Principles of Zazen (Shōbōgenzō Zazengi)

Treasury of the Eye of the True Dharma
Book 11

Translated by Carl Bielefeldt for the Soto Zen Text Project

Studying Zen (sanzen) is zazen. For zazen, one should have a quiet place. Spread a thick sitting mat. Do not let in drafts or vapors; do not admit rain or dew. You should secure and maintain the spot where you place yourself. There are traces from the past of those who sat on a vajra [seat] or sat on a rock; they all spread a thick layer of grass to sit on. The place where you sit should be bright; it should not be dark either day or night. The technique is to keep it warm in winter and cool in summer.

Cast aside all involvements and discontinue the myriad affairs. Good is not thought of; evil is not thought of. It is not mind, intellect or consciousness; it is not thoughts, ideas or perceptions. Do not figure to make a buddha; slough off sitting or reclining. You should be moderate in food and drink. Hold dear the passing days and nights, and take to zazen as though brushing a fire from your head. The Fifth Ancestor on Mt. Huangmei worked only at zazen, without any other other occupation.

During zazen, you should wear the kesa. Put down a cushion. The cushion is not placed completely under your crossed legs but only under the rear half, so that the mat is beneath the legs and the cushion beneath the spine. This is the way that all the buddhas and ancestors have sat during zazen.

Sit in either the semi-cross-legged or fully cross-legged position. For the fully cross-legged position, place your right foot on your left thigh and your left foot on your right thigh. The toes should be even with the thighs, not out of alignment. For the semi-crosslegged position, simply place your left foot on your right thigh.

Loosen your robe and underwaist, and arrange them properly. Place your right hand on your left foot and your left hand on your right hand. Put the tips of your thumbs together. With your hands in this position, place them against your body, so that the joined thumb tips are aligned with your navel.

Straighten your body and sit erect. Do not lean to the left or right; do not bend forward or back. The ears should always be aligned with the shoulders, and the nose aligned with the navel. The tongue should be placed against the front of the palate. The breath should pass through the nose. The lips and teeth should be closed. The eyes should be open, neither too widely nor too narrowly.

Having thus regulated body and mind, take a breath and exhale fully. Sitting fixedly, think of not thinking. How do you think of not thinking? Nonthinking. This is the art of zazen. Zazen is not the practice of dhyāna. It is the dharma gate of great ease and joy. It is undefiled practice and verification.

Treasury of the Eye of True Dharma, Principles of Zazen
Number 11
Presented to the assembly in the first year of Kangen, [cyclical year] mizunoto-u [1243], winter, eleventh [month]; at Yoshimine shøja, Yoshida district, Esshū.

One comment on “Principles of Zazen (Shōbōgenzō Zazengi)

  1. [...] a particular take on it — when I explain it to someone else, I’m very aware of both Dogen’s instructions and things I’ve heard from my teachers. But the timing — that book, with this request — [...]

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