33 Poems About Sitting Instructions

Of late there are numerous  interesting posts around about Buddhism and Poetry.

Puerhan has done a recent post on a poem by Nobel winner Gao Xingjian called …to be a ‘nothingist’ which contains some poignant commentary. This is in addition to his on-going 108 poems blog.

And also on Zen Mirror there is a fine post documenting an interview with Zen Master Sŭngsan on the subject of poetry and Zen entitled Zen and Poetry: a Brief Conversation

So with all this poetry in the air the inspiration has stricken this blog as well. This time while reading  Harry’s blog We Angry Buddhists where he had written a post about Dogen’s instructions for sitting.  Harry  said: “I decided to compile a list of the things which Dogen Zenji clearly advises us to do in his instructions for zazen “Fukan-Zazengi”.”

This immediately invoked a poetic reaction particularly towards strict haiku and tanka syllabification.  (It may have been the mention of the word “list”-that usually sends me into a spin) (The 33 numbered items in bold are from Harry’s blog.)

33 Poems About Sitting Instructions

1. Cease the intellectual work of studying sayings and chasing words.

Poets make castles

A world or the universe

Tiny paper gods

2. Learn the backwards step of turning light and reflecting.

A silver dollar

Signals a helicopter

Sent for the rescue

3. [We should] practice the matter of the ineffable at once.

Someone said plainly

to eff the ineffable

An interesting practice

Alan Watts (1961) wrote, it involves trying to speak the unspeakable, scrute the inscrutable and eff the ineffableWiktionary

4. Find a quiet room to practice.

Rooms here are many

The first thing to discover-

How to lock the door

5. Eat and drink in moderation.

The grocery list

Does not include chips, ding-dongs

Tiramisu or Shiraz

6. Cast aside all involvements.

Chasing the sardines

Minds fanning like outspread nets

Fishing in shallows

7. Give the myriad things a rest.

Without any choice

Not two or  ten thousand things

Litter the pathway

8. Do not think of good or bad.

A bird on a wire

Sings the same shrill melody

As when on a branch

9. Do not consider right and wrong.

My two hands are cleaned

Before preparing our food

Both help cut onions

In India the left hand is used for washing the genitals with water after using a squat toilet. The right hand is used for eating food.

10. Stop the driving movement of mind, will, consciousness.

The conductor shouts,

“Stop the train. We have arrived.”

The platform empty

11. Cease intellectual consideration through images, thoughts, and reflections.

A photo album

Bulging overstuffed pages

Is set on the shelf

12. Do not aim to become a buddha.

There’s always a path

That veers into the forest

Leaves cover the way

Going forward or backward

Direction not to be found

13. [we usually] spread a thick mat on the place where we sit, and use a round cushion on top of that.

A carpet of grass

And a rounded mushroom top

Look.  The Cheshire Cat

14. Sit in full or half lotus posture.

An arch of the spine

Subtle bridge of antique bone


Across the rushing waters

Traffic humming. Dive. Dive. Dive.

15. Spread one’s clothing loosely and make it neat.

Preparing the tents

Carnival of thought goes calm

Work to be done first

16. Position the hands in the mudra.

Holding timelessness

In elegant folded hands

Fingertips sparking

17. Just make the body right and sit up straight.

An old leaning shed

Provides a little refuge

When propped up just so

18. Do not lean to the left, incline to the right, slouch forward, or lean backward.

A stake in the ground

Pounded down with diligence

To tie a wild horse

19. Align the ears with the shoulders and the nose with the navel.

Perspective drawing

Lines, planes, angles, points all joined

The picture complete

20. Hold the tongue against the palate, keep the lips and teeth closed, and keep the eyes open.

Eyes open mouth closed

Listen to the bumblebee

Outside the window

As it taps incessantly

Wanting to be admitted

21. Breathe softly through the nose.

Nasal rasp and whine

Breathing with influenza

Not exactly soft

I have the flu as I am writing these poems

22. When the physical posture is settled, make one complete exhalation and sway left and right.

When planting a tree

The gardener digs a hole

And settles the roots

23. Sitting immovably in the mountain-still state … This is just the pivot of Zazen.

Stationary things

Provide a leverage point

For the fulcrum tilt

Physics is not a subject

Without any awareness

24. If we rise from sitting, we should move the body slowly, and stand up calmly. We should not be hurried or violent.

Jump up from a seat

And risk a broken body

The ceiling is low

25. [We] do not discuss intelligence as superior and stupidity as inferior. Do not choose between clever people and dull ones.

Upstairs or downstairs

The house is inhabited

And the lights burn bright

26. [If we] single-mindedly make effort [in Zazen] [then] that truly is pursuit of the truth.

On a humid day

Though beads of sweat sting the eyes

They remain open

Dust from open windows flies

A fan hums in the corner

27. We should just practice [za]zen and pursue the truth.

Traveling around

Here and there, getting nowhere

To sit and to know

28. We must never pass time in vain.

Check the ticking clock

There may be some small spaces

Lost between minutes

29. Do not become so accustomed to images that you are dismayed by the real dragon.

The photographer

Must lower the camera

To replace the film

30. Devote effort to the truth which is directly accessible and straightforward.

Nothing is hidden

Compass and map are options

For other journeys

31. Revere people who are beyond study and without intention.

The books are in boxes

In some garage or attic

Their words all consumed

32. Accord with the bodhi of the buddhas.

The mind’s committees

Will never agree on terms

That mean surrender

33. Become a rightful successor to the samadhi of the patriarchs.


Are not merely on paper

But in memory

Note: For hardcore poetry nuts. I took these poems out of their context and posted them to my literary blog and they provided quite another perspective.

By NellaLou Tagged

6 comments on “33 Poems About Sitting Instructions

  1. Dear NellaLou,

    Thank you very much for your generous and gracious reference to both of my blogs! I am glad they are being read and enjoyed.

    And thank you for your wonderful wonderful poetry. I like the idea of taking some instructions and responding through poetry! ‘Thus have I read’ has a list of “10 Diseases of Meditation” if you want another list for inspiration! :-)

    Best wishes,

  2. HI,
    I have been posting some verse at toledozen.org that you might like to read is you are in a poerty kind of Buddha mind.

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