Results 1 to 7 of 7

Thread: Zazen when sleepy ... ZZZZZZzzzzzz

  1. #1

    Zazen when sleepy ... ZZZZZZzzzzzz

    The great teacher "Homeless Kodo" Sawaki Roshi said about sleep and Zazen ...

    Eat in order to do zazen, sleep in order to do zazen. This means that eating and sleeping are also part of zazen.

    In other words, we must be properly fed and rested (not too much, not too little ... ours is the Middle Way) in order to sustain our Practice properly. Get rest.

    Of course ... that is if we can. Sometimes, more easily said than done these days. If you do find yourself unavoidably tired (because of your 3 jobs), but also feel your Zazen unavoidable (which it should be most days), follow the words of Uchiyama Roshi ...

    Another time you might be tired. Then you have to remind yourself that you are practicing zazen right now, and it is not the time for sleeping. This is correcting your attitude, correcting your posture, really opening the eyes and returning to zazen. This is called “Awakening from dullness and fatigue.”
    That is for day to day practice. Find the time which suits you best, morning or evening maybe afternoon, and sit consistently then. Sit with a bit of sleepy Zazen when it happens. If too sleepy, and literally falling of the Zafu, go get some sleep.

    If in a Sesshin or other intense retreat, it may be a somewhat different story, and we may wish to push ourselves a bit harder (pushing hard with nothing to attain ... but non-attainng!), Remember the words and actions of Master Dogen's teacher, Master Nyojo (Ryujing)

    When staying at Tendo Monastery in China, while the old master Nyojo was abbot there, we sat zazen until about eleven o’clock at night and got up at about half-past two to sit zazen. The abbot sat with the assembly in the sodo, never taking even one night off.

    While sitting, many monks fell asleep. The abbot walked around hitting them with his fist or his slipper, scolding them and encouraging them to wake up. If they continued to sleep, he went to the shodo1, rang the bell, and called his attendants to light the candles. On the spur of the moment he would say such things as; “What is the use of sleeping? Why do you gather in a sodo [monk's hall]? Why did you become a monk and enter this monastery?”

    One time, his immediate attendant said, “The monks in the sodo are tired and sleepy. They may fall ill or lose their aspiration because of the long hours of sitting. Please shorten the time of zazen.”

    Angrily the abbot replied, “We must never do that. People without bodhi-mind who temporarily stay in the sodo would sleep even if we sat for only half an hour or less. Practitioners with bodhi-mind who aspire to practice are happier the longer they are able to sit and therefore, practice much harder. ” ... 02-25.html
    In bed by 11, up for Zazen at 2:30! Rujing seems like a heck of a drill sargent at the Dharma boot camp!

    But on most days ... the advise is to get sleep sufficient to allow Zazen. It is best to sit in the mornings upon awakening, or at night just before bed. But you can pick another time when not so tired too. Then, take a bit of the sleepy zazen when it happens, if its too sleepy go get some sleep and sit on waking. If falling asleep during Zazen (although discouraged), just do that ... I promise not to beat you with my slipper (and hopefully it will not happen most days ... even Jundo falls asleep on the "sit-a-long" now and then, if you look closely! ops: ) .

    If you sit Zazen and it is ZZZZzzzzz, just perfectly ZZZZzzzz!

    By the way, just adjusting the posture, opening the eyes a bit more and taking some breaths can help. I stretch my neck just a bit when tired during Zazen, and it seems to help ... as if a tiny string running from the top of my head to the ceiling were given a light tug. Or, one can return to following the breath for awhile. Monks in China and Japan have always had a close relationship to tea and caffeine (in moderation!). At more Sesshin I have attended in Japan or the West, tea and coffee (in moderation!) are always somewhere around.

    Master Keizan wrote (in his Zazen Yojinki about the year 1400) ...

    Although we shouldn’t be too anxious about bodily comforts, inadequate clothing, food and sleep are known as the "three insufficiencies" and will cause our practice to suffer. ...

    ... If dullness or sleepiness overcome your sitting, move to the body and open the eyes wider, or place attention above the hairline or between your eyebrows. If you are still not fresh, rub the eyes or the body. If that still doesn’t wake you, stand up and walk, always clockwise. Once you’ve gone about a hundred steps you probably won’t be sleepy any longer. The way to walk is to take a half step with each breath. Walk without walking, silent and unmoving.

    If you still don’t feel fresh after doing kinhin, wash your eyes and forehead with cold water. Or chant the Three Pure Precepts of the Bodhisattvas. Do something; don’t just fall asleep. You should be aware of the Great Matter of birth and death and the swiftness of impermanence. What are you doing sleeping when your eye of the Way is still clouded? If dullness and sinking arise repeatedly you should chant, "Habituality is deeply rooted and so I am wrapped in dullness. When will dullness disperse? May the compassion of the Buddhas and Ancestors lift this darkness and misery."
    A bit of Kinhin, for a few minutes, can be good when very tired.

    There was a master who sat with a heavy object on his head, which would fall with a crash whenever he started to doze ... and another who kept jabbing himself with a needle ... but I don't recommend that!

    Also, brain wave studies have shown that Zazen may have some of the benefits of sleep, and may be a "sleep substitute" to some degree. Brain waves during Zazen are often in state otherwise found during sleep, or which are similar to brain waves in that peaceful place we encounter right before falling asleep while in bed ...

    ... which is also another reason that we can easily slip over the line into ZZZZZZZZzzzzzz.

    Gassho, and Good Night, Jundo
    Last edited by Jundo; 07-15-2016 at 01:35 AM.

  2. #2
    Geez, I'm surprised no one replied to this thread before now!

    Thank you for this well articulated post!
    I would suspect it's a common situation and one I've dealt with over the years as well.
    Sometimes I find myself in a "twilight" state between sleep and wakefulness. (It's not entirely unpleasant either.)
    All sorts of weird phenomenon have happened (makyo?) I'll experience auditory hallucinations; hear a spoken word or an eerie low tone. Colors will track across my vision in waves. (Tie dye zazen!!)
    I appreciate your suggestions for waking up. Shunryo Suzuki also mentions the "thread from your head to the ceiling" and Brad Warner has advocated "relying on the posture" which he credits to Nishijima Roshi.
    These all seem to work to some extent. I haven't tried Kinhin but I will now!

    Mostly I appreciate your to teaching to "just perfectly ZZZZzzz"!

    It's also a pleasant surprise to learn that the "sleep substitute" effects of zazen are a documented fact (although the link does not appear to work). This has been my experience.
    Thank you again for your post. Sleep well! ;-)


  3. #3
    The link has been fixed, Kliff?

    You may also find something useful in one of our discussion on "Makyo" phenomena which may arise during Zazen ...

    All manner of sensory "tricks" can occur during Zazen. Some are quite interesting, as seems this one. We may note them, but do not particlarly encourage them in our little corner of Buddhist meditation. ...

    In Zen Practice, we have to be careful of certain games the mind will play during Zazen once in awhile ... including unusual visual and auditory sensations, brief periods of paranoia or panic, memories arising from deep down in our subconscious. We are not used to the stillness and quiet of Zazen, and it lets certain memories, emotions, fears and like psychological states rise to the surface ... or allows some things (spots in our eyes that are always there even though not usually noticed, background sounds) to be noticed that are usually blocked out by all the noise and busyness in our heads, senses and around us.

    Gassho, J


  4. #4
    This is interesting, thanks for reviving the thread K2. Thanks for the link too, Jundo. I am always intrigued by the study of brain waves, and especially having to do with meditation.


  5. #5
    Quote Originally Posted by kliffkapus View Post
    Geez, I'm surprised no one replied to this thread before now!
    Apparently this post has been lulling people to sleep since 2010! I'm bookmarking it for the next time I have insomnia. Thanks Jundo!

    sat today

  6. #6
    Member Roland's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2014
    Brussels and Antwerp, Belgium

    Zazen when sleepy ... ZZZZZZzzzzzz

    I experienced that doing my karate katas (solo exercices) vigorously during a few minutes chases sleepiness, also and especially when feeling tired. I guess whatever form of working out would help too.



  7. #7
    Quote Originally Posted by Roland View Post
    I experienced that doing my karate katas (solo exercices) vigorously during a few minutes chases sleepiness, also and especially when feeling tired. I guess whatever form of working out would help too.


    I'm a busy guy. I used to sit with Dosho at 11pm, and this was good and I enjoyed the group participation. However, I found that this time just is simply too late for me to try to sit, I often strongly have to fight to nod off. I found that working with my sleep cycles rather than against them works much better so If I sit around 10pm, then I am fine. One trick I used to do when I found myself nodding off a bit is biting my tongue a little bit. Not for everyone, but it works for me.

    Bodhidharma is often consider to be the father of martial arts in China, but the reality is that martial arts where being practiced everywhere in the ancient world; long before the Chan Buddhists at Shaolin were doing them. But, Bodhidharma probably did introduce the practice of martial arts to the Shaolin Monks, some of whom had probably been soldiers of some kind in their past. Kung Fu training, as well as other kinds of exercises practiced there such as 18 Luohan Qi Gong, kept the body loose and the mind alert for long periods of Zazen. Also practicing martial arts can be a kind of Zen practice in and of itself. Your mind and body have to become fully engaged in what you are doing. There is no thinking about the bills during marital arts; you have to be right there, right now. One of my senior teachers knocked himself out once when practicing with a three sectional staff. I find that my overall level of alertness, and situational awareness, and focus have greatly improved doing martial arts.

    Now I am not saying everyone should do martial arts, but if you find yourself frequently being too sleepy to sit, you might want to check in with your exercise level. Just as eating and sleeping to practice is important, so is exercise. The middle way isn't sitting on the couch all the time either.

    Full disclosure, the current Shaolin Temple has an abbot that is embroiled in a sea of controversy involving all kinds of scandalous activity, and the current Shaolin Monks have been criticized for being nothing more than "performance monks", who use Kung Fu to lure in tourists, and a lucrative practice of teaching foreigners. In the book, American Shaolin, the author says that the monks there acknowledged that they do little to any actual Buddhist practice or meditation anymore.

    #Sat Today
    Last edited by Ishin; 07-27-2016 at 03:17 PM.

Similar Threads

  1. SPECIAL REPOST: Right Zazen and Wrong Zazen
    By Jundo in forum VITAL POINTS of 'SHIKANTAZA' ZAZEN
    Replies: 40
    Last Post: 12-08-2015, 03:25 AM
  2. I am crazy sleepy zazen man!
    By Madrone in forum Archive of Older Threads
    Replies: 21
    Last Post: 02-20-2012, 10:13 AM
  3. Sitting Zazen, not Seated Zazen
    By Keishin in forum Archive of Older Threads
    Replies: 2
    Last Post: 05-22-2010, 12:38 AM
  4. SPECIAL REPOST: Right Zazen and Wrong Zazen
    By Jundo in forum Archive of Older Threads
    Replies: 8
    Last Post: 11-29-2009, 07:55 PM

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts