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Zazen in the Rinzai tradition

Zazen ( Jap. 座禅 , dt. "Sitting meditation") refers to a meditation technique of Zen -Buddhismus. This should bring body and mind to rest and prepare the ground for mystical experiences such as kenshō or satori . In Sōtō , zazen is also often equated with enlightenment.


During zazen there are often instructions from the master to the students, the so-called kusen .


A zafu is often used for zazen.

Zazen can be performed in the lotus position (Kekka-Fuza), in the half lotus position (Hanka-Fuza), in the so-called Burmese seat or in the heel seat ( Seiza ). Aids in Zen are the seat cushion ( zafu ) with the mat ( zabuton ) underneath . Seat stools or meditation benches are also used, but are considered less effective, as the traditional way of sitting positions the extremities near the center of the body and thus allows a more centered posture. Whichever seat is chosen, the knees should be in contact with the floor.

Zazen is practiced in an emphatically upright, stable, self-resting posture that maintains a harmonious relationship between tension and relaxation. The hands are often held just below the navel in the so-called meditation mudra , with one hand with its back on the surface of the other and the tips of the thumbs touching above it. Zazen can also be practiced in a chair if physical conditions do not allow sitting on the floor. In this case too, the posture is upright and the back is free from any support. During zazen, the body is not moved because the external, physical discipline provides support for internal, mental observation and concentration.

While in Sōtō Zen it is customary to sit facing the wall, like Bodhidharma once did , in Rinzai Zen meditators sit with their backs against the wall. Even if the eyes are mostly open or half-open in zazen, there is no active looking. Long phases of zazen are interrupted in monastic practice by walking meditation ( kinhin ). It is recommended to maintain this posture for at least 20 minutes; With years of practice, much longer periods of sitting are possible.


The meditation exercise has different variants, but it is always carried out with complete mindfulness . It represents, at least at the beginning, a physical and psychological burden for the students. Through self- observation of the body, its posture and breathing (e.g. consideration of the flow of breath and the sensations, the thought processes and the consciousness) the student connects with the current place and moment. Since body and mind are not separated, the posture has a direct influence on feeling, thinking and the physical and psychological state. Through the posture, observation and concentration, the flow of thoughts comes to rest or is temporarily completely interrupted. The life experiences and subconscious also manifested in the body appear in this state of mind and can dissolve.

But zazen has no defined goal and no meaning that goes beyond sitting itself. Therefore, apart from the reference to mindfulness, there are traditionally few general instructions. Zazen is often called “practice” for short to emphasize the abandonment of theoretical occupation. Only in the concrete exercise, for example during a sesshin , does the Zen teacher deal with the current experiences and difficulties of the practitioner in individual discussions ( Dokusan ) and lectures ( Teishō ).

Physical pain caused by the posture, which is unusual for beginners, is not suppressed during zazen, but is also not taken into account. The same applies to unusual perceptual and sensory experiences called makyos . With this Zen practice , the experience of silence and emptiness becomes possible. From this collected state a mystical experience can suddenly arise , which in Zen is called Kenshō or Satori . Satori in particular can also be understood as the experience of the original universal unity or as the abolition of all opposites - in particular the separation of subject and object .

Zazen and science

From a scientific point of view, zazen is a difficult topic to research. As already mentioned above, it is about a subjective experience, while science tries to find intersubjectively comprehensible standpoints in order to arrive at the most objective judgment possible. Scientific conclusions do not necessarily reflect the experience of a zazen practitioner; science only tries to make the causes of that subjective experience visible. In one study, the brain waves of meditators were examined with an EEG device .

The researchers apparently found the connection between habituation and zazen practice interesting . With the help of the EEG, brain waves are made visible, machine-processed into a graph and usable. The different manifestations of these waves are divided. The so-called " alpha waves " are interesting for the experiment . Whenever a person is spiritually active, i.e. also when he is exposed to a stimulus, these alpha waves are interrupted. When the same stimulus is repeated, this blockage flattens. In the documentation of the experiment, the ticking of a clock is mentioned as an example: the first time you tick the alpha waves are blocked as long as you pay attention to the ticking , but as soon as you concentrate on something else, you no longer consciously hear the ticking, the alpha waves Wave blockage flattened: Habituation. While the phenomenon of habituation occurred in subjects who did not practice zazen, it did not occur in the experiment with a Zen master. He seemed to hear every single tick of the clock.

Zazen apparently helps the meditator to better control his habituation.

See also


  • Sawaki Kōdō : A good day every day. Introduction to Zen meditation. Angkor Verlag 2008. ISBN 978-3936018578 .
  • Taisen Deshimaru-Roshi: Za-Zen. The practice of zen. 5th edition Kristkeitz, Leimen 1991, ISBN 3-921508-11-8 .
  • Daisetz T. Suzuki : Zazen - the practice of Zen. Basics and methods of meditation practice in Zen. 3rd edition Barth, Bern u. a. 1993, ISBN 3-502-64595-7 .
  • Katsuki Sekida: Zen Training. The big book about practice, methods, background. 5th edition Herder, Freiburg i.Br. 2000, ISBN 3-451-04184-7 .
  • David Fontana: Introduction to Zen Meditation. The way through the goalless gate. Theseus, Berlin 2003, ISBN 3-89620-196-4 .
  • Toshimaro Ama: Zen - The Way to Satori. (DVD) MICO / NHK, Japan; German Edition Complete Media, Munich / Grünwald, ISBN 3-8312-9149-7 .
  • Abbot Muho: Zazen or the way to happiness . Rowohlt, Reinbek near Hamburg 2007, ISBN 3-499-62203-3 .
  • Philip Kapleau: The three pillars of Zen . OW Barth, Munich 2010, ISBN 978-3-426-29128-3 .

Web links

Commons : Zazen  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Folia Psychiatrica et Neurologica Japonica, Vol. 20, No. 4. An Electroencephalographic Study of the Zen Meditation (Zazen) , by Akira Kasamatsu and Tomio Hirai. December, 1966, pp. 315-36ff.