Thursday, October 27, 2011


Today I'm about to start a three-day zazen retreat in the city of Bielefeld, Germany. After this I have one-day zazen retreats coming up in Essex, England on November 5, Antwerp, Belgium on November 13th and
Manchester, England on November 19th

I'm not sure what people expect when they sign up for a Zen retreat with me. This has been my on-going concern throughout this tour.

A typical zazen retreat involves a lot of zazen and not much else. These days, though, you have a lot of what seem to me to be sort of "zazen lite" retreats. I blame Thich Naht Hanh. His most popular retreats, as I understand it, involve very little actual zazen practice but include a lot of fun activities.

This is certainly not the worst way a person can spend a day. And perhaps one or two of the hundreds of people who come to that kind of a retreat will take up a more serious practice. Which is not a bad thing.

But it's not a Zen retreat. At least not in the traditional sense.

The point of zazen is to do just one ridiculously simple activity in a very, very thorough way. You can explain all anyone needs to know about zazen practice in a couple of minutes. Here it is on line with a pretty girl demonstrating. Now you everything essential about zazen practice. I'm not trying to be funny here. This really is all anyone needs to know.

On this tour I've been trying to deal with numerous and widely differing sets of expectations. Some people are very hardcore about their Zen and view me as being way too easy. Some people are scared to death of zazen. They're like people at a swimming pool sticking their toes in and then screaming about how cold the water is. It's all they can do just to get through a half an hour of sitting, let alone a full day of it.

The only way to solve this problem is for me to simply do what it is that I do and let people decide for themselves if it's for them or not.

As I said earlier, I may, in future, devise a more introductory type retreat for those who are terrified of zazen. But for now, for the rest of this tour, I'm sticking to a somewhat more standard approach.

I think some people who read my books are shocked that I'm fairly traditional in my approach to the practice. But I always have been. And I think that comes through in the books if you read them carefully. So please don't be shocked if you sign up for a retreat with me and it's not a bunch of slam-dancing (aka moshing) and guys in monster costumes. More likely you'll be looking at a wall for a long, long while.

Here are the schedules for the upcoming retreats:


10:00-10:30 Zazen
10:30-10:40 Kinhin
10:40-11:10 Zazen
11:10-11:15 Prepare for Service
11:15-11:30 Service
11:30-12:30 Dharma Talk
12:30-1:30 Silent lunch
1:30-2:00 Work or Free Time
2:00-2:30 Zazen
2:30-2:40 Kinhin
2:40-3:10 Zazen
3:10-3:20 Kinhin
3:20-4:00 Tea (silent)
4:15-4:45 Zazen
4:45 Chanting Refuges


09.30 - 10.00 aankomst/arrival
10.00 - 10.30 introductie/introduction, zazen+kinhin instructie/instruction
10.30 - 11.00 zazen
11.10 -11.20 kinhin
11.20 -11.50 zazen
11.50 - 12.10 koffie- or theepauze/coffeebreak (silent)
12.10 - 12.40 zazen
12.40 - 12.50 kinhin
13.00 - 14:00 lunchauze/lunchbreak
14.00 - 14.30 zazen
14.30 - 14.40 kinhin
14.35 - 15.00 zazen
15.00 – 16.00 lezing en vragen/talk and q and a
16.00 - 16.30 zazen
16.30 - 16.40 kinhin
16.40 – 17.00 afsluiting/conclusion (chanting refuges)


10:00-10:30 intro to Zazen
10:30-11:00 Zazen
11:00-11:10 Kinhin
11:10-11:40 Zazen
11:40-1:00 Dharma Talk
1:00-1:45 Silent lunch –or folk can go and get lunch
1:45-2:15 Zazen
2:15-2:45 yoga
2:45-3:15 Zazen
3.15-3.30 Kinhin
3:30-3:45 chanting
3:45-4:00 finishing talk
4.00 finish


Lone Wolf said...

Zazen is simple but difficult to do day in and day out. I've heard plenty of Zennies say this, but it wasn't until doing the practice on a consistant bases that I realized this. I will go for long periods of time sitting morning and night and then something happens that causes me to skip a session and then a whole day then a few days and then a week or two. I'm in one of those skip-Zazen-periods right now, but I simply have to jump back on the horse (aka the cushion), which is what I'm going to do after I post this comment.

proulx michel said...

Ik heb graag het "afsluiting"...

Fraser said...

When you do a full day of sitting, do you take breaks? How frequent and long are the breaks?

How many hours total do you sit for in a day?

Also, how important is it to stare at a blank wall... versus, say the pile of clothes in the corner of my bedroom?

Last question is: my eyes go funny when I sit staring at nothing. I start going cross eyed, or blur out some other way. Any comment on that?

Thanks if you can help me out with this!

Brad Warner said...


We take breaks. Some Zen groups take few breaks and they're short. I always provide long ones.

A blank wall is better. But I've stared at any number of things according to circumstances. Piles of clothes being the most frequent. But it's best to use a wall.

As far as eyes going funny... It happens. When you notice it, just start over again. I once put a little dot on the wall I usually stared at to see if that helped. It didn't help much. Eventually my eyes settled as I got used to the practice.


anon #108 said...

Brad, I noticed (why?) that when in Antwerp you do this kind of thing:

14.00 - 14.30 zazen
14.30 - 14.40 kinhin
14.35 - 15.00 zazen

Time travels in all directions, right?

proulx michel said...

And then, there's that lesson in driving (you learn it mostly in motorcycle licence courses, but it's also valid with a bicycle or a car): you go where your eyes look. If you're looking at that tree that terrifies you because you're tired and there's a row of them on both sides of the road, then one will abruptly step onto the road, just for you.
Your mind will go where you're looking at. If you're not looking at anything in particular, it'll settle.

Mumon said...

You start 'em no earlier than 9:30...the day's 1/2 over by then...but then again I guess you know your constituency...

Seagal Rinpoche said...

For want of a nail the shoe was lost; for want of a shoe the horse was lost; and for want of a horse the man was lost.

Fred said...

So the guys in prison can stare at
a wall 23 hours a day.
Lucky buggers.

Noah said...

I just recently went on my first Thich Nhat Hahn retreat and was shocked by how little sitting practice there was and how little it was emphasized. Yet despite the lack of traditional sitting practice, I found the retreat to be the most powerful of the retreats I've done recently, which includes retreats of sitting up to 10-12 hours a day in the Vipassana method.

Of course there's a possibility, perhaps even the likelihood that my experience had more to do with where I was at in my practice than the actual method/sitting itself, but I think there's also the possibility that Thich Nhat Hahn's method which stresses carrying over your mindfulness practice into every moment of the day and your interactions with others, rather than just the time on the pillow can be just as powerful, if not moreso, then spending an entire day on the cushion. Or maybe I'm just looking for an excuse to stay off the seat, because yes, this retreat was certainly more "fun." Something to consider.

Paul Young said...

so you're going for 5 sessions of 30 min. rather than 4 of 40 min. i dig it.
how can any one read a Brad Warner book and not be inspired to incorporate at least a little sitting in their daily schedule?

Brad Warner said...

Anon #108 said:

Time travels in all directions, right?


Brad Warner said...

You start 'em no earlier than 9:30...the day's 1/2 over by then...but then again I guess you know your constituency...

These are all non-residential. So it's tough to make them much earlier. Plus I still feel like shit from my whole Berlin adventure.

mark said...

I've been trying to figure out the 'right way to sit' for @3yrs now, and of course I've slaked quite a bit. I just found out the key, at least for me, by reading "The book of Mu" edited by James Ishmale Ford and Melissa Myozen Blacker.
It's a collection of many masters past and present and there experience with the first koan of the Mumonkan. It's worth the read, showing how simplicity should not be so damn difficult.

Mysterion said...

my "blank wall" has textured stucco on it.

therefore I face the closed vertical blinds over the back sliding glass doors as the sun starts to illuminate the eastern sky.

even stippled glass can be distracting at times.

Bottom line is: "Look at whatever you look at, but maintain your practice." (but shop around for a quiet field of view)

Mysterion said...

Re Zazen & breaks:

Here is Rutger's schedule.

I do not lead a group - or accept students (hmmm... why do I have student's then???)

Why do I lead various and sundry groups? Something about retirement is not quite working out...

Ahhh... I don't ANSWER questions, I just suggest reading or other resources. My diseased master (2003/4???) insisted on remaining "on the first step" of the path. His example was a valid one.

And he was not totally Buddhist, he was, I found out near the very end, a closeted Hindu!

BTW, M.P. Hall was a Buddhist!!!

Doug said...

Ha ha ha, Zen is always better when it's done by pretty girls. Just saying. :)

Some people are very hardcore about their Zen and view me as being way too easy. Some people are scared to death of zazen.

I think I fall into the latter category mainly because of people in the former category.

I've never understood the militant, faux-samurai behavior some Zen folks seem to want to emulate, even when other related sects such as Chinese Ch'an and Korean Seon don't have this attitude.

I guess it's why I never set foot in a Zendo and probably won't in the near future.

Why do I hang out here? Probably for the ambience. :)

Doug said...

I'm glad you guys brought this up:

A blank wall is better. But I've stared at any number of things according to circumstances. Piles of clothes being the most frequent. But it's best to use a wall.

As far as eyes going funny... It happens. When you notice it, just start over again....Eventually my eyes settled as I got used to the practice.

It's something I've wondered from time to time. I take it then eyes always open, huh? I have yet to get used to that, so I always just did it closed. :-p

I was certain some Buddhist traditions did it with eyes closed, but I could be wrong.

Khru said...

Sweet baby Jesus, this is the worst comment thread I've ever seen on any blog.

And with this "lite" Zazen schedule, most participants have absolutely zero chance of reaching full enlightenment...they'll reach only "lite" enlightenment at best...

Mysterion said...

My understanding of enlightenment is that it is a process you pass through at the same time you finally forever cast off the mortal shell and enter nirbana/nirvana. By this process you end birth-death cycles. ;)

It like saying: "I don't need this shit no more."

(You cease craving... greed... lust... and STAY DEAD)

Anonymous said...

Mysterion said...
...BTW, M.P. Hall was a Buddhist!!!

Manly P. Hall? That sounds like the name of a "water sports" club in San Francisco.

Oliver said...

I like your post and your schedules! In fact I had sesshins with more sitting done and with less.
I think the best way to be prepared for a sesshin is not to care too much about the plan, the food and the other students.
Up until now everyone survived every sesshin I ever visited.

anon #108 said...

The most memorable half-hour of zazen I've sat was at the second (I think) Dogen Sangha UK summer retreat I've attended.

One side of the room we use as a zendo is a long window, looking out onto a paved patio, trees and grass. To accomomdate everybody, some people have to look out of that window while they sit. There is a curtain that can be drawn across but that's rarely done in the daytime.

It had been raining that afternoon, but now the sun was out. Small pools of water had collected on the paving stones. My attention was caught by a slim black insect (some kind of beetle?) making its way across the ground in front of me. It was moving very slowly, stopping and starting. I saw it stop at the edge of some water and then move forward. It lay in the water for a few moments, twitched, and died. I'm pretty sure it died there and then. I didn't see it move again.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been taking any notice. Perhaps I shouldn't have been caught by the moving thing in the corner of my eye. But I had been caught. I had watched the natural death of a living thing. At first I was shocked and moved. Then "Everything is in its place in the Universe" is what I thought, and felt. It was a feeling of great peace and contentment; a feeling that everything is as it has to be.

I stare at the wall at home, but I may give the window another go. The Buddha wasn't staring at a wall when he saw the morning star and realised something valuable.

Brad Warner said...

Many Buddhist traditions meditate with eyes closed. But not Zen. As far as I know all the major Zen lineages Soto, Rinzai and Obaku do zazen with eyes open.

Doug said...

@Brad: thanks much for clarifying. :)

Convict said...

Darn it, I can't make the 5th. I have a birthday party to go to which I cannot miss. Hopefully next time.

I've been sitting daily now for 20 years during which time I have not only had no traces of the wonder of 'enlightenment' but have also lost most of my interest in 'zen'. I have no idea if I have gained or lost or stood still but will nevertheless continue, as it's quite a relaxing way to start the day. But can you do it wrong?

Korey said...

Brad, I have mustered up the courage to decide I am going to sit 12 hours a day (without breaks, serious) EVERYDAY until i reach enlightenment.

I am a very dedicated follower of you who is dedicating himself to your teachings to realize the supreme truth.

an3drew said...

reply to

"And with this "lite" Zazen schedule..."

john e mumbles said...

The secret of Zen is just two words: not always so.
—Shunryu Suzuki Roshi

After initiation into a Sufi order, I spent 20 years meditating daily with eyes closed, then came Zen (first w/Rinzai teacher, then Soto) and sitting eyes 1/2 open gazing about 3 ft ahead onto the white carpet (amazing how intricate the weave can get!) until I found a suitable blank wall upstairs to use. I prefer the wall.

However, lately I am doing (Mahasi Sayadaw's) vipassana noting practice, which -as far as disciplining the mind/thought stream goes- is like the zikr or mantra that I used in the Sufi practice, and somewhat like the koan in Rinzai. With it, sometimes I keep the eyes open, sometimes closed.

Anonymous Bob said...

I've always found zazen difficult to do, at least after the first few years. I think when I am doing it right that is the way it is for me. I envy people who absolutely love to sit. When shit starts bubbling up and I have to confront it, sometimes I want to get the hell out of there. So naturally if I have other more urgent things going on in the day I might keep delaying my start or after starting, end it early. I think that is nothing more than my ego trying to avoid certain unpleasant things. What could be more urgent than my practice? So I think that discipline and a certain amount of rigour is vital.

CAPTCHA : actingri : I kid you not

an3drew said...

"But can you do it (ed. meditation sitting) wrong?"

or is it wrong itself?

a waste of time, leading nowhere which certainly seems to case for those posters on this board who sit?

why is it wrong? the buddha has ten directions not .05 !

sitting didn't work for the monks, it didn't work for dogen and it's not working for you !

muddy elephant said...

Although my zazen practice has been sparse to say the least I do have a good tip for those who lack a good blank wall to stare at:

Buy a poster board or a foam board!!

I have one that is 20" x 30" and cost under 5 bucks (i can't remember the exact price but I assure you it costs less than a veggie burrito!)

lean it up against the wall and zazen away!

an3drew said...

i am going to try and infect this board with a meme!

the meme is

"i have got it wrong"

repeat this to yourselves, at least the bit you are comfortable with like "i have got it" and then see the antibodies attack as you try to mouth "wrong" !

Fred said...

There is no I to get it wrong if
you don't put the energy there.

Telling others that they have it
wrong reinforces a conditioned self
living in pain and sorrow

" Do not conceal yourself where
your footprints are erased"

Anonymous said...

an3drew has got it wrong.

an3drew has got it wrong.

an3drew has got it wrong.

I like this meme. Thank you an3drew.

anon #108 said...

Hi An3drew,

Why do you want to stop everybody meditating? Committed to saving all sentient beings? I'm not sure it'll work.

And yes, you can 'get it' wrong, but no, you can't do it wrong.

I have got it wrong.
I have got it wrong.
I have got it wrong.

anon #108 said...

Damn you, Uncle Willie. I got it wrong, didn't I?

an3drew said...

* shakes head *

an3drew said...

ghost cave

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