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Thread: Hmmmmm, thoughts?

  1. #1

    Hmmmmm, thoughts?

    I found this article by Brad Warner tonight when I was searching something else Zen related. It caught my attention because I always thought (and I could be wrong here) that sitting on a chair was a fine way to practice zazen.

    So, what do others think of his views...

    sat today

  2. #2
    Brad is not correct on this, and I even think that if you read the whole article, he is actually against sitting back in a chair or with poor balance ...

    In the comments section of my last piece Rob Myers said, “My teacher, Jisho Warner (no relation) says ‘You can sit in a chair; it’s just harder.’” That’s true. One of the most important points in zen practice is keeping the spine straight with little or — preferably — no support. It’s a balancing act, like riding a bicycle. There’s a reason bicycles aren’t built with comfy reclining chairs on them. You’d fall over.

    When you sit with your back against a chair, you are robbing yourself of that feeling of physical balance. And whenever I’ve attempted to do something like zazen in a chair, the chair has forced its own ideas of balance upon my body. There is no tilt to the pelvis and therefore no way to make the spine balance on its own.

    Those kneeling chairs they make for people who work on computers all day can be modified to make a decent compromise. Because it’s not really about how you screw up your legs. You don’t have to sit in the full lotus position (I predict in the future at least 27 more people will say, “Brad Warner says you have to sit in the full lotus position” even after I say you don’t 39 more times). It’s just that the full lotus position creates a really, really stable base for the spine. There is a very good reason it’s been a favorite for around 3000 years. Still, there may be other slightly less efficient but still acceptable ways to get the spine to balance.

    The standard straight backed chairs you get at the local Furniture Hut are just not one of them. If you really honest to goodness need to sit on a chair you’ll have to work a lot harder at zazen than those who sit on cushions on the floor.
    Last time I went to visit Sojiji Head Temple here in Japan (the Vatican), they had chairs for some sitters with physical issues.

    Brad (and maybe my own Teacher Nishijima, like many Japanese) may be something of a Lotus Posture fetishist, an attitude found throughout Japan (although not universally there either), certainly not through the rest of Asia (I have sat with Chan groups in China and Vietnam much more flexible ... pun intended ... on posture) and certainly not among Zen Teachers here in the West. I have written more about that here and elsewhere.

    A balanced posture? Yes. One particular "one size fits all" posture? No.

    Gassho, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 03-17-2015 at 04:40 AM.

  3. #3
    Thank you, Jundo

    sat today

  4. #4
    Our Guide to Basic Sitting (PDF) has information on proper chair sitting ...

    Gassho, J

  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    Our Guide to Basic Sitting (PDF) has information on proper chair sitting ...

    Gassho, J
    Thank you for reminding us of this doc! Ever since the recent zafu thread, I've been wondering if my pillows were messing up my posture or back. I think I may actually switch to chair sitting for a little bit.

    I have a bit of a question on the placement of the tongue on the roof of the mouth while keeping the teeth together. Is there a reason for this? I actually try to keep my teeth apart because I have a tendency to clench from my medication.


  6. #6
    Hi June,

    Are you sitting on pillows? Usually they are too soft to provide the firm support of a Zafu, and so sitting on pillows is not recommended (something tells me we talked about this before though).

    As to the tongue, it is said that it prevents excess saliva/swallowing during Zazen by blocking the salivary glands.

    I am not sure about your particular dental condition however, so if you are not swallowing too much ... and if the slightly open teeth don't bother you ... then I don't believe it such an important matter.

    Gassho, J


  7. #7
    Thank you Jundo!

    As for the pillow thing, I don't think we personally spoke of it, but I read it in the zazen PDF, which got me thinking...

    I think I'll start sewing myself a zafu from the pattern linked in that other thread!

    Thank you again and gassho,

  8. #8
    Treeleaf Unsui / Engineer Sekishi's Avatar
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    Apr 2013
    Virginia, USA
    After an injury in December I've had adapt to sitting in postures other than the Lotus. It was chair-only for a month, then Seiza (on two stacked Zafus), and now Burmese (alternating with Seiza during Zazenkai).

    I have definitely experienced some attachment to the Lotus posture - stable, straight, open to what arises. To say "it is easier" would not be entirely inaccurate IMHO. That said, each posture is functional. Fundamentally we still sit with this human body and mind.

    There’s a reason bicycles aren’t built with comfy reclining chairs on them. You’d fall over.
    As a long-time recumbent fan, I have to say that Brad is factually wrong on this point. Just because we mostly ride around with uncomfortable bike seats up our collective derrieres' (because of convention) does not mean it is the only way or even the preferred way. I've been riding recumbent cycles for 15 years now, and only go back to a "wedgie" (what some recumbent fans call upright bikes) for mountain biking. I suspect that somewhere in there is a teaching about how we sit Zazen.

    As an aside, my son LOVES his recumbent delta trike, but having three wheels, it does not really have much to add to the debate about balance.



    He/him. As a novice priest-in-training, this is simply an expression of my opinion. Please take it with a grain of salt.

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