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Zazen: The Heart Of Zen Buddhism (Meditation Exercises Included) What comes to your mind when you hear the word zen? My first encounter with the word zen was from a comedy sitcom when I was younger. In the scenario, zen was used as a peaceful or calm state of mind. That definition isn’t too far from the original meaning of zen but as we can see today, the word has been implicated in many situations. In fact, its use has been so common that it’s not hard to find businesses, advertisements or websites using the word zen to establish their companies.
But what does zen really mean? Zen is the Japanese translation of the Chinese word chan. On the other hand, this Chinese word was taken from the Sanskrit term dhyana. All these words have the same denotation which is simply meditation. The meaning of dhyana, the origin of the word zen, is to concentrate intensely to understand the true self. In yoga, dhyana is one of the eight limbs of the practice and is essential for attaining samadhi or true self-absorption. Taking all these definition into accounts, zen is simply becoming fully aware of one’s thoughts, being in the moment, exactly how we explain meditation.
Zen in the context of Buddhism Look above at the origins of the word zen and you’ll find that it spread from India to Japan. Zen in the context of Buddhism requires one to look at the long history and origin of the word. Zen Buddhism was founded by Bodhidharma, a warrior from the region of Kanchipuram in India. Hailing from a family of kings and royals, Bodhidharma showed no interest in the throne. Instead, he focused on Buddhism and meditation, with the aid of his teacher, Prajnatara.
To fulfill the last wish of his teacher, Bodhidharma set on a mission to spread Buddhism into China. It is not known exactly how Bodhidharma travelled from India to China, although many scholars believe that he took the Yellow River path to do so. It took years for Bodhidharma to reach China and when he finally did, he wasnâ€™t exactly welcomed with open arms. It is only when he meditated for over nine years facing the wall that monks finally saw his sincerity and principle. It was in the Shaolin Temple in Henan Province where Bodhidharma first taught meditation to the Chinese monks. Yet he was troubled and faced difficulties because as he had put it, the monks were very frail and weak. In addition to meditation, he taught them fighting exercises, the very foundation of karate, to build their strength and stamina. This isnâ€™t unusual as Bodhidharma did come from a warrior family. The rest, as they say, is history, as the birth of Zen Buddhism began.
Zazen is the focal point of Zen Buddhism
For Bodhidharma, words are illusions and the only way to reach enlightenment is to reach inside one’s own mind. That’s why zazen or zen meditation is the focal point of Zen Buddhism. If you remember the story above of how Bodhidharma was able to convince the monks to accept him, he used meditation itself. Finding stories about Bodhidharma, you’ll realize that he doesn’t really rely on scriptures or texts. For him, everyone and anyone can attain Buddhahood by focusing on their own minds, being aware of their thoughts and finally letting go.
These three aspects are essential for accomplishing zazen The first aspect you need to focus on is your body. Zazen requires one to meditate on a sitting position, we’d discuss the varieties below. Your posture needs to be straight yet relaxed which can take some time to perfect. The second aspect you need to focus on is your breathing. Zazen’s breathing patterns are different from other meditation forms, which you would learn more about later. And the third aspect you need to focus on is your mind. This is perhaps the most difficult part of zen meditation because it would require you to remain focally concentrated yet without relations to your thoughts.
Zazen or zen meditation exercises to try You would need the usual preparations, such as finding a comfortable place to meditate in and wearing cotton or loose clothing. Find a time of the day, or night, that is preferable for you. Be consistent and constant with these zen meditation exercises and youâ€™ll find the Buddha in you in no time. We would divide this part into various sections so you can easily find your way into zazen.
Exercises for choosing the best zazen sitting position for you Equipments needed are zafu (cushion), mat or chair Your bodily position is an essential part of zazen. If youâ€™re not comfortable with one position, then try another until you find one that is more suitable for you. Follow the exercises below to find which of these sitting positions would help you in your path to enlightenment. 1. The Full Lotus Position Exercise: This is the most ideal and preferred position for zen meditation. To find if this position works for you, place each feet on top of the opposite sides of the thigh. You can utilize the aid of a zafu or cushion placed over the mat. This can help in providing for some comfort. According to many studies, like this one, the full lotus position can provide for the most long-term stability as compared to the half lotus position or the non lotus position. This is because it maintains the compact contact of the buttocks and the legs with the ground. 2. The Half Lotus Position
Exercise: An acceptable alternative is the half lotus position especially for beginners. In contrast, this requires one to place either foot on top of the opposite thigh. The remaining foot can be tucked underneath the other thigh. You can utilize the aid of a zafu or cushion as well placed underneath your buttocks. The half lotus position is not as stable as the full lotus position. But as compared to the non lotus position, this can provide for some stability especially for long-term meditative purposes. 3. The Seiza Position Exercise: The seiza position is the traditional sitting slash kneeling position of the Japanese. To find if this position works for you, stand straight and assume the kneeling position. Make sure you put as much of your toes and upper feet in contact with the ground. Once you obtain balance, begin to descend and sit down, placing your buttocks firmly on your ankles. Alternatively, you can also position a zafu or cushion between the legs to lift the weight off from your legs and ankles. The seiza position is recommended for those suffering from back pain as it eases the pressure on your lower back and buttocks. But if you have some obstructive issues with your legs, this position can aggravate that as it obstructs the blood flow to the lower part of the body. 4. The Chair Position Exercise: Last is the chair position, which is ideal for true beginners to meditation. Simply find a stable chair and position it in your meditation area. Sit down, place your feet firmly on the ground and position your back away from the chair’s back support. If your feet can’t reach the ground, you can place a cushion or box below them. You can also place a zafu or cushion between your back and the chair back support. If you find that the other positions are too uncomfortable for you, the chair position is the simplest alternative that you can use. *Note - In all of the positions mentioned above, it’s important to keep your back straight, your shoulders aligned and your body relaxed. Keep your head and your neck straight
as well. When it comes to your hands, the preferred position is the cosmic mudra. To do this, your palms should be facing upwards, the right palm placed over the left palm. The tips of the thumbs should be touch each other slightly as if forming a line. Position the hands and wrists just on top of the thigh and in front of the stomach. Eyes can be kept open or closed, with more preference to the former.
Exercises to familiarize yourself with the breathing patterns of zazen Equipment needed is just yourself Correct breathing is an important aspect of zen meditation. The focus of the breathing pattern of zen meditation is on exhalation. Thus, you would need to take a short inhalation and a long exhalation. To help you in obtaining this breathing pattern, refer to the exercises below. 1. Breathe Through The Nose Exercise: Close your mouth, place your tongue under the roof of your mouth and just behind the front teeth. Swallow your saliva to ensure that there is no obstruction to your meditation. Practice breathing in and out, making sure that you do so only through your nose. 2. Quickly Inhale And Slowly Exhale Exercise: Imagine that thereâ€™s a candle in front of you and your breathing must not cause its flame to stop. So inhale quickly, ideally it shouldnâ€™t exceed more than two seconds. But exhaling must be done slowly, at least four to six seconds longer. Remember
that thereâ€™s a candle in front of you and your exhalation shouldnâ€™t be strong enough to stop its flame.
3. Keep Doing This Breathing Pattern Exercise: As a beginner, you can practice this breathing pattern for at least five minutes. You can begin by counting your breaths until ten. After which, you can just breathe naturally but with longer exhalation. Keep doing this until the breathing pattern becomes more comfortable for you.
Exercises to ease your mind into zen meditation Equipments needed are a blank wall or a static object
We have discussed the first two aspects of zen meditation and we now go to the mid aspect. Just like other forms of meditation, zazen entails one to be aware of his or her own thoughts. The harder part is making sure that you do not begin to form relationships with these thoughts. To do that, follow the exercises below and you’d master zazen in due time. 1. Focus On A Blank Wall Exercise: Find a blank wall and focus your gaze upon it. This is the easiest way of focusing your mind. You can also find alternatives like focusing on the floor or a static object. Once you find something to focus on, make sure you continually concentrate on it over the course of the meditation session. 2. Let Your Thoughts Pass By Exercise: An important feature of zen meditation is the awareness of thoughts. As you fall into deep concentration, there would be times that thoughts of your problems, concerns and other issues would come into your mind. This is normal and you don’t need to fight them. Imagine the smoke coming from a hot coffee. As time passes by, this smoke starts to thin until it complete disappears. Your thoughts should be the same way, let them pass, don’t create any relations with them and in time, they should disappear naturally. 3. Keep Your Focus On Exercise: If you find your mind drifting away, go back to that blank wall. Focus on your breathing and let the thoughts vanish naturally. Initially, you would find it hard to concentrate as the thoughts keep popping into your mind. But as you move into consistent meditation, the zazen becomes more natural and in time, you’ll find that your awareness has deepened.
The benefits of practicing zazen Why zazen out of all the other forms of meditation? Zen meditation is a well-studied form of meditation and its impacts on health has long been established. Primarily, zazen is known to enhance cognitive function amongst its practitioners. In fact in this study, researchers found that long-term zen meditators showed no significant decrease in both gray matter in the brain and attentional processes. This is compared to a control group who didnâ€™t practice any meditation during their life time. In another study, researchers investigated on the short-term effect of zen meditation on anxiety and stress levels. The participants were separated into two groups, one received zen meditation intervention and the other did not. The result was that those who were given intervention performed better and experienced less anxiety. Thus, zazen might have implications for usage on individuals suffering from mood disorders related to stress. As you can see, zen meditation has both long-term and short-term benefits for those who practice it. The applications of zen meditation neurally, cognitively and even emotionally are many. For individuals suffering from stress-induced problems or issues, zazen can help them deal with the mental aspect from the inside. Even a short or quick zen meditation session can provide for effects that are easily recognizable by the person.
Build your inner world to gain expertise in zen meditation Once you focus on your inner mind, you become more aware. By becoming more aware, you learn how to let go of your thoughts, your grudges and your judges more easily. As Bodhidharma has once said, the mind is the root from which all things grow. If
you understand how your mind works, you become free from all worldly things. And only then can you attain enlightenment or Buddhahood. Did you find the exercises above useful for easing into zen meditation? Share your experiences in the comments section below. Donâ€™t forget to share this article to your friends or loved ones so they too can become part of the Buddhahood. All vectors used in this blog post are from Vecteezy (www.vecteezy.com), credits belong to the creators and uploaders
Zen Meditation Exercises