How to Sit in Sitting Meditation
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KeywordsSitting meditation Posture
When it comes to meditation, what pops up in your mind? Just google it through image search, and the screen will show lots of images of people meditating in the seated posture. Most people generally consider meditation as sitting meditation even though there are many other types of meditations.
Do you practice sitting meditation? Then what posture do you usually use for your sitting? I used to practice meditation in a full lotus posture. During an intensive retreat in Korea, I sat in the full lotus posture for an hour, with a left foot facing upwards and the next hour with my right foot upwards. Even though my knees and ankles started to hurt, I thought the pain was necessary for the gain from sitting meditation. One day, I twisted my ankle, so I had to walk with a limp and could not comfortably sit for meditation for several weeks. This happened because I firmly believed the full lotus posture was the best posture for sitting meditation.
Later in the USA, I encountered many meditation practitioners with various postures in sitting meditation. Many of them brought their own cushions for their practice such as thick and round, crescent-shaped, and big brick-like ones, and some of them used a chair. From that time, one question kept coming to my mind: what is the best posture for sitting meditation?
There are five main postures for sitting meditation: full lotus, half lotus, Burmese, on a stool, and on a chair. These five postures all look different. That is why the postures have different names. It is right as comparing the legs for the postures. However, if we change the focus from on the legs to on the torso, it is not that right.
When looking closely, all the postures are the same in the torso area. That is why the method of sitting meditation universally tells us to “sit upright,” or “sit tall.” It also tells us to “straighten your back,” “straighten your spine,” “relax your shoulders,” and “tuck in the chin.” These directions suggest that all the postures are the same. Thus, the shift from the legs to the head and torso gives us a hint of a new approach of how to sit in sitting meditation.
Li 立, a logographic character, depicts “mankind standing on earth”( Open image in new window ; 立 depicted as an oracle bone script). The character Li 立 has a long history, more than a thousand years from the development of human language. If we consider evolution as a human being with bipedalism, the history must go far more than a million years. A very similar English term for li 立 is the word “exist,” which etymologically means “stand out” with two segment combinations of “ex-” for “out” and “ist” for “stand.” Li 立 and exist share the same concept of stand. I humbly surmise that while exist in the Western vocabulary emphasizes “stand out” (of the God/Absolute), li 立 in Eastern vocabulary emphasizes the relationship between the Human Being and the Earth (or the Universe).
Ontologically in li 立, all the postures are only possible on the ground (earth). Won Buddhist teachings say “It is owing to the ground of the earth that one can support one’s body to live” in the Chapter of the Grace of Heaven and Earth. The essence of grace comes with this question: “If we cannot live without it, what grace is greater than it?” The grace in Won Buddhism emphasizes the ontological aspect of our living. There is no exception to this Grace. Sitting meditation posture is also possible on and by grace, namely the ground, and the ground includes cushions, chairs, and props for sitting meditation.
Without understanding the essence of grace, it is easy for practitioners to regard that I am practicing sitting meditation by myself. As understanding and feeling the grace grow, their attitude to practice changes to considering it was due to the grace that practice is possible. The grace of the Earth by li 立 makes sitting meditation possible, and cushions and chairs are part of the Earth supporting our practice. That is, the grace is always everywhere in us, with us, and around us.
Sitting postures are different in our legs but the same in our torso. Sitting meditation is not just sitting, but also standing externally and internally. Uprightness (Li 立) is not the form of a particular posture in sitting meditation, but the essence of the posture. The first meaning is to stand upright on and by the Earth in an ontological sense. Every moment we are supported by the Grace of Heaven and Earth. The second is to upright the body as a whole in somatics. While practicing sitting meditation, we are always standing on the cushion with the buttocks, the new feet. The third is to build spiritual growth though li 立 in semantics as if human beings built up spiritual civilization by standing up in evolution. In all, sit as if standing in the Grace of the Heaven and Earth.
Preparation of this research was supported by a National Research Foundation of Korea (NRF) grant (NRF-2010-361-A00008) funded by the Korean Government (MEST).
Compliance with Ethical Standards
This article does not contain any studies performed by the author with human participants or animals.
Conflict of Interest
The author declares that there is no conflict of interest.