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Charlotte Zen Meditation Society Message Board › The Charlotte Zen Meditation Society and the Practice of Soto Zen

The Charlotte Zen Meditation Society and the Practice of Soto Zen

Charlotte, NC
Post #: 10

You have indicated that you are interested in participating in the Charlotte Zen Meditation Society’s weekly Sunday night, Group Practice. We appreciate your interest in our group and Soto Zen Meditation. We are a long-standing group of Soto Zen practitioners who gather weekly for Soto Zen Practice in the form of Zazen (sitting meditation), Kinhin (walking meditation), Buddha-dharma readings, and discussion of the practice of Zen as originally brought from China to Japan, developed, and taught by Eihei Dogen Zenji in the Thirteenth Century C.E.. This form of Zen practice came to be called Soto Zen. It is the predominant form of Zen practice in the U.S. today.

Our Meetings

Meetings are friendly, quiet, respectful, and contemplative in tone and purpose. You will find our group to be warm and welcoming. Loose, comfortable clothing in quiet, muted colors will make your sitting easier and in keeping with Zen tradition.

What to do when you arrive

Park in the gravel parking lot at the rear of the building and enter through the rear entry door. Your shoes may be removed and left in the area immediately inside the rear door. Socked or bare feet are the norm while inside the building. The Zendo (Meditation Hall) is at the very top of the stairs in the top level. Someone will either greet you as you enter the building or as you enter the Zendo.

Soto Zen Meditation

There is nothing special about Soto Zen meditation. It is not something weird or esoteric. It simply involves being still within and without and allowing one’s real self to emerge from beneath the jumble of thoughts and emotions that usually fill and consume our day-to-day minds.

A Way To Practice

How to be still? There are various techniques, but in Soto Zen Meditation the practitioner simply relaxes, sits still, and breathes naturally; in Zen, this is termed Shikantaza or 'just sitting'. The physical sitting position that you use doesn’t really matter very much. Sitting on a meditation cushion on the floor is useful but sitting on a chair or stool is fine in cases where sitting on a cushion is too physically demanding. In any seated position, the hands come together just below the navel, palms-up, left hand resting lightly in the right, thumb tips lightly touching. The spine is upright and bowed in, slightly forward, in the lumbar region. The chest is slightly out, shoulders are back and the back of the top of the head reaches upward. The chin is tucked slightly in toward the chest. The tip of the tongue rests behind the upper front teeth. The eyes are partially open without focusing on anything in particular. Rather, they are cast slightly downward in a general gaze. We sit at the perimeter of the room, facing the wall from a distance of about 3 feet. The technique is to not concentrate on anything at all, but instead to simply observe one's thoughts and emotions, and to continually and gently come back to 'just sitting'. That's it! It CAN be useful at times, when the mind is particularly active, to bring your full attention to your breath - to notice the sensation of coolness as air flows in through your nostrils on inhalation alternating with warmth on exhalation.

The Mind and It's Thoughts

When we meditate one thing that happens to us is we experience the inevitable arising of thoughts, emotions, and sensations; if not voluntarily then involuntarily. As we all know this flow of thoughts through our heads is a completely natural process - there is nothing that we do while engaged in meditation that is NOT natural. When meditating we are simply allowing our natural selves, our true nature, prior to thoughts and concepts, a time and space to become apparent to us. It is similar to what happens if you sit a container of silty or muddy water on a shelf and let it sit undisturbed - with time the particles of soil and sand will settle and the water will, by virtue of itself, easily and naturally clear. So it is with our minds and bodies and the thoughts, emotions, and sensations that we all experience every day. In meditation, we are simply providing the opportunity for a similar clearing process to take place. Even so, how are our minds to clear when the stream of thoughts continues to arise even as we sit?! They are, after all, distracting to our sitting and, left unaddressed, can thwart our efforts. You may even find, as you begin meditation, that you are experiencing more thoughts and emotions than ever before. Time may appear to pass exceedingly slowly and you may find yourself feeling fidgety, uncomfortable, or downright miserable! All of this can be so discouraging that you find yourself wanting more than anything to abandon the effort!

Try this - simply let the thoughts and emotions happen. Don’t try to remove or push them away and, likewise, don't try to actively resolve them. Rather, be patient, sit still and observe them taking place. The activity is a little like sitting on a bridge watching traffic go by - you don't move - you don't become involved with the traffic - you don't try to remove it, stop it, speed it up, slow it down or move it in a different direction - you simply watch it happen. Cars come and they go, traffic becomes heavier, then lighter until, eventually, temporarily, there is no traffic at all. When you meditate try observing your thoughts in a similar fashion - watch them happen without becoming involved with them, as you would traffic. Then ... bring your mind and body back to your sitting; make small adjustments to your posture; inhale ... quietly, deeply and slowly; exhale; relax, breathe naturally and 'just sit'; observe the breath's rhythm, feel the slight sensation of coolness at the nostrils as you inhale; warmth as you exhale. You are meditating again. The thoughts and emotions which, moments before, had such a grip on your mind have dissipated; naturally and on their own.

Put another way, when meditating, as thoughts, feelings, and sensations arise neither push them away nor hold on to them. Simply notice what is happening, take a mental step back and observe the phenomenon that is taking place; you are experiencing yet another bundle of thoughts, feelings and sensation in the seemingly endless stream of sensations that we, as human beings, experience everyday. Do not try to remove or resolve anything. Don't get upset or worried. Just notice what is going on and let it be. By that action alone you have already begun meditating again. And then? Adjust your posture; inhale ... quietly, deeply and slowly; exhale; relax, breathe naturally and just sit. Observe the rhythm of the breath. Notice the coolness of the air moving slowly past the edge of your nostrils as you inhale. Again, you are meditating.

Dogen Zenji wrote,

To study the Way is to study the self.
To study the self is to forget the self.
To forget the self is to be enlightened by all things.
To be enlightened by all things is to remove the barriers between one's self and others.


On Sunday nights we come together as a group to practice all of the above collectively, as best we can, to the fullest extent of our knowledge and abilities. That is all.

Other sources

For further details regarding posture and methods of Soto Zen meditation see the following page on the Zen Mountain Monastery website:­
A former member
Post #: 15
Do you have music at your sittings? Can I bring my ipod with meditation music?
Charlotte, NC
Post #: 15
Hi Ann ...

I know exactly what you mean. I, too, enjoy meditation, yoga and tai-chi with meditation music playing in the background - it makes for quite a pleasant experience.

Within the context of Zen, however, we do not use music as part of our meditation. The effort, rather, is to be still, maintain complete personal silence and posture, and observe the activity of the mind. As pleasant as meditation music is and as much as it makes it easier to relax and let go of the days busyness, it actually creates a diversion from this task of observing the mind and its activity - as Dogen Zenji refers to it: "To study the Way is to study the self". You will find this theme throughout Zen literature.

You are welcome to join us to try our silent style of meditation. In the meantime, if you are interested in learning more about the teachings of the Buddha and Zen practice in particular, there are four book titles that I readily recommend: 1) "Three Pillars of Zen" by Philip Kapleau 2)"Buddhism Plain and Simple" by Steve Hagen and 3)"What the Buddha Taught" by Walpola Rahula and 4) "Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy" by Katsuki Sekida. With the knowledge and understanding that you will gain from these four books, you will, I believe, understand the importance of silence and stillness, both within and without, during meditation.

Hope to see you Sunday night.

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