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The Brighton Soto Zen Group has been offering twice-weekly zazen (seated meditation) in the heart of Brighton since 2003. Zazen is led by ordained members of the Association Zen Internationale, which was founded in France in the 1960's by Master Taisen Deshimaru, a disciple of Kodo Sawaki Roshi.
Izauk, the British affiliate of the AZI, has long-established dojos and groups across the country, and hosts regular sesshins, zen days and workshops throughout the year, often led by elder disciples of Master Deshimaru.
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In IZAUK groups, when we practise zazen, we practise ‘Shikantaza’ or ‘just wholehearted, exact, sitting’. This is silent, seated, objectless meditation. We sit still and upright, offering our complete attention to each moment.
To practise zazen, sit cross-legged on a zafu – a firm round cushion commonly stuffed with kapok (or sometimes buckwheat hulls). The pelvis is tilted very slightly forwards. Knees connect firmly with the earth, and the spine naturally extends upwards, lifting the crown of the head towards the sky. The chin is tucked gently in, stretching the back of the neck. The shoulders relax naturally back and down. The abdomen relaxes. The left hand is placed palm upward upon the palm of the right hand, middle fingers aligned. The tips of the thumbs touch very gently, forming an oval: the cosmic mudra. The little fingers touch the abdomen. Eyes are at 45 degrees downwards, neither open nor closed, focussed on nothing. Awareness rests on body and breathing. Breathing is slow, powerful and natural. Letting go to a long exhale, fully relaxing the abdomen, and receiving the inhale naturally when it comes.
Sitting with no purpose or desire for gain, allowing thoughts and emotions which arise to float past like clouds in the sky. Some days, the clouds are small. Other days, they are mighty storms. But by practising in this way, we can experience that however they may be each day, they are simply fleeting appearances within vast emptiness.
In zen, posture is considered to be very important. Zafus, zen cushions, are different heights, and over time you will find what is the right height for you. You can borrow one while in the dojo, but please don't remove it. If you prefer to bring your own, that's fine.
Kinhin is walking zen, between periods of sitting. Before starting, please fold your zafuton (mat) in half, place your zafu upright against the wall out of the way.
When we walk in the dojo to enter, leave, and after kinhin, we walk with hands in 'shasshu': the hands are clasped in front of the body, forearms horizontal. Walk silently, straight, and turn corners at ninety degrees.
The kyosaku is the stick of awakening and is an aid to zazen. During some sits, it is offered to all, but given only to those who request it. It is used by giving a blow to the trapezius muscle on each shoulder, and helps to awaken and focus the mind. It is given and received in a particular way. If you want to learn how to receive it please ask.
At the end of most periods of zazen, we have the 'kaijo', the opening or closing of the dojo. This involves the beating of the time on the drum, and the sounding of the wood. While this takes place, everyone remains sitting except those playing the instruments, until the final bell is struck. In the morning, we also chant a short sutra (the Kesa sutra) 3 times before the end of sitting.
After most sitting periods, we chant the Hannya Shingyo (Sutra of Great Wisdom), the four Bodhisattva vows, and the Eko (dedication). The Hannya Shingyo is a mixture of Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese, while the Eko is in Japanese. Sutra sheets are handed out. Some people know the chants off by heart, and hold their hands in the zazen mudra and gassho (palms together in front of the chest). However, if you are using the sutra sheet it is better to simply hold it up to eye level rather than trying to read it on the floor.
When chanting, find your own tone which harmonises with the others. Focus on breath and sound, and treat it as a practice in awareness and being present.
The person directing a session may give kusen - a short verbal teaching during zazen. Jay or Heather will be happy to discuss any aspects of practice with you.
Our dojo mentor is Guy Mokuho Mercier, a senior monk and teacher in the Association Zen Internationale who has received shiho (dharma transmission) in the Soto Zen lineage.
You will see some people wearing the kesa - a sewn garment wrapped around the body - or rakusu - a smaller version worn around the neck. These are people who have received ordination in the zen lineage. This primarily represents a commitment to practice and to support others through this practice, and is not about rank or hierarchy.
Brighton Zen Group has regular half-day practice periods on Sunday mornings, roughly every 6 weeks; these are held at Jay and Heather's house, and are usually small friendly gatherings (6-10 participants) with a generous break for coffee and cake. There is no charge for this, but donations are very welcome.
As part of the UK branch of the International Zen Association, members of Brighton Zen Group regularly participate in sesshin - residential periods of intensive practice. We have 3-4 of these in the UK each year, and also participate in sesshin elsewhere in Europe. If you would like to deepen your zen practice, these are a great way to meet teachers in the Soto Zen lineage, and to experience practising with ‘Sangha’, the community of practitioners.
Money collected at the dojo is used to pay for the space and its upkeep. If you can, please pay the suggested donation. If you have difficulties paying, speak to the person in charge. If you would like to attend regularly, and pay by monthly standing order, thereby helping us to manage our budget, and potentially saving you money, please ask for a leaflet.
(Adapted from an article by Bristol Zen Dojo)
Kan ji zai bo satsu
Gyo jin han-nya ha ra mi ta ji
Sho ken go on kai ku
Do is-sai ku yaku
Sha ri shi
Shiki fu i ku
Ku fu i shiki
Shiki soku ze ku
Ku soku ze shiki
Ju so gyo shiki
Yaku bu nyo ze
Sha ri shi
Ze sho ho ku so
Fu sho fu metsu
Fu ku fu jo
Fu zo fu gen
Ze ko ku chu
Mu shiki mu ju so gyo shiki
Mu gen ni bi zes shin ni
Mu shiki sho ko mi soku ho
Mu gen kai nai shi mu i shiki kai
Mu mu myo yaku mu mu myo jin
Nai shi mu ro shi
Yaku mu ro shi jin
Mu ku shu metsu do
Mu chi yaku mu toku
I mu sho toku ko
Bo dai sat-ta e han-nya ha ra mi ta ko
Shin mu ke ge mu ke ge ko
Mu u ku fu
On ri is-sai ten do mu so
Ku gyo ne han
San ze sho butsu
E han-nya ha ra mi ta ko
Toku a noku ta ra san myaku san bo dai
Ko chi han-nya ha ra mi ta
Ze dai jin shu
Ze dai myo shu
Ze mu jo shu
Ze mu to do shu
No jo is-sai ku
Shin jitsu fu ko
Ko setsu han-nya ha ra mi ta shu
Soku setsu shu watsu
Gya tei, gya tei, ha ra gya tei
Hara so gya tei
Bo ji sowa ka
Han-nya Shin gyo
Avalokiteshavara Bodhisattva, when deeply practicing prajna paramita, clearly saw that all five aggregates are empty (ku) and thus relieved all suffering.
Shariputra, form does not differ from emptiness; emptiness does not differ from form. Form itself is emptiness, emptiness itself form. Sensations, perceptions, formations, and consciousness are also like this.
Shariputra, all dharmas are marked by emptiness; they neither arise nor cease, are neither defiled nor pure, neither increase nor decrease. Therefore, given emptiness, there is no form, no sensation, no perception, no formation, no consciousness; no eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind; no sight, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch, no object of mind; no realm of sight… no realm of mind consciousness. There is neither ignorance nor extinction of ignorance… neither old age and death, nor extinction of old age and death; no suffering, no cause, no cessation, no path; no knowledge and no attainment.
With nothing to attain, a bodhisattva relies on prajna paramita, and thus the mind is without hindrance. Without hindrance, there is no fear. Far beyond all inverted views, one realizes nirvana. All buddhas of past, present, and future rely on prajna paramita, and thereby attain unsurpassed, complete, perfect enlightenment. Therefore, know the prajna paramita as the great miraculous mantra, the great bright mantra, the supreme mantra, the incomparable mantra, which removes all suffering and is true, not false. Therefore we proclaim the prajna paramita mantra, the mantra that says: “Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Svaha.”
Shu jo muhen seigan do
Bonno mujin seigandan
Homon muryo seigangaku
Butsu do mujo seiganjo
Beings innumerable, I vow to save them all
Delusions inexhaustable,I vow to overcome them all
Dharma gates countless, I vow to pass through them all
Buddha way supreme, I vow to follow it
Ne ga waku wa
Kono kudo kowo motte
Amani ku issai ni
Oyeboshi wareru to
Shujo tomina tomini
Butsudo wo chozen koto wo
Ji ho san shi i shi fu
Shi son bu sa mo ko sa
Mo ko ho jya ho ro mi
May the merit of this
penetrate into all things
in all places
So that we and every
sentient being together can
realise the Buddha Way.
Ten directions, three worlds, all Buddhas;
All venerable ones,Bodhisattvas, Mahasattvas;
The great Prajna Paramita
Dai sai gedap-puku
Muso fuku den e
Hi bu nyorai kyo
Ko do shoshu jo
Great and unlimited is the garment of freedom
Garment without form and of the field of happiness
Wrapping ourselves in the Buddha's teachings
We save all sentient beings
PDFs reproduced with kind permission of Lanau Zen Centre