Jan 14th, 2012
Folks often ask about how long, and how often, to sit.
What I am about to say may be controversial among some 'Zennies', seen as too "lightweight" by many ... easily misjudged and misunderstood as "breaking the rules" or "not sufficiently serious".
But our way is "goalless, non-attaining" ... the attaining of which is the Greatest Goal! A moment of sitting is a moment of Buddha realized! Certainly, sitting is not (when tasted as suchness) a matter limited by time or space, long or short in place or duration. In a moment of True Sitting, time is still ... even as it keeps flowing!
Our message around here is that "life is our temple". By this I mean that daily seated Zazen "on the Zafu" is indispensible and not to be skipped ... but also that ALL OF LIFE on and off the Zafu is "Zazen" in its wider meaning! Opportunities for 'Zazen' are sitting, standing, running, walking or flying through the air ... chanting sutras or changing diapers ... ALL ZAZEN when known as such. Nonetheless, Even though "all of life is Zazen" ... daily, seated Zazen is indispensible too and must be sat!
Yet ... on a purely practical level ... our Sangha members are generally very busy people, barely time to sit for 30 minutes even once ... let alone twice ... a day. I believe that many folks run from Zazen ... or do not sit daily ... because they simply do not have the time and/or patience. I would rather have folks sitting daily, and consistently, than not at all or only once in awhile.
Actually, there have been many views on the proper length of sitting during the history of Zen. Even Dogen, our Patriarch, while interpreting seated Zazen as sacred and 'Buddha realizing Buddha', also proposed all of life as sacred and 'Buddha realizing Buddha'. Dogen kept a monastic time schedule, with certain periods of Zazen fixed per day ... but, like all things in a monastery, each single sitting was seen as a timeless and complete ritual. In other words, even Dogen did not see Zazen as bound by time, or specifically recommend that one had to sit a set time each day, and saw each instant of sitting as an expression of All-Time and Being.
So then, why "15 minutes" ... and not "1 minute" or "5 minutes" or "5 hours" or "1 second"?
On a practical level, I think our busy working people can find 15 minutes a day, and such is just sufficient time to settle down the mind, release thoughts and emotions, and taste a period of timelessness. Any shorter is TOO SHORT to taste timelessness because ... like a storm or turbulent water, it takes a few minutes to clear and still a bit. In principle, sitting could be a moment or half a moment. However, a few minutes are usually required to allow for making the mental and physical transition from our busy day to this sacred moment ... in order to settle. After all, it takes a little bit of time to taste Timelessness! Also, we needed to pick some number ... so might as well be that (like so many of our arbitrary "traditions" in Buddhism).
So, what is our "Official Recommendation" at Treeleaf Sangha?
A - Committing to sit at least one (1) sitting on the Zafu per day of 15 minutes (more if the person wants, but not required at all. IF YOU ARE NOW SITTING LONGER, AND COMFORTABLE WITH THAT, If SUCH FEELS RIGHT IN ONE'S LIFE ... KEEP AT IT! But, if you are struggling to maintain longer daily sittings, it is fine to shorten your sitting time. It is more important to be consistent in sitting daily for 15 minutes ... and taste Timelessness and Wholeness in one's sitting ... than to sit for 30 minutes but miss many days, or be lost in thoughts of goals and achievement). HOWEVER, sitting only 15 minutes 1 time daily must be combined with several daily moments of "Insta-Zazen!" © (as described in our last talk) ...
B - Committing to at least one (1) longer sitting of 30 to 45 minutes once per week which, if possible, should be combined with joining in all of our weekly 90 minute Zazenkais.
C - If at all possible, committing to join in at least one (1) four hour Zazenkai at Treeleaf per month.
D - If at all possible, committing to attend one longer residential "Sesshin" per year of from 3 to 7 days.
Now, someone might ask too, "if each moment is all time and space, what is the purpose of an intensive Sesshin?" Well, I often say that, sometimes, we need to practice a bit long and hard, morning to night ... sitting and wrestling with 'me, my self and I' ... all to attain Nothing to Attain! Going to Retreats, Sesshin and such is a powerful facet of this Practice and not to be missed.
So, WELCOME TO "THE 15-Minute Sit"