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Thread: Sit-a-Long with Taigu: Zazen for Beginners (Part IX)

  1. #1

    Sit-a-Long with Taigu: Zazen for Beginners (Part IX)

    Rev. Taigu continues his comments on sitting posture for beginners. (We are always beginners.) He says:

    “What I am suggesting is to give the body-mind a direction, namely to sit up but not to do it. If you instruct yourself to sit straight and do it, with a straight spine, all you are going to do is to use a lot of tension and will end up taking a very rigid, military-like position. Once you instruct but drop the doing, the undoing takes place and gets the body-mind free. You cannot do an undoing.”

    The nature of not-doing is such that it cannot be controlled. It just happens. A woman giving birth, or a sneeze, are actions on which we have no control whatsoever. The most beautiful things in this world often are pure blossoms of not-doing. So all you can do is to consciously inhibit the habit of sitting straight, what you think is sitting straight. Therefore, let the tensions go and allow the spine to naturally grow and expand. Something like that. I basically want to share with you all is that a certain practice of sitting will make you lock the body-mind, it can be very stiff, very rigid and tense. There is a very natural and flowing way to sit.

    Young children and animals can also teach us. In my limited experience, in the last thirty years or so, I met so many people sitting, acting, speaking in a very rigid way. I have been in temples, and zen centers and monasteries where everything was like a boot camp and Zen looked like a military training. Now, I am deeply convinced that it is just not a Japanese cultural aspect, but rather, it has to do with the way people sit. It will take you a lifetime to explore that path, but if you decide to lock you body, it is a quick and easy fix: but it comes at a cost, both physical and psychological.

    Again who is sitting, you or Buddha? Allow Buddha to sit you. Let me use a simple metaphor. When you are swimming, you may struggle and fight against water or allow water to carry you, understand that you are water in water. Doing absolutely nothing keeps you at the surface. Zazen is the same. The less you do, the more you allow your true form to manifest itself, the more ease you will experience. I am not suggesting that you should sit with a bent spine, half collapsing on the cushion. I am suggesting that you may achieve the vertical state through a natural dynamic process rather than trying to mimick or copy what you think is sitting with a straight back. I would like also to invite you to explore. Your body is like nobody else’s. A sitting position cannot be corrected from outside: if you move your head an pull your chin in, or if a teacher does…same mistake. You want to hit the target without shooting the arrow. You forget that the path is the goal. If you do so, you just end-gain, as Herrigel describes this process in archery. The student is aware that “drawing the bow is a means to an end and I cannot lose sight of this connection” to which the Zen master replies the more obstinately you try to learn how to shoot the arrow for the sake of hitting the goal, the less you will succeed.

    CLICK HERE for today’s Sit-A-Long video.

    [youtube] [/youtube]

    Remember: recording ends soon after the beginning bells; a sitting time of 15 to 35 minutes is recommended.

  2. #2

    Re: Sit-a-Long with Taigu: Zazen for Beginners (Part IX)

    Thanks so much for this. You have saved me a back injury because I have been sitting so rigid! Also thanks for the tips on sleepiness. I find that if I sit during any time of day apart from the morning that I start feeling sleepy.



  3. #3

    Re: Sit-a-Long with Taigu: Zazen for Beginners (Part IX)

    Thank you Taigu....I always admired an loved the way my dogs do things, so natural, so perfect.....now I have a little cub Dobermann lady dog called Goya, she is only 3 and a half months old, it is a litle devil, but I love the way she goes around, runs, bite things, an when she sits, staring at me, looks so perfect After looking at your lesson today, now I know that I just have to "unlearn" to sit artificially and just let my body to remember how to sit naturally, perfectly, like my dog No effort, not doing.....

    Thank you, Gassho

  4. #4
    Thanks Taigu,

    I'm going to approach my sitting differently after watching your video. I spend too much checking my posture and it becomes a distraction.

  5. #5
    Dear Taigu,

    If I might ask here, do you mindfully maintain a consistent attitude that you have towards your body (give direction, then allow it to undo), to the thoughts in your mind, to the breath?

    I thought I'd ask. In Zazen, I feel a need to make corrections to any bad posture (bringing the head, or spine back in place), thoughts (resetting to the space between thoughts when you find yourself tangled with a thought) and breathing, one at a time in a relaxed way.

    Thank you for the teaching Taigu.

    Last edited by santosh; 12-11-2012 at 10:04 AM. Reason: more information

  6. #6

    Thank you Taigu. I had sat many years without specific sitting instructions. Once a teacher adjusted me when sitting (like in yoga) and automatically I felt a major shift. Also, I am happy that you have addressed pain and moving if necessary. I equate pain while sitting to marriage. If the pain is too much, move. But first investigate your discomfort and do not move too quickly. When first married, I sometimes felt like it was too much and wanted to leave. I had a history of short relationships. Luckily I investigated the discomfort, which was usually self-psychologically inflicted, and "sat" with it. Therefore I transformed my relationship for the better. I still feel discomfort 10 years later, but now I can be with the feeling and it usually just floats away.


  7. #7
    Thanks, Taigu!


  8. #8
    This video alone has improved my practice immeasurably. Many thanks for such a clear teaching. I will embark on a stretching programme to work towards the lotus postures, but for now I think I will stop abusing my knees.



  9. #9

  10. #10
    Thank You for the video. It was really helpful. I have a question about sitting zazen. When ever I sit in any of the seated positions (kneeling or legs crossed) one of my legs always falls asleep and when I am done I have to just stand in one spot to get my leg working again. I am not sure what to do about it. I have tried using cushions but it always seems to happen. I do stretches and exercise daily so I am not sure why this happens. Is there a way to sit that will not cut off my blood supply? I am thinking it is coming from the knees being bent and it is cutting off blood supply behind the knee.

    Thank You
    Last edited by Bobbi16; 08-07-2014 at 07:02 PM.

  11. #11
    Hi Bobbi,
    all I can say is I know that - I can't stand in Gassho after zazen, for my left leg is numb...
    So far, it's just part of my practice (I'm new too, see)


  12. #12
    Hi Bobbi, I am also new (a little more than a year and a half sitting) and get the leg asleep too.
    I sit half lotus. When I finish, before standing up for kinhin, I give myself weak punches and massages in the muscles and after a few seconds my leg is "awaken" again.
    From what I've read that is due to nerve pinching and has nothing to do with blood circulation issues.

    Of course I may be wrong.

    Last edited by Daiyo; 08-07-2014 at 07:27 PM.

  13. #13
    Hello Bobbi,

    Well first, go easy when standing up if your leg is asleep ... no tumbling allowed. That being said, it takes time to get the body used to sitting in such postures, as we were born more to sit in chairs then on the floor or zafus. One big key is to ensure that you are using the right sitting device; whether that be a zafu or seiza bench and that is fits you. some need a larger size, some smaller ... some firm, some soft.

    If you are sitting on a zafu there are three ways to sit ... lotus, half lotus, and burmese. Also it is important if you sit on a zafu to not have your feet under your knees (like the standard cross legged position) ... this can make it difficult on your back.

    When sitting if you find that your leg is falling asleep try and relax the hips and legs ... maybe you are carrying tension and not be aware of it. But if that is not the case, then adjust. Gassho, adjust your legs and find your balance, gassho and continue to sit. No point in causing undo stress and discomfort ... in time your body will find it's balance and place.

    Can you tell us Bobbi what sitting position you use? I hope my ramblings have given you some insight. =)

    倫道 真現

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  14. #14
    It seems like this happens to almost everyone. I usually sit burmese and I tried seiza and half lotus today. I started feeling a little tingling in my legs in the seiza position so I switched to half lotus and my leg didn't go to sleep, however I only had a few minutes left at that point. I am going to try a seiza bench and see if that helps at all.


  15. #15
    Hello Bobbi,

    Sounds like you have a good plan there. Move around and try different positions and in time your body will adjust and come accustomed to sitting.

    Keep it going. =)

    倫道 真現

    As a trainee priest, please take any commentary by me on matters of the Dharma with a pinch of salt.

  16. #16
    I have really bad arthritis. I take pain meds but still can not cross my legs or sit on a zafu. I sit however in a recliner upright that I can put one leg across . My ankle is also deformed from a fall years ago so can not have pressure on it to place it in cross section. If I forced myself into a position such as that I would remain in constant pain throughout the sitting and yes I know the pain is part of dharma but I rather not have to discipline my mind on that till I get good at sitting.

  17. #17

    Sit (or lie) as comfortably as possible.

    If it hurts. . .Don't do it.

    Enjoy zazen!

    Last edited by Myosha; 08-18-2014 at 02:56 PM.
    "Recognize suffering, remove suffering." - Shakyamuni Buddha when asked, "Uhm . . .what?"

  18. #18
    Quote Originally Posted by Myosha View Post

    Sit (or lie) in a comfortable position.

    If it hurts. . .Don't do it.

    Enjoy zazen!

    Second that.

    Gassho, Jishin
    治 Ji
    心​ Shin

  19. #19
    if I waited till I didnt hurt then I would never do zazen.

  20. #20
    I found that if i sit in the seiza position with a regular pillow folded in half between my legs and a little square throw pillow behind my knees (and on top on my calves) to keep my legs from being folded too much, then they didn't fall asleep! You kindof make a "T" shape with the two pillows. I think the seiza bench would work better but I do this until I can get one.

  21. #21

  22. #22
    I sat today.

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