Recently, I found a very interesting meditation student in Korea. In fact, I have not met him in person yet, but he is one of the hardest working students I have. He is in his 20s and is currently working in the public health industry. Just like many others, he had a similar question regarding the full lotus practice. He asked which leg goes first in his sitting posture, and he was wondering how deeply he should put his feet in the lotus posture.
It is very common that people switch the legs when the legs start to feel uncomfortable in the full lotus posture. In fact, the proper way to sit is to put your left foot on the right thigh first and then put the right foot over the left thigh. If you sit long enough in full lotus, your Qi will flow very well naturally. In other words, your Qi doesn’t have to flow in the opposite direction. Although you are sitting in one direction (your leg order), your posture will naturally adjust itself, your hip will become more symmetrical and balanced, and your back will straighten itself. Mr. Choi was sitting for only 20 minutes at a time in the full lotus posture when I first started to talk to him. I advised him to sit longer instead of dividing into shorter times.
Most people will have difficulty sitting longer than one hour to break through the pain barrier. In order to break through the first pain barrier, you have to endure intense pain and discomfort. For this reason, I started to contact Mr. Choi once in a while to check on how he was doing. I thought I could help him even better if I understood his background. I also wanted to check on his sitting posture so I asked for some photos from him. When he first sent his photo to me, I was really shocked because it showed him sitting in the full lotus in a hospital room, and one of his legs had an orthopedic cast.
He sent this photo without explaining anything to me. Instantly I was surprised and thought, “I am pretty sure that I never wrote or said that people should practice full lotus posture with an injury. What is happening? I hope that I didn’t make a mistake telling people to do so!” I asked him what happened.
In fact, Mr. Choi has a strong affinity with Buddhism. He was a troublemaker when he was in middle school and disobeyed the grown-ups. Even though he was causing trouble, he himself didn’t like it either. His mother asked him to go and see a Buddhist monk at a temple. Afterward he started meeting more monks and continued to be interested in Buddhism. Because of the Sunims (monks), he turned his life around and started to study harder.
He learned to practice recitation, mantras, bowing and copying sutras from the Sunims (monks) when he was in middle school. He also learned that it’s good to recite Buddha’s name whenever and wherever, so he started to recite sitting, lying down, and while he was doing something else as well. However, when he tried to recite Buddha’s name, he faced difficulties. He couldn’t concentrate. He often fell asleep or had false thinking. In fact, he often stopped doing Buddha’s name recitation when the situation got better. So he started to look into sitting meditation. At first, he tried to kneel and recite. Around that time, he read something about full lotus and got interested.
Two years ago, he searched the full lotus posture photos and sat in the posture. He was able to sit for 30 minutes. The posture was too hard so he couldn’t really recite the Buddha’s name, but he had a sensation as if electricity was going through his body. He sweated a lot, but his mind calmed down. He had a great experience but couldn't sustain this sitting practice. He had too many questions, “Do I put my left foot first or do I put my right foot first?” or “Do I continue to sit like this even though it’s so uncomfortable? I am not sure.” Because of the doubts, eventually he looked for easier ways to cultivate and ended up quitting the full lotus practice.
Last year, Mr. Choi accidentally happened to read my article about the full lotus sitting practice. Although he was already doing Buddha’s name recitation, mantras, copying sutras and bowing, he did not know that sitting meditation was just another form of practice. He posted a question on Naver Cafe about which leg goes first when sitting. He continued to practice kneeling down. One day he made a wrong step and fell. As a result, he had a leg injury. He experienced spinal anesthesia, and the lower half of his body was numb. He pinched his legs but didn’t feel anything. He wanted to move, but the lower body didn’t move. This gave him a strange feeling. He was lying down in his hospital bed after the surgery and silently reciting the Buddha’s name. He remembered what a Sunim had told him in the past: “Who are you? If there were no legs, then who are you? If there were no arms, then who are you? Contemplate on this.” This thought made him decide to restart the full lotus posture.
Strangely, the more he sat in full lotus, the more the leg pain from the surgery diminished. The doctors told him that his recovery was very fast, and the surgery and recovery both were very smooth. At the same time, I started to contact him and encouraged him to sit longer and explained the benefits of sitting in full lotus. He started to practice in this posture longer and longer, and he also felt calmer and more peaceful. Hospital life was not comfortable, but it didn’t make him unhappy.
After sitting in full lotus regularly, his life underwent many changes. He suddenly understood some of the Dharma talk that he couldn’t understand before. Without realizing it, he was giving help to others. He was able to listen to other people’s problems much better. In the past, his own problems and emotions were more important than anything. Since these problems and emotions were going away, he was able to see his surroundings better than before.
There was a bigger change too. In his mind, the distance between being pleasant and unpleasant had become much smaller. In the past, he had to get what he liked, and he didn’t even glance at something he didn’t like. Now he didn’t notice the difference between liking or disliking very much. His mind wasn’t as affected by external factors. He always liked to be around people. He still liked to spend time with his friends, but all the fun activities didn’t resolve his fundamental problems. He saw how his mind always fluctuated inside while he was having a good time with others. He strongly believed that this could be resolved only through cultivation. He learned that he would be able to be a good influence by having a purer mind through cultivation.
When he first started to sit in full lotus, he sat for 30 minutes whenever he could find time. He saw the changes in himself; therefore, he didn’t stop and continued to cultivate. For the first few months, it was extremely hard to sit longer than 40 minutes in this posture. I constantly reminded him that he would be able to do it, and sitting longer would be much more beneficial. Now he puts much effort into sitting for one hour or longer every morning before going to work and before bed. Sometimes it hurts too much, and sometimes it makes him smile. Sometimes it makes him feel grateful. Although he wants to go and play and can’t complete the whole hour some days, he is very happy that he doesn't skip a day. If he had a desire to skip a day, strangely I would call or text to check on him, “How is your cultivation going? Are you doing okay?” Then he couldn’t skip the sitting practice!
His desire for food and sleep has been reduced since he practices Chan regularly. He can also see how his anger level has significantly decreased. He still feels that it’s difficult to get up early in the morning, but he knows that it’s much better to get up early and sleep less for sitting meditation. If so, then the rest of his day is much more peaceful and energized. The cultivation has given him strength to concentrate on his work much better. He can maintain his mind as more relaxed even when he is very busy.
The biggest change of all is that he is now very clear and certain why he needs to continue to cultivate. After he cultivated more regularly, he was able to see his suffering more than he had before and how deep the root of the suffering was. Therefore, whatever happens, he has become disciplined to cultivate daily.
He is very happy to be able to cultivate Buddhadharma this way and practice Chan meditation. Recently, people are becoming less and less interested in religions, including Buddhism. The Buddhist followers are drastically aging in Korea. Therefore, I hope that more and more young people experience life changes through Chan meditation and restore their mental and physical balance and stability like Mr. Choi has. If so, there is good potential that they will naturally be interested in Buddhadharma, and Buddhism will be revitalized.
Written by Venerable XianAn
Please consult your physician before doing the full lotus sitting if you have any injury, illness or health conditions.