Zen is the realization of the Buddha’s enlightenment itself, in one’s own life, in one’s own time. This experience has been realized by Zen students and confirmed by their teachers for over 2500 years.
Everybody is trying to find Zen, the Zen way of living, the art of Zen. It is also very ‘in’ to talk about Zen in the Western world.
So how does Zen relate to meditation? Zen meditation is the practice of sitting quietly to calm the body and mind and opening yourself up to discovering insight into the nature of your being. With Zen, you sit, close your mind to thought and images and, after a while, your heart rate will slow down, your breathing will become shallow, and you will experience a calm meditative state. When you are incorporating Zen Meditation, deliberate thought, contemplation, and reflection in your life, you can create a synergy that connects all aspects of your being – the body, the mind and the soul. The energy needed to strengthen the synergy is accomplished through the practice of Zen Meditation.
Zen is all being in the moment. There is no past or future. It is all about the now. You are in the moment, only reacting to what is happening now. If you think about this, you are not thinking at all. You do not have thoughts. You do not have ruminations about things you should have done. You are not having reflections about your life.
This focusing on the now is called zazen. Zazen is a Japanese term consisting of two characters: za, “to sit (cross-legged),” and zen, from the Sanscrit dhyana, meaning at once concentration, dynamic stillness, and contemplation. The means toward the realization of one’s original nature as well as the realization itself, Zazen is both something one does – sitting cross-legged, with proper posture and correct breathing – and something one essentially is. To emphasize one aspect at the expense of the other is to misunderstand this subtle and profound practice.
Zen meditation types boil down to letting go of pessimistic thoughts and just relaxing. In Buddhism, it is a contemplative discipline performed to achieve calmness in the mind and body. Most importantly, it aims for a practitioner to understand the nature of life to obtain enlightenment.
Methods of Zen meditation
To fully experience positive results of Zen meditation, there are three general methods to consider such as (1) Concentration; (2) Koan Introspection; and (3) Shikantaza.
Concentration is the main emphasis to start Zen meditation. You need to focus on your breathing which is commonly ministered by counting. Let breathing be your shield to any distraction. On the other hand, Koan Introspection focuses on “koan”. Koan is an entity used for meditation. “Just sitting” or Shikantaza is meditation where an object has no place, instead mere concentration is needed.
Once you have chosen a specific method, then it is time for you to be aware of the common positions undertaken in Zen meditation.
At first glance the said position looks like a simple cross-legged position. With the Burmese position, you need to situate your feet so it will be in front of one another and let both your feet relax on the floor. You need to ensure that your heels are pointed towards your pelvis. Also rested on the floor are your knees.
Seiza is the Japanese term for correct sitting. It can be achieved by letting your lower leg kneel. Make sure that your feet are under your buttocks and that your toes are positioned in a backward manner.
Style with one leg on the top of the other is the half-lotus position. To achieve such sitting position, you need to be seated on an Indian-style of sitting. After which, lift one leg without letting the legs be unfolded.
Make sure that you are seated Indian style. Then, pick one foot and take it to the crook of your knee. Let it rest, ensuring that the base of your knee is in an upward position. The final step you need to undertake is to bring the other foot to the other knee just like what you did on the first.
After you have chosen a comfortable Zen position for you, there are other important considerations you need to carry out:
Keep your mouth close. Ensure that your tongue is calmly pushed beside the upper palate to prevent salivation and swallowing.
Keep your eyes low. Fix your eyes on the ground.
Keep your chin tucked-in.
Keep your nose in line with your navel.
Keep your torso not to lean forward or backward.
Keep your hands enclosed in a “cosmic mudra.” Your dominant hand should be in an upward palm position to hold the other hand.
When you practice Zen, you must be patient and persistent, don’t focus on a particular goal, or how the sitting practice may help us. Just let go of your thoughts, opinions, biases, – basically everything your minds hold onto. The human mind is actually free, not clinging. Zazen will teach you to uncover the free mind, to clearly see who you really are.
Probably the most known and loved book on Zen meditation is
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki, a collection of talks by one of the first Zen teachers in the U.S. It is a must have for anyone looking to better understand the Zen philosophy or gain introspective on themselves.