
    Shohei

  16. #16

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Yes, I have more to say. If you sit without any cushion, the chances are that in order to keep the natural curve of the spine and not slouch you'd have to contract some back muscles...Bad idea that can lead to a lot of problems. The feeling of the tripod, both knees and buttocks is really important, it is the rooting, grounding, the infrastructure of your sitting. So having knees floating in the air is not a good idea as it also will cause problems in the spine ...If your zafu, cushion or whatever you use is too high, then it is also a problem. The answer is to experiment. A zafu is something you can fill up and empty at will (that's why we use zafu, not for the Japanese look). Start either with a full blown up zazfu or with a very flat one, sit and see. Take the stuff out or fill it up gradually until you really feel good. Remember, always direct the zafu down under the buttocks so you open naturally the hips and never ever contract the back muscles. The general principle is the following, if you sit full lotus, you don't need much thickness, so your zafu will be quite flat. If you sit half lotus or Burmese and you have a solid strong body, you will need a bigger zafu. Now, to the clever people who use a belt to rise up the zafu at will...I will tell them this: you are now sitting on a French fixed macaron-type cushion that cannot be tucked in a propper way under your buttocks!... Bad idea. Give it a week, a month or two years parctice, and you will have to seek for medical help. No kidding. I have been there.

    So I looked on the internet, so hard to find anything decent but I bumped into a glorious nobody with a great cushion-to-buttocks-knees thing, you could always argue with the possition of the head, anyway, tha's the idea:

    Attached files

  17. #17

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Thanks for this discussion.

    Taigu - thanks for the reminder about not tightening the back muscles. I get into trouble only when I forget to sit forward enough on my zafu. Even the tiniest bit makes a big difference. If I use the front 1/3 of the cushion it seems to allow my spine to be where it needs to be.

    Gassho, Jikyo

  18. #18

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    hi Jikyo,

    Indeed. if you instruct somebody or yourself to sit with a straight back or spine, you get instantly this tense back muscles...Why? Because of what Alexander technique call end-gaining. You have a clear goal and you want to achieve it taking all the possible shortcuts. The right thickness of the cushion is really important as well as the release of body in space, radiating body rather than stretching, blossoming rather than pulling or pushing. The pictures, the metaphors do matter here because they lead your body-mind into a living movement rather than into a frozen and painful spasm. I was very fortunate to receive the teaching of Mike Cross and although I am a very bad student and certainly not qualified to instruct anybody how to sit, I would say that this opened my eyes forever. The book that Jundo recommands is very good too and is clearly beyond any chapel or school of bodywork. I like that.


    http://www.amazon.com/Posture-Meditatio ... 625&sr=8-1


    Many Zen teachers in the West and in the East are mistaken as to how to sit and how to help others to sit. No kidding. The rigidity and dogma that prevail are just unbelievable. And, in too many cases, the casulties are many... Once and for all, there is no propper posture required (sorry Brad and so many other great guys), everyone has to go on an endless journey because this body-mind is ever changing.

    Happy if my very limited understanding makes a difference in your sitting.

    gassho

    Taigu

  19. #19

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Hi.

    Just a thought.
    "proper posture" don't have to mean that there is "only one posture" that is always "the one".
    I know that there is a lot of people of people advocating "the one posture".
    For me "proper posture" don't mean that, but is more a way of expressing a way of sitting...
    A posture which is right one moment, may not be right the next.
    To go to the extreme that only one posture/sitting way is always right in this everchanging world...
    No, i don't think it's the right way to go...
    It's more up to the individual sitter to find his own way of sitting.

    ps. The proper posture book is a little new agey, but very good. highly recommended, if you can stand that.

    Mtfbwy
    Fugen

  20. #20

    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Hi, Anista.

    It is very rare, in my admittedly limited experience, to find someone who can sit with their back relaxed and straight without a cushion. If you are one of these rare folks, super, you don't need to use one.

    A quick Skype with Jundo or Taigu might help you with posture; if not, a local yoga person MAY be helpful (some might not).

    Gassho,
    Eika

  21. #21
    Senior Member rculver's Avatar
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    Re: Zafu and zabuton?

    Thanks Al. The video was very interesting. I'm going to look into her books.

    Ron

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