Taking Care Of Myself Naturally

The Basics Of Zen Meditation

by Amelia Graves

Zen meditation is derived from the Buddhist tradition of the same name. One of the primary forms of Zen meditation is called zazen, which basically means to sit silently. If you are interested in learning this form of meditation, the following guide may help.

What is the purpose of zazen? 

In many ways, zazen is the art of doing nothing. When one sits in zazen, they are supposed to be living in only the moment of that current breath. Unlike other forms of meditation, which may include an object to meditate on or a guided tour of the subconscious, in zazen you just sit with your breath. Like most forms of Buddhist meditation, the final goal is to reach enlightenment. This pursuit for enlightenment is probably best undertaken with the help of an experience teacher, though.

Is there a right posture for zazen?

The traditional posture for zazen is similar to many other meditation postures. Generally, the legs are crossed in the lotus position, with the ankles resting on the opposite thigh. This posture can take practice, so many new practitioners begin with simple crossed legs or attempt a full or partial lotus to the best of their abilities. Keep in mind that you may be hold the posture for 30 minutes or more, so you don't want to strain to much to stay in it. The goal is to be centered on a tripod made from the two knees and the rear. As for the hands, they rest in front, one hand cupping the other and then the thumbs touch to form a circle in front of the belly button. Finally, the back is straight and the head faces forward with the chin slightly tucked.

What if the posture is difficult or impossible?

There are meditation aids available to help ease the posture. The zabuton is a large square pillow for the floor. On top of this sits a round zafu cushion, which helps position the spine and cushion the rear portion of the tripod. For those unable to sit in the standard position, seiza is another choice. This is effectively sitting on one's knees, with the rear resting on the calves. Low meditation benches that slant forward are available for those that need help with this position.

Finally, if it isn't possible to sit in either floor positions, use a straight backed chair. You will need to have your back straight and you should be in the classic meditation posture from the waist up.

How is zazen practiced?

The basics are simple. Look ahead and slightly down to undefined point in front of you with eyes partially closed. It's common for practitioners to sit facing a wall to minimize distraction. As the last tone of the meditation bell fades, fidgeting stops and you settle into your breathing – in through the nose, out through the mouth. New practitioners sometimes count to get into the right mind. Do this by counting each breath up to ten, and then starting over again. Don't become attached to counting, though – only do this until the mind quiets. As stray thoughts come to mind, dismiss them and continue to just breath.

For more help, contact a meditation center near you.