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Thread: Few Zazen questions before rohatsu

  1. #1

    Few Zazen questions before rohatsu

    I plan to attend a rohatsu sesshin at a local zen center and have some questions around my practice

    Pain during zazen: I often have pain in the neck area, lower back and upper thighs. A sesshin will sure make the pain more. What does pain signify and how do we endure pain during zazen.

    Hand mudra: I sit in burmese and rest my hands in lap. So my hand mudra is much lower beyond my tanden area. Is it recommended to have the mudra below navel circling the tanden area? If so do you recommend holding the hands up instead of resting in the lap

    Swallowing: I see some folks don't swallow and sit still. I often find myself the need to swallow and make slight sounds. How do I deal with this? Itching, needing to cough etc.. I deal fine by not giving in

    Moving: I see different instructions about moving during zazen. some say not to move even an inch despite pain, itchiness etc..; Other instruction says to adjust posture when caught up in thoughts (Nishijima roshi's suggestions are to adjust even more frequently).

    Giving up: Let's say I couldn't take the back to back sittings during the sesshin. What are some better alternatives to totally quitting and going home? Like skip some sittings, sit in chair etc..

    Gassho,
    Sam
    Satlah
    Last edited by shikantazen; 10-31-2019 at 06:44 PM.

  2. #2
    Hi Sam,

    Just a few spontaneous thoughts:

    Swallowing: Cannot be avoided entirely, but it is only a problem if you perceive it to be a problem. I can recommend to put the tongue to the roof of the mouth. This helps a lot IMHO.
    Hand mudra: Everyone has a different physique, a different body and I would not care too much about this.
    Pain: A bit pain is probably normal, but I think you know your body best. If you get the impression you are damaging yourself, then I would switch position. Sitting in a chair? Why not? Our practice is not about pride.

    When I began practicing years ago I always sat through pain, even when it was severe. I think that was a mistake. Since I simply ignored the signs of my body, I had some trouble with my knees for weeks.
    The doc told me if I keep on doing such things, surgery might be the result.
    Nowadays I take things easier and I can only recommend to listen to your body. You know yourself best. No false pride, you gain nothing if you damage yourself. Or simply stated: health comes first!

    Don't think too much, relax - take the plunge, just do it and look what will happen.

    Good luck with the sesshin!

    Gassho,

    Daitetsu

    #sat2day
    no thing needs to be added

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by shikantazen View Post
    I plan to attend a rohatsu sesshin at a local zen center and have some questions around my practice

    Pain during zazen: I often have pain in the neck area, lower back and upper thighs. A sesshin will sure make the pain more. What does pain signify and how do we endure pain during zazen.

    Hand mudra: I sit in burmese and rest my hands in lap. So my hand mudra is much lower beyond my tanden area. Is it recommended to have the mudra below navel circling the tanden area? If so do you recommend holding the hands up instead of resting in the lap

    Swallowing: I see some folks don't swallow and sit still. I often find myself the need to swallow and make slight sounds. How do I deal with this? Itching, needing to cough etc.. I deal fine by not giving in

    Moving: I see different instructions about moving during zazen. some say not to move even an inch despite pain, itchiness etc..; Other instruction says to adjust posture when caught up in thoughts (Nishijima roshi's suggestions are to adjust even more frequently).

    Giving up: Let's say I couldn't take the back to back sittings during the sesshin. What are some better alternatives to totally quitting and going home? Like skip some sittings, sit in chair etc..

    Gassho,
    Sam
    Satlah
    Hi Sam! Each Zen Center has its own rules and customs, so you could try to ask questions from someone where you are going if you can. Otherwise, they are likely used to having new folks come in and learning by watching what others are doing.

    I have only sat at one monastery outside of Treeleaf, and there you are not allowed to move during Zazen or leave Sesshin early, but chair sitting is fine. There is a Treeleaf Rohatsu retreat guide that is posted in the Jukai forum every year with a lot of good retreat tips.

    Gassho,
    Jakuden
    SatToday/LAH


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    清 道 寂田
    SEIDO JAKUDEN
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

  4. #4
    Thank you both for your replies

    Here are couple of links I found regarding pain during zazen that I want to share:
    http://forestcityzen.org/what-can-we...-painful-zazen
    https://wwzc.org/dharma-text/practice-pain-and-posture

    Gassho,
    Sam
    satlah

  5. #5
    removed post and put it where I thought i added it lol

    weird - I meant to post in the other thread - sorry about that.
    Last edited by Risho; 11-01-2019 at 07:33 PM.

  6. #6
    Hey Sam,
    My opinion: take it easy - don't be too much concerned. Find a posture that's good for longer duration of sitting. If you have to swallow, just swallow. If you are too uncomfortable just gently change something. We are no stone made statues and also we don't have to compare ourselves with others.
    Just dive in and be carried by the waves:-)
    At least that's what I would do.

    Gassho
    Ben

    Stlah

    Enviado desde mi PLK-L01 mediante Tapatalk
    Last edited by Horin; 11-03-2019 at 01:21 PM.

  7. #7
    Does that answer your questions ok Sam? I laughed about the swallowing one, because that really can be a pain in a Zendo with good acoustics! There are recommendations to keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth, etc. but during Zazen sometimes you just have to swallow. I found that if I do, it is contagious and the folks around me often do too. Coughing and sneezing often can't be helped, either. I have seen people gently asked to refrain from frequent sniffling, though.... it must be awful to sit with a bad cold as I think you must have to just let the nose run! And if everything else is fine, then come the super-loud stomach grumbles, or the heavy eyelids and trying not to nod off and jerk awake.

    I have not had discomfort resting the mudra in my lap. That may just be for you to practice finding what's most comfortable for you during long sits. You can probably shift that during Zazen pretty easily without anyone noticing. Lots of people's mudras collapse as they sit especially when they are falling asleep, LOL

    Moving, itching, shifting position etc. may not be okay. After a few days of Sesshin, more and more people start chair sitting, especially by the end of the day.

    I hope you enjoy your retreat and tell us about it when you come back!

    Gassho,
    Jakuden
    SatToday/LAH
    Last edited by Jakuden; 11-04-2019 at 03:07 AM.
    清 道 寂田
    SEIDO JAKUDEN
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

  8. #8
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    Isn't it funny how silence is more silent when there's more people in the room?

    Gassho
    Sat today, lah
    求道芸化 Kyudo Geika
    I am just a priest-in-training, please do not take anything I say as a teaching.

  9. #9
    Two things I learned from a week long retreat I once did some time ago.
    One: pain is painful.
    When people are told to sit with the pain, or be the pain, or anything like that, it is often interpreted as: "If I do that, then the pain will disappear..."
    no...pain is painful. Yet what does happen, is the okness that comes with that. Before it was, pain is painful...BAD

    then it can morph into pain is painful....duh.... (although, if there is a substantial amount of pain, i wouldn't push it either....no point being a Buddha with broken knees.....

    Quick story....
    Around the fourth day of my retreat, my knees just couldn't take it anymore....and I was in a battle with my ego and pride. My ego wanted me to stick it out and show the other meember how awesome of a sitter I was. My body wanted me to keep it easy and give my knees a break.
    Finally I listened to my body and before the start of the 4th day sitting I got a chair instead of a zafu.

    Fast-forward to the end of the retreat where members were taking turn sharing a few words about how the retreat went for them...
    an older gentleman turned to me and said: "I really want to thank you. I could tell you had such a strong sitting practice. But when I saw you get a chair, I felt so relaxed and felt so better about myself needing to use a chair"

    Moral of that story....

    You never know the effect you can have on your surrounding by being true to your body....

    Don't push yourself too much...only you will know how much push is needed....

    SAT
    Seiryu
    Humbly,
    清竜 Seiryu

  10. #10
    Hi Sam,

    I think that attachment to form in Zen can lead to suffering. I would just sit without worrying too much if it’s right or wrong as long as intent is good.

    Gassho, Jishin, __/stlah\__

  11. #11
    Thanks all for the replies. I went to a 2.5 day retreat this weekend. I quit after 1.5 days due to the pain when sitting.

    I practiced meditation in other traditions where it was all about mind. You sit in a comfortable posture with back support and try focusing the mind on some object. Our Zazen is very physical and is not easy

    In general I avoid pain and hard things in life. At work also I was given the feedback that I don't try to tackle difficult things and stay in comfort zone. I get feeling that sesshins (especially those longer than 2 days) may be very hard for me. This somehow needs a stoic approach. I have no problems maintaining a twice daily practice (I have done that like for 10 years or so with other traditions and zen included).

    How important are sesshins for a zen student? Will it slow me down if I just stick to daily practice?

    Gassho,
    Sam
    Sat2day

  12. #12
    I assume, that sesshin can be of benefit. But as long we practice wholeheartedly, sit daily, everything is fine. There are people making a race out of sesshin. Make it some kind of archievements. I think that's not the right intention. Also I think, circumstances are different. If we are not able to participate on sesshin or long retreats, that's not inferior. We are not superior when we are every month on another sesshin. All of our life is the Zendo and we should bring all of our wholehearted practice into our daily life.
    How can it slow you down not to participate on sesshin? There's nothing to attain, no where to arrive. We are already whole.
    I'm looking forward for jundos and the priests answers.

    Gassho
    Ben

    Stlah

    Enviado desde mi PLK-L01 mediante Tapatalk

  13. #13
    Quote Originally Posted by shikantazen View Post
    Thanks all for the replies. I went to a 2.5 day retreat this weekend. I quit after 1.5 days due to the pain when sitting.
    ...

    How important are sesshins for a zen student? Will it slow me down if I just stick to daily practice?

    Gassho,
    Sam
    Sat2day
    Hi Sam,

    Did the teacher in charge offer you an alternative posture such as a chair when the pain became too intense? What happened then? I would be surprised if they did not.

    As to the importance of sitting a multi-day retreat ...

    I usually say that, assuming one is physically and psychologically able without a disability or health issue of body or mind to prevent it (and further assuming that life allows so given work, kids, economic hardship or the like), attending retreats and Sesshin of a few days or a week about once a year is highly recommended and really vital to this path. Now, someone might ask, "if each moment is all time and space, and there is nothing to attain, what is the purpose of an intensive Sesshin?" Well, I often say that, sometimes, we need to practice a bit long and hard, morning to night ... sitting and wrestling with 'me, my self and I' ... all to attain Nothing to Attain! Going to Retreats, Sesshin and such is a powerful facet of this Practice and not to be missed if at all possible. Sometimes we sit short, sometimes we sit long ... sometimes we sit in a formal retreat, sometimes we "stand" Zazen on a bus ... all to realize that this path is beyond all place or measure. All are important.

    When I say "possible," I mean that there are people who will take off for a weekend golf trip or fishing, but not a retreat. Also, there are folks who are really in poor health, or suffering depression or the like, who should not try it unless their doctor or mental health professional thinks it a good idea (for folks with serious health conditions, anxiety or depression etc., that is their place of practice right now). However, for other folks, being a little uncomfortable, bored, tense at the challenge and the like is part of the practice. A little mental challenge is good, as is leaping a bit outside one's comfort zone. I know folks who will not attend a retreat pleading lack of funds, but will blow the same amount on burgers at the drive-thru and a new pair of jeans.

    During or before heading to a long retreat, one can get nervous or resist mentally, and that is all part of the process of learning to manage and drop the fear and resistance away. Once, at a certain point during a week long Sesshin here in Japan, I was feeling edgy, bored, homesick, nervous. I realized that there is a kind of button inside us whereby we can switch off a lot of that, and replace it with "go with the flow", acceptance, joy, relaxation, energy and such. In fact, finding that "button" is one of the main reasons for going to a retreat in the first place! When I became extremely bored, and a little homesick, about day 3 or 4. I asked myself, "Why am I here, on such a lovely day, when I could be out doing something?" I hit that switch, and suddenly there was no other place to be and sitting was lovely. To experiment, I hit the switch again and again, back and forth ... and became bored and sad, then peaceful and content, then bored and miserable again. Back and forth. Finding that switch inside was a great discovery about how circumstances do not change yet the mind can often change circumstances.

    So, in short, Sesshin are highly recommended and encouraged to those who can, at least once a year.

    I highly recommend attendance at a retreat in a residential setting too. That is best. However for those who truly cannot because of work, kids and the like, we will have our 2-Day all online netcast Treeleaf Rohatsu Retreat next month. Here is the retreat from last year.

    TREELEAF SANGHA online 2-DAY ANGO-JUKAI-ROHATSU RETREAT -- 2018 -- MAIN PAGE
    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...2018-MAIN-PAGE

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    Last edited by Jundo; 11-04-2019 at 11:40 PM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  14. #14
    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo View Post
    I asked myself, "Why am I here, on such a lovely day, when I could be out doing something?" I hit that switch, and suddenly there was no other place to be and sitting was lovely. ....
    ...Finding that switch inside was a great discovery about how circumstances do not change yet the mind can often change circumstances.
    Thanks for your reply. I am specifically curious about this part in bold "there was no other place to be". Dumb question but can't I quit the retreat and spend rest of the day at a beach instead? Isn't that being able to change circumstances?

    Thanks for confirming the importance of retreats. I also noticed that I typically sit 30 min and at retreat they have each sitting for 40 min. So I might be better prepared with below changes

    - Sit at home for 40 min twice daily or even 45 min
    - Practice on weekends whenever possible to do a mini retreat at home by myself (Do you recommend this? Should I follow a typical retreat schedule with sutras and ceremonies?)

    I have also found the below two additional links on dealing with pain:
    Video by Muho:
    Article by a zen priest: https://www.elephantjournal.com/2013...n-kogen-keith/

    Gassho,
    Sam
    Sat

  15. #15
    Quote Originally Posted by shikantazen View Post
    Thanks for your reply. I am specifically curious about this part in bold "there was no other place to be". Dumb question but can't I quit the retreat and spend rest of the day at a beach instead? Isn't that being able to change circumstances?
    Well, we could also just skip the retreat entirely and go to the beach instead! Maybe it’s important to “find your why,” as the current catchphrase goes. Sesshin is not meant to be a pleasant distraction from life, just the opposite actually.

    If we leave Retreat, it will not help us learn how to “flip the switch” when life hands us a challenge we truly cannot change. When our spouse divorces us, when our house burns down, when a loved one is ill and dying, going to the beach or finding other pleasant distractions is not likely to be sufficient to cut through the suffering.

    Gassho
    Jakuden
    SatToday/LAH


    Sent from my iPhone using Tapatalk Pro
    清 道 寂田
    SEIDO JAKUDEN
    I am a novice priest. Any resemblance my posts may have to actual teachings about the Dharma, living or dead, is purely coincidental (and just my attempt to be helpful).

  16. #16
    my version of dealing with pain in shikantaza is a little different from the video and planning sessions.

    the pain i experience never really leaves, so for me it's a matter of finding the position that will not cause harm.

    there is no such state as "pain-free" for me. i often forget that this exists for others. but shikantaza helps me to remember to acknowledge the pain, accept that it exists, and just to be with it. sometimes the pain recedes a little, after i acknowledge it. other times it releases strong emotions, and i've learned to allow that to speak as well.

    my point is that zazen has allowed me to be with pain and not run from it, not hide from it. i don't have a choice in its presence in my life, but i can choose how i respond to it. that doesn't mean i can do everything. sesshin is not something i would ever attempt in my foreseeable future, but I've known several dedicated Buddhists who attend sesshin fairly often. they go for a few days, to a week or more, and some attend several times a year.

    it sounds worthwhile, and i would like to experience one (in theory), but i know that my body could not handle it.

    if this practice of sesshin and long retreats works for you, then do it. but then work the sesshin, and learn from it. a day at the beach is not the same thing.

    as jakuden said, the training you gain from this practice works when you're faced with stark reality that you cannot control, and life hits you in the face.

    then, what sutras, what positions, how long, what cushions, hand mudras, postures -- none of that matters anymore. sometimes all you can do is sit in a chair, or recline in a bed, and shikantaza -- and nothing else matters. it is, and you are, and just "be." just my opinion and experience.

    gassho
    kim
    st

  17. #17
    Quote Originally Posted by shikantazen View Post
    Thanks for your reply. I am specifically curious about this part in bold "there was no other place to be". Dumb question but can't I quit the retreat and spend rest of the day at a beach instead? Isn't that being able to change circumstances?
    As Jakuden said, there is a difference between flowing with circumstances and running away from something to find something more pleasant. In Sesshin, one can run, but one cannot hide. There is a time to sit, and not run away to the beach, because one does not particularly wish to be in Sesshin. Otherwise, one might find that one is at the beach wishing to be at the mall, or in one's death bed someday wishing to be someplace else too!

    You did not answer my question on whether they allowed you an alternate sitting posture such as a chair. Did you ask? Did they say no? I would be surprised. Where did you sit, may I ask, and who were the teachers there?

    Muho is crazy wicked with that Full Lotus, but it is not for everybody (and I do not even think it healthy for most westerners). They are also quite intense in their 15 hours-a-day of sitting in Muho's group at Antaiji (as Kyonin can testify from his recent Sesshin there). It is definitely the LONNNNNGGGGG of sitting "long and short." It is not for everybody. Muho is Muho. Maybe good for some people to sit that hard once in awhile (done that), and do a real "no place to run," but I do not think it needed for most Retreats. All things in moderation. On the other (sound of one hand) hand, one day and fleeing to the beach is not good either.

    We sit with a little discomfort sometimes for many reasons (including as a little lesson that life is sometimes uncomfortable and there is an element of "mind of matter" about it.) However, I tell people not to sit until the point where there is a real threat of damage to the body (I know more than a few Japanese Zen folks with bad knees from too much Full Lotus). Also, if it becomes mentally too much, even after pushing the comfort zone a bit, then switch to an alternative posture.

    The Kogen Keith article seems more geared to intense Koan Introspection retreats than Shikantaza, and his talk about Zombies and corpses is a bit over the top, but his rules 1 through 7 seem very practical (the last one about staying up all night, well, done that and it is a worthwhile experience ... but not for everyone or all the time).

    Gassho, Jundo

    STLah

    PS - Folks like Kim are our teachers on what it means to live with real pain all or much of the time.
    Last edited by Jundo; 11-05-2019 at 04:38 AM.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  18. #18
    It was at a local zen center near my place. I didn't know the teacher and I didn't tell them about the pain. He was too busy with all the schedule and I didn't bother disturbing him. I sat without moving for 1.5 days and then just escaped calmly. They had a four hour break between lunch and evening sitting too and I wished I was with my kids rather than wasting my time with "Yoga class" and "Personal Time" during the retreat (I wouldn't have probably skipped if there was a zazen immediately). So that gap of four hours made me leave in a way. I understand everything in retreat is practice but I can't help loving sitting more

    At antaiji each sitting is for an hour. Even shohaku okamura's center in US the sitting is longer (50 min). I believe this probably stems form asian emphasis on discipline and pushing themselves.

    Thanks for the warning on full lotus issues. I will not push myself on that.

    Gassho,
    Sam
    Sat

  19. #19
    Quote Originally Posted by shikantazen View Post

    At antaiji each sitting is for an hour.
    Kyonin was just there as part of his Japan pilgrimage. You can hear Kyonin speak about it ... He says Zazen 50 minutes with 10 minutes of Kinhin.

    https://www.treeleaf.org/forums/show...l=1#post252107

    One time Muho saw one of my Zazen demonstrations sitting in the front seat of a car for about 20 minutes in a parking lot next to a busy highway. We noted our differences in style, but both are good Zazen beyond long or short, place and time. There is a time to sit for 50 minutes x 15 hours x one week ... and a time to sit for some minutes next to a highway. Both are vital aspects of this Path.

    Gassho, Jundo
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  20. #20
    Quote Originally Posted by shikantazen View Post
    It was at a local zen center near my place. I didn't know the teacher and I didn't tell them about the pain. He was too busy with all the schedule and I didn't bother disturbing him. I sat without moving for 1.5 days and then just escaped calmly. They had a four hour break between lunch and evening sitting too and I wished I was with my kids rather than wasting my time with "Yoga class" and "Personal Time" during the retreat (I wouldn't have probably skipped if there was a zazen immediately). So that gap of four hours made me leave in a way. I understand everything in retreat is practice but I can't help loving sitting more

    At antaiji each sitting is for an hour. Even shohaku okamura's center in US the sitting is longer (50 min). I believe this probably stems form asian emphasis on discipline and pushing themselves.

    Thanks for the warning on full lotus issues. I will not push myself on that.

    Gassho,
    Sam
    Sat
    Sam,

    I have attended one in person retreat and 4 Treeleaf Rohatsu retreats; all of them were challenging and had the moments of "why am I doing this?" For me part of the point of the retreat is to really look at those take-aways and work with those.

    For example at the in-person retreat, my major take away was that it wasn't different than Treeleaf. The same instructions that we receive before retreat were given there, the same chants, the same ceremonies, and the same pain, stiffness and longing to do something else.

    Each year rohatsu holds something different for me. The first year, we were on schedule with Japan time; so there were a few things very late into the night. I remember towards the end of the day (which was at like 1 a.m. my time) doing kinhin and it was the first time that it really made sense to me. The feeling of getting up off the cushion and really taking each step in each moment. Before that I had never had that feeling I had always hated kinhin because it was too slow and I would rather go sit on the couch or stretch for a few minutes than walk super slow.

    The next year I remember having much more trouble with feeling like I was wasting time, there is always so much to do and I wanted to make calls, do emails, check facebook because those were more important or seemed like a better use of my time than sitting for hours and hours.

    This year I'm very much looking forward to Rohatsu, even through I know the pain that come along, the boredom, the unending stream of "you should be doing this instead" type thoughts. Retreat is a time to really face those things. What do we use as a distraction, what do we put priority or what do we under value?

    I think instead of asking the question of how important retreats, you might spend some time reflecting on why it wasn't important enough to stay. Or what hurdles you faced and didn't jump; and if that was the right move? As well as if just going was a huge hurdle that you are happy you jumped, even if the end wasn't what you had hoped for.

    I honestly find the reflection and thinking deeply on what occurred or didn't, to be very helpful in my practice and seeing what road blocks I perhaps need to work with.

    Also there is another chance for a two day retreat in just over a month, when we do the Rohatsu retreat. So maybe plan to join us for that and see if the same things come up or if something different happens.

    Gassho,

    Shoka
    sattoday
    香道 笑花
    Kodo Shoka

    Please don't take anything I say as anything more than just a normal person's thoughts on the topic. I'm just stumbling through life trying to be helpful, but really don't know much.

  21. #21
    Wow Shoka, blown away with your post. You spoke directly to my concerns.

    Gassho,
    Sam
    Sat2day

  22. #22
    Quote Originally Posted by shikantazen View Post
    Wow Shoka, blown away with your post. You spoke directly to my concerns.

    Gassho,
    Sam
    Sat2day
    Yes indeed. Thank you, Shoka.

    Gassho, J

    STLah
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  23. #23

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