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Commentary on The Method of Sitting Meditation
: : The method of sitting meditation is extremely simple and easy¡¦
1) After spreading out the sitting mat and seating oneself comfortably in a cross-legged position, align head and spine in an upright, seated posture.
[ Sitting mat ]
The sitting mat itself is not directly related to Zen. Yet our body needs a mat. The merit of sitting meditation does not result instantly but requires considerable time as it disciplines and tames our spirit. When one sits for a long time, the buttocks are overstrained, which can easily lead to physical pain. A mat is necessary to prevent pain during sitting meditation. To relieve the weight of the legs, one needs to sit on the folded part of a long mat, or add another mat in order to sit on the raised portion. A square-shaped mat is fine if one is accustomed to it. The mat does not have to be luxurious; an inexpensive one is fine. However, an excessively thick or thin mat is not desirable. If it is too thick, the buttocks may feel cozy, but the legs can become uncomfortable; if too thin, the legs are comfortable but the buttocks may feel too much weight, preventing one from enduring for a long time.
[ Cross-legged position ]
placed on the other. There are two types of cross-legged posture: one is the full lotus posture with the right foot on the left thigh and the left foot on the top on the right thigh; the second is the half lotus posture which allows one foot to be put on the opposite thigh while the other rests on the ground or mat.
The cross-legged posture enables one to endure for the longest time with head and back erect. The center of gravity is uniformly distributed onto the buttocks and the legs so that one can sit very comfortably for a long time. For beginners, seating in the cross-legged position may not be easy; it can cause pain because the joints have already been stiffened. But when one is accustomed to it, it becomes the most comfortable posture.
If one finds sitting in full lotus posture too hard, the half lotus posture is also okay. One should just be aware that if one practices sitting meditation for too long in the half lotus posture without alternating the leg positions, though one may feel very comfortable at first, eventually the pelvis can be twisted, as well as the spinal cord, creating back pain or illness. Thus from the beginning one should alternate one's legs. Having already become accustomed to one posture, one should not forget to try to make the reverse position comfortable.
The pelvis and spine can be compared to a cornerstone and a pillar. The pillar that stands on a twisted cornerstone may well be twisted. A twisted spine in line with its instinct to sit itself up, has no alternative but to bend like an S. The spinal cord functions as the main passageway for the nervous system that spreads into every part of the body, and all nerve currents pass through this pathway, so a twisted spine impairs the nervous system, causing disorder in the internal organs connected with the impaired nerves and resulting in various illnesses. Thus when seating ourselves we must alternate the legs in turn; we can alternate daily or hourly.
[ Align the head and spine in an upright, seated posture. ]
aligned. If one ¡°hunches over¡±, one may feel temporary comfort but gradually the posture becomes hard to bear. When one bends the back, the originally erect spinal cord becomes bent accordingly, which imposes a big strain on the body, and the torso tilts forward. This puts strain on the legs, causing pain. With even the slightest deviation, one cannot reap the desired benefits of sitting meditation. The back is the first place distortion occurs, which then spreads to the whole body and to the mind.
There are things in this world that we can handle with idle thoughts, but as far as Zen is concerned, one should not adopt that kind of attitude; one should be alert and heedful. A person who practices Zen with a loose mind does not actually practice Zen but is just sitting. One must practice sitting meditation with perfect alertness and at the same time with comfort, not tolerating even the slightest distortion from a posture that aligns the head and back.
Sometimes, those who consider themselves to be good at Zen have an arrogant idea: ¡°What is so important about the posture? The important thing is the concentration.¡± I cannot be aware of how deeply they enter the perfect realm of absorption, but the beginner should abandon this kind of thought. A beginner who holds this idea may easily become accustomed to poor posture and suffer his whole life, or practice only the formality of sitting meditation and find Zen unattractive.
Therefore, from the beginning one should adapt to straightening one's head and back. One should remember that correct posture not only keeps the mind alert and the spine comfortable but also preserves the health of the spine and induces one to enter the real absorption of Zen.