The following manual contains helpful instructions and details about Zen meditation with the Zen Community of Staten Island. For stretching exercises to facilitate sitting, click here.




How to Sit (Zazen)

Sitting, also known as zazen, is a way of getting deeply in touch with who you really are. It is a tool to reach this end.

1. Sit on the forward third of your chair or zafu (round cushion), using the cushion as a wedge. This sitting position will help relieve some of the strain on your back and allow you to sit with your upper body centered.

2. Except when sitting in a chair, arrange your body into a pyramid with both knees in contact with the floor cushion and your buttocks on the front third of your zafu. Full Lotus, Half Lotus, Burmese and kneeling positions are all acceptable. Choose a position that you can comfortably sustain for at least 20 minutes.

3. In the Half Lotus position, place your left leg on your right thigh or vice versa. In the Full Lotus position, put your feet on the opposite thighs. The Burmese position is done by bending the knees and placing the lower legs one next to the other in front of you. You may also simply sit with your legs tucked in closely to the body, but be sure that your weight is distributed on three points: both your knees on the ground and your buttocks on the round cushion. When sitting in a chair, keep your knees apart about the width of your shoulders, feet firmly planted on the floor. You can also place a small zafu on the seat close to the front edge.

4. Straighten and align your spine by extending it and pushing the top of your head toward the ceiling. Tuck in your chin a little and then relax. Your buttocks and belly should protrude slightly and your back should be erect but not rigid or tense. Sway your body gently from left to right until you naturally come to a point of stillness on your cushion.

5. With your eyes half opened, lower your gaze to a forty-five degree angle. Try to keep your eyes unfocused and directed at the floor 3 to 4 feet in front of you

6. Place your tongue behind your upper teeth. This slows down the production of saliva and you will not have to swallow as often.

7. Placement of hands – right hand palm up, blade against lower belly, left hand palm up resting on the right hand, middle knuckles overlapping and thumb tips slightly touching. Let your hands rest comfortably in your lap. If you are left handed, position your right hand over your left hand.

8. Once you have found your position and zazen begins, it is important that you do not move for the 20-minute session.

9. Take a few deep breaths, exhaling fully. Let your breath settle into its natural rhythm. With proper physical posture your breathing will flow naturally into your lower abdomen. Sit still and keep your attention on your breath. When your attention wanders, bring it back to the breath again and again - as many times as necessary. Be fully, vitally present. Simply do your very best. At the end of the sitting period, gently sway your body from right to left. Stretch out your legs and be sure they have feeling before standing.

10. Be in the zendo (meditation room) on your cushion at least five minutes before the first period is scheduled to begin.


Zazen will begin with the Gatha of Atonement chant and will end with the Four Great Vows chant. Printed chant cards will be located under your floor cushion. Each period of zazen begins with three strikes of a bowl gong. A period lasts 20 minutes. Once the period begins, sit still and count your breath - an inhalation and exhalation are counted as one - from one to ten. Continue to count your breath during the period. If thoughts come up, just notice them and then go back to your counting. When the gong strikes twice, the period has ended. You may stretch your legs at this time while remaining seated. Rise from the seated position when the timekeeper rises. Take your time getting up. The timekeeper will strike clappers and you may gassho - a half bow with hands together, fingers pointing up.


After everyone bows, the timekeeper will lead the group in walking meditation, also known as kinhin. Assemble behind the time-keeper in seating order. The timekeeper will strike the clappers when the line is formed, gassho, and walking meditation around the room begins. Walking slowly, follow directly in the footprint of the person in front of you. You can place your left hand in a fist, thumb tucked in, and your right hand encircling the left, thumb over the top. When the clappers are struck again, gassho and follow the person in front of you until you reach your cushion. During the walking meditation, you may leave the line to use the bathroom or to leave the zendo.


During the first and second sittings, the teacher conducts interviews in an adjacent room. All beginners are urged to go for an interview on their first visit. The teacher will advise you on how to continue your meditation practice and he will be able to answer any questions you may have about the practice. The timekeeper goes for the first interview. When he/she returns to their cushion, the person to the left of the timekeeper goes for an interview, continuing in this manner around the room. If you choose not to go for an interview, simply gassho while seated.


During the third zazen session, the teacher will give a short talk about a subject that will help you with your practice.


All evil karma ever created by me since of old
On account of my beginningless greed, anger, and ignorance,
Born of my conduct, speech and thought,
Now I atone for it all.

Creations are numberless, I vow to free them.
Delusions are inexhaustible, I vow to transform them.
Reality is boundless, I vow to perceive it.
The enlightened way is unsurpassable, I vow to embody it.


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