What is zazen?

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Pierre Crépon (disciple of Taisen Deshimaru, and founder of the Kokaiji temple in Vannes)

Zazen is the historical meditation of Buddhism. Practiced regularly, this position similar to that of the Buddha statues leads to more calm in the face of stressful events of daily life.

Zazen is a meditation that is practiced seated, “zen” meaning “meditation” and “za” “sitting”. This practice originated in India, a country of historic Buddhism, where it was born 2,500 years ago. Since then, it has spread throughout the world, in China, in Japan, in the West and has been enriched by these various influences over the centuries while maintaining a common base. It was the monk Taisen Deshimaru, a Japanese Zen Buddhist master, who introduced the practice of Zen to Europe and particularly to France (he lived in Paris) from 1967 until his death in 1982.

Zazen: what is the correct position?

Not all meditations are the same. Zazen meditation is characterized above all by a well-defined seated posture. “Place a cushion under your buttocks to tilt your pelvis forward and sit straight, legs crossed with your knees ideally touching the ground. But everyone does according to their body and their abilities. We adopt the position of the lotus like the statue of Buddha or half-lotus“, explains Pierre Crépon, disciple of Taisen Deshimaru, founder of the Kokaiji temple in Vannes and author of “The art of zazen” published by Albin Michel.

The lotus position consists of having the legs crossed with the left foot on the right thigh and the right foot on the left thigh. In the half-lotus position, only one foot rests on the opposite thigh, the other is on the ground. In the zazen posture, the left hand is placed in the right hand above the thighs and the two thumbs touch horizontally. The nose, spine and navel are aligned vertically. We naturally stand straight. The mouth is closed, the eyes half-closed, breathing is done gently through the nose and we remain motionless in silence.

The ideal is to learn zazen within a group in a dojo or a temple. The International Zen Association offers places of practice on its website. This makes it possible to ensure that one adopts the right position and to benefit from an atmosphere favorable to the practice, to have a person in charge to announce the beginning and the end of the meditation.

The session generally lasts 1 hour: a first part of zazen of 25 minutes followed by 5 minutes of walking then again 30 minutes of zazen. But the modalities may vary according to the groups. It is also possible to indulge in zazen alone when you are used to it, the duration is then flexible.

Pierre Crépon suggests starting with two accompanied weekly sessions to fully immerse yourself in the practice of zazen and feel its benefits. Between two sessions, we can practice zazen as often as desired for 10-15 minutes.

Zazen: A spiritual process

The practice of zazen does not aim to achieve a particular goal. “Unlike other meditations, we insist on the posture and there is no particular object of thought, image, mantra, part of the body to feel… We do not seek to eliminate our thoughts. but we let them pass without attaching importance to them“, specifies Pierre Crépon.

According to him, it is not a practice of well-being or personal development but a spiritual approach. Although it is not a goal in itself, Zen meditation has beneficial side effects. It brings in particular a general balance, a force in the face of stressful elements. “One develops a center in oneself, one becomes centered and one awakens. Studies with electrodes placed on the skull revealed that a person adept at zazen had a stronger reaction when he heard a noise but also returned to normal more quickly. We do not become insensitive but more resilient naturally, we relativize more quickly“, explains the specialist. Only regular practice over the long term brings this state of mind and this inner strength.

Zazen: A wisdom in the face of desires

Zazen is part of a Zen Buddhist tradition. Even if it is not necessary to be a Buddhist to practice it, it is possible to deepen one’s approach by discovering the Zen teachings to engage more fully in a certain spiritual realization. “It is to discover that the purpose of life is not to acquire material goods or to satisfy all one’s desires. People who have a lot of possessions are not happier, they have as many problems as the others even if they are not the same. Life is something other than owning and it’s up to everyone to approach it in their own way with their baggage. But this other thing is quite similar for each of us”confides the disciple of Taisen Deshimaru.

By practicing zazen, one does not seek to withdraw from the world but to be in a better position to carry out this process in one’s daily life. Several disciplines of Zen are considered as spiritual paths (“do”) such as calligraphy, floral art, tea, martial arts…”Zazen is the heart of this approach, it is not distant from the rest of life. He does not have a negative view of the world and is not cut off from desires either. It just leads to being quiet in the face of them”concludes Pierre Crépon.

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What is zazen?

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