This form of meditation is quite akin to yoga. One can meditate either by oneself at one's home, or one can participate in long sessions of Zen meditation held at various meditation halls. This type of meditation practice is a group activity and lasts for anywhere between a week to ten days.
The Zen masters suggest that lone practitioners need to practice this meditation for at least 5 minutes or more on a daily basis. They say that regularity is an important part of the process of coming closer to awareness via Zazen. Practicing Zen monks practice this meditation technique for at least 30 to 40 minutes for at least 4 to 6 times a day. This meditation is followed by a brief period of walking, known as 'kinhin', which helps relax the legs between two periods of meditation.
Zen also puts a focus on tasks from daily life. Zen masters say that such a focus is an opportunity to encounter reality.
Another most interesting aspect of Zen Practice is the focus of the practitioner on 'Koans' which are questions which have 'no answer'. Often, several practitioners focus on these Koans during the meditation to find new breakthroughs in their mental pathways and thought processes.
One such example that combines to serve as an example of both these aspects is a Koan that is my particular favorite. It states, simply:
You Chop the Wood, You Draw the Water.
You Chop the Wood, You Draw the Water.
Zen Meditation places a great deal of emphasis on breathing and watching the breath. You can practice these techniques at your home.
Firstly, you will need a round or square shaped cushion. You can sit on this cushion if you are sitting down on the ground to do this meditation. Alternatively, you can use this cushion to ensure that your back (or rather, your spine) remains straight if you are going to sit in a chair while meditating.
You can sit in a posture that you are most comfortable in. You can research these positions on the internet. The positions are called:
- The Burmese Position,
- The Half-Lotus Position,
- The Full Lotus Position, and
- The Seiza.
Wear comfortable, loose clothing that allows you to breathe easily and lets your blood circulate smoothly. The mouth is closed and the tongue is to be pressed slightly against the upper palate, which reduces salivation.
During the meditation, you breathe in from the 'hara' or the stomach chakra, and your eyelids are half closed. The hara is located two inches below the navel. Focus your mind on this part of the body. Breathe in and out from your nose and let the breath move in and out of this chakra.
Watch the breath. This is a very important aspect of Zen Meditation which brings a focus on Concentration or 'Joriki'. While watching or observing this inhaling and exhaling of the breath, thoughts will come, as they always do. The process is to look at the thought, acknowledge it and consciously let it go. In time, you will reach the place of 'no thought' and you will find that your awareness is heightened. The idea is not to suppress these thoughts, but to acknowledge their presence and let them go with complete awareness.
Once this state has been achieved, one can move on to the next step. This is called Koan Interpretation, where you focus your thoughts on to a Koan as the goal of that meditation. Solving a Koan is not an intellectual exercise. It serves to open up thought processes and pathways inside your mind.
The third state in Zen Meditation, is called 'Shikantaza' or Just Sitting. This is a form of meditation which is objectless where one uses the power of concentration acquired from the previous stages to see all things in the present moment with complete awareness.
What does all This Do for Me?
The process of Zen Meditation will bring you closer to your true self and bring about an awareness of the world around you. In the hustle-bustle life of today, this process not only brings about moments of calm and peace in your day, they also serve to relax and de-stress. But over and above these effects, is that Zen Meditation affects your 'self' in a profound manner. You will see your life becoming simpler, and more effective.
To put it simply, here is a story from one of the countless Zen teachings:
"Enlightenment," replied Daiju.
"You have your own treasure house. Why do you search outside?" Baso asked.
Daiju inquired: "Where is my treasure house?"
Baso answered: "What you are asking is your treasure house."
Daiju was enlightened! Ever after he urged his friends: "Open your own treasure house and use those treasures."