I just added a link over there to your left to a page I put together of instructions on how to do zazen. The model is LizaRose from Suicide Girls. The photographer was Svetlana Dekic. She took the photo of me on the back cover of Sit Down And Shut Up as well as the one that will appear on Zen Wrapped In Karma Dipped In Chocolate. She's at Burning Man now, rockin' out no doubt. The pictures were shot at the Hill Street Center where we hold our weekly zazen things, in case you ever wondered what the place looked like. I can't take a whole lot of credit for how nice the pictures turned out. I wasn't even really aware what Svetlana was shooting. I was just off to one side telling LizaRose where to put her feet and stuff. She's a Yoga teacher and had done some Zen practice before so it was pretty easy. The idea for the shoot was mine. There are a million how-to-do-zazen things all over the web. And they're nice. But I thought I could use my Suicide Girls connections to put together something a bit more interesting. This is by far the best looking of all the zazen instruction pages I've ever seen! Again, no kudos to me on that. LizaRose and Svetlana are the real geniuses. Enjoy.
Yesterday I saw the movie The Wrecking Crew. It's a documentary about the studio musicians who played on a ton of big hit rock songs from the Sixties including most of Phil Spector's sessions, most of the Beach Boys stuff like Pet Sounds, the Mamas and Papas sessions and a crap load more. It's a great film. See it if you have a chance. It's about time someone recognized these guys' (and gals, don't forget the great Carole Kaye, bassist extraordinaire) contributions.
Also, my friends and regular zazen-sitters at the Hill Street Center Saturday things, Deep Six Holiday, are playing a show in Los Angeles tonight, Thursday, August 28th at Molly Malone's (575 S. Fairfax Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90036) from 10 PM, the cover charge is a mere $6. You can also find them on MySpace.
Not to belabor the point on the precepts. But there's two really key things I want to say. The first is that the precepts are only to be used as a guide to gauge our own behavior — not the behavior of others. I said this before but I cannot stress it enough.
When the precepts are used to judge the behavior of others we're back into the same sick game every religion plays where we are the morally righteous and the unbelievers should change their ways. Buddhists must never be like that.
The other thing is that the point of the precepts is always to do whatever makes the situation at hand better. If I were going to add an eleventh precept it would be just that. And then my precepts would go to eleven! But I'm not gonna add one. I think it goes without saying. Or it should. The precepts we've been given by those ancient precept writer people are just examples of things that are almost always the right way to go. But sometimes they're not.
The best example I can think of along those lines is that of my first Zen teacher. He's now a part-time euthanasia technician for the State of Ohio. One night, at about 3 AM, he got a call. Someone had run into a large dog on a lonely stretch of country road. The dog was severely injured and would not recover. But it was still alive and in terrible agony.
My teacher went out to the scene and saw that the dog's body had been nearly torn in half. In spite of this, it was still very much alive and howling in pain. My teacher got out his kit and give the dog an injection of strong narcotics, something he always does to ease animals into the process. As the drugs took effect, the dog licked his hand then quietly passed away.
Had my teacher obeyed the precepts in their literal sense — by not intoxicating the dog or killing it — it would only have extended and deepened the animal's suffering. Here he disobeyed them and made the situation better.
This is only one example. Our lives are full of such instances, some far less clear cut. Intuition is important and this can be developed through zazen practice.
So go look at that instructions page and then do some!
Since a few people have asked, the hand position in the kinhin photos is the one favored by Kodo Sawaki. I learned this position from my teacher Gudo Nishijima, who was Sawaki's student. I've since noticed a few other Zen practitioners doing it this way. It sort of serves as a little secret acknowledgment of Sawaki's influence. The more standard way practiced at Eiheiji, SF Zen Center and many other places has the hands positioned such that the left hand fingers' are against the chest. Go look on the Internet and I'm sure you'll find a photo.
I don't know if the position I've shown was invented by Sawaki or if it came from somewhere he practiced. I've heard somewhere that the style Sawaki did is favored by one part of the Soto line in Japan (Sojiji maybe). But I don't know. It's not Rinzai as far as I know. I'm not sure how they do it. They jog around for kinhin. It's wild!
Kinhin itself is a bit of a mystery. In the past the word kinhin referred to a number of different things Zen monks did between periods of Zazen. It's only more recently that walking around the zendo has become the standard form of kinhin. The details are in a book called Zen Ritual. I don't own a copy, so I can't refer to it. I was reading it last time I was at the Milwaukee Zen Center.
In any case, either position will do. Minor variations like this don't make a huge difference. It's important, though, that everyone in the zendo be doing pretty much the same thing. A couple times I've had people ask me if they can hold their hands the way Yoga meditators do during zazen. They sorta rest their hands, palms up, on their knees and make an "OK" symbol with the thumb and forefinger. I usually say I'd prefer they don't. To me that's too much of a variation. The kinhin thing seems far more minor and less liable to call attention to the one doing it.