In our rapidly changing modern society, isn’t there less time to focus our consciousness inside ourselves? There are good sides to being able to connect with the world through the internet but with constant outward consciousness and sending and receiving over and over, our minds and bodies unfortunately overheat. For those of you feeling this weariness, why not try starting zazen to put your posture, breathing as well as your heart, in order? This feature is a report on the English ZEN Class held at Tokyo Grand Hotel which is an office of religious matters for the Soto school of Zen Buddhism.
Before the ZEN Class begins
Why do people do zazen? To calm the mind? For discipline? To enter enlightenment? When starting zazen, I think beginners must wonder about the meaning of zazen, its goal and effects. However, there is not one correct answer. The reasons for starting zazen are different for everyone.
The only thing I can say about the zazen of the Soto school experienced in this ZEN class is that it emphasizes the practice of “Shikantaza.” Shikantaza is a teaching that emphasizes “just sitting,” without seeking enlightenment or being caught up in your thoughts and ideas. This Shikantaza is a very important point so if you keep it in the back of your mind as you read this report, I think it makes it easier to understand how it was during my zazen.
What is ZEN Class?
The ZEN Class I joined this time is a zazen class for beginners held monthly at Tokyo Grand Hotel, a five minute walk from Shibakoen Station. Teaching the basics of zazen is Fujita Issho. Issho lived in America for a long time and is in charge of teaching this ZEN Class. (HP：http://fujitaissho.info/)
I’m sure some of you are asking “it’s held at a hotel?” but inside Tokyo Grand Hotel there is an office of the Soto school and while it looks like a regular building at first glance, there are actually Japanese style rooms for zazen prepared inside.
The flow of ZEN Class
When the class begins, first there is stretching in order to prepare for zazen. It is important for beginners to learn the correct way to sit but it is meaningless if you try too hard and unfortunately cannot concentrate on zazen. In this class, it is ok to do zazen while crossing your legs or sitting on chair, in accordance with the conditions of your own body.
In stretching, while neck, shoulders, hip joints and ankles are carefully rotated, we will loosen up to widen the range of motion. As the body becomes loose, tension in the mind is also mysteriously loosened and the body feels a greater sense of freedom.
15 minute zazen, two times
After stretching carefully, it is finally time for the zazen to begin. It is 15 minutes long. Learning each posture from Issho, while feeling relaxed, we concentrate on posture and breathing. So you don’t feel sleepy, you can keep your eyes open, looking down at a 45° angle. Then you should be careful not to let your head fall.
The thoughts and feelings that arise during zazen are your current state. Usually, you are conscious of these things so you start to think about them carelessly but during zazen, just accept the current state and let them float away.
After 15 minutes, a bell rings and on this signal, the first zazen is over. Opening our eyes slowly, we rock our bodies to the left and right. We all bow together and feel grateful to the people who sat together with us in zazen.
Next, we look at the wall and in the same way, another 15 minute zazen begins.
The ZEN Class does not end with zazen. At the end, all the participants surround Issho and have a discussion. Here, we were able to talk about things that came up during zazen, recent worries, or anything but here I would like to introduce some of the questions from participants.
-How can I deal with bad memories from the past?
Issho said “past experiences cannot be completely removed. However, I think you can replace them. First of all, I think the person holding the memory must believe that it can be overwritten and preserved and I think it is important to not give up on the people around you.”
-In one day, when should we do zazen?
Issho said “there is no rule about the particular time one must practice zazen. Some people also suggest ‘one breath meditation’ because you can decide the time freely. I recommend doing zazen once in the morning and once at night. If you do this, you sandwich the time you live in the real world with the zazen time. Due to this, I think you can reset your mind with zazen in the morning and at night and efficiently maintain energy directed to the outside.”
In this way, we shared the questions that came up during zazen. At this time, we could find answers to the small questions we had about zazen and I thought it was an important time so that the participants can continue their own zazen.
How can I participate in the ZEN Class?
The 2017 ZEN Class schedule is as listed below. To apply, see the Soto school website. An easy to join ZEN Class in Tokyo. Why not try to feel your true self by focusing inward the consciousness and energy that usually look outward?
Dates (for 2017): 6/20, 7/19, 8/23, 11/8, 12/13