Zazen Meditation: What it is and how to do it

What is Zazen meditation

The practice of Zazen meditation is closely associated with Zen Buddhism, just meaning “seated meditation.” It is the core (religious) meditation practice of Zen Buddhism. In Zazen Meditation the meditator sits, allowing thoughts, ideas, and images to pass by without judgment or involvement. The purpose of the meditation is to calm body and mind and to gain insight into the nature of existence, and ultimately to achieve enlightenment.

While the primary purpose of Zazen meditation as described above, it is taught in many different ways, depending on the Zen Buddhist school.   The techniques described below are broadly similar to other meditation methods – You’ll see obvious similarities to Mindful meditation and others.  Note that irrespective of the method used, the benefits of a meditation practice, largely depend on the intention of the meditator.  The Mindful meditator reaps the physiological advantages of the meditation, while the same physiological benefits (along with contemplation during meditation) help the Buddhist meditator to align mind and life to the Buddhist precepts.

When it comes to meditation, there is no one-size-fits-all!

Preparation and Instruction

Do Zazen meditation with eyes open (kept lowered), gazing ~1 meter forwards. The mouth should be kept closed (as long as you can breathe through your nose!) and tongue pressed on the upper palate.

The seating position can be any of the regular meditation postures: Meditation Posture: Choose the Best and Most Comfortable Posture. However, the hands should adopt the hand position known as the “cosmic mudra.”  This hand position is identical to one used for Sacral Chakra meditation, pictured below.

Demonstration of the sacral chakra had position

The “cosmic mudra” hand position is the location of the body’s energy center called Hara or Tantien.

As with other meditation traditions, start Zazen meditation with some breathing exercises to calm the body and center the mind.


  • Close your eyes and inhale deeply. Hold the breath for 3-4 seconds and exhale slowly.
  • Keep doing this for 5 or 6 times then allow the breath to follow a comfortable, relaxed rhythm.
  • Continue your natural breathing rhythm and become more and more comfortable and peaceful.

There are several forms of meditation taught with Zazen

Focus (Centre)

The meditator focuses on the hara (tantien) – The hara resides in the body just below the navel and should, where the folded hands are placed during meditation.  The hara is a location that is common with Reiki meditations.  Use a mantra or counting the breath can be utilized as an aid to maintaining concentration.

Koan (contemplation)

A Koan is an object or universal/paradoxical question, which generally speaking, has no answer – such as “What is the universe?” or “What is my purpose?”.  It is intended to suppress the ego and illicit an intuitive response.

The meditator focuses on this question, silently repeating it with each breath, waiting for the mind to be clear.  In other words, the mind is clear when the ego gives us and stops trying to solve the problem. Such questions are used in Zen Buddhism to test the meditators level.

Sitting (nonthinking)

Sitting meditation is just as described.  It has no particular focus other than keeping the mind in the present moment, not thinking – It is in many respects, similar to the intention of Mindful meditation.

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