Zafu

Zafu

[za-foo]
A zafu (座蒲 in Japanese or 蒲团 in Chinese) is a round cushion, about 35 cm (14 inches) in diameter, and often about 20 cm (8 inches) high, when fluffed. Although in U.S. English, zafu is often translated as "sewn seat", that is not the meaning of the Japanese kanji. "Za" (座) means "seat", and "fu" (蒲) means cattail. As a word, "zafu" means a seat made out of cattails. The origins of the Japanese zafu (座蒲) came from China where these meditation seats were originally made out of cattail. Today, that is no longer the case in Japan or China.

Contemporary Zafus are sewn from three pieces of heavy cloth, usually colored black: two round swatches of equal size for the top and the bottom of the cushion, and a long rectangle that is sewn into gathers in between. They are typically filled with either kapok or buckwheat hulls. Zen Buddhist practitioners traditionally sit on a zafu when engaged in sitting meditation. The cushion raises the hips, making the entire range of cross-legged sitting positions more stable for the meditator.

The zafu is both a utilitarian accessory and a symbol of zazen practice. Before and after sitting on the zafu, Zen practitioners perform a gassho bow to the cushion, to fellow practitioners, and to the teacher. In many practice places, there is a prescribed form for respectfully handling zafu while walking in the meditation hall, or zendo.

A zabuton (座布団) is a rectangular cushion, about 76 cm (30 inches) by 71 cm (28 inches), that is often used under a zafu cushion to provide comfort and support when engaged in sitting meditation. The outer cover is typically made of a heavy duty fabric and has a zipper along one side so that it can be easily removed and washed. Inside the cover, the batting is enclosed in a natural cotton casing.

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