Introduction to Zen

 

The word Zen comes from the Sanskrit term dhyana, which means absorption. Thus our practice is one of absorbing yourself fully in all that you do, so that thought, feeling, and action come together and are not separate

All of the forms of Zen meditation are activities that we do in our daily lives. They are condensed to a basic form to allow ease of paying attention, ease of seeing how and when our mind wanders, and how to allow these basic forms to become natural expressions of our original self. We have sitting meditation to allow for absorption in the mind when it is not involved with other activities; walking meditation to allow attention to motion; and chanting meditation to allow attention to sound.

Sit with your back straight but not stiff, neck and shoulders muscles relaxed; place your right hand below your left hand with the tips of your thumbs lightly touching to form an oval, tuck the heel of the palm in to your lower belly about two or three inches below your navel. Look at the ground with your eyes through half-opened eyes and relax; breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose.

As you sit with attention on your breath, allow this attention, the sound of the bell, the chant, and your mind to become one.

Sitting Zen has two aspects: sitting and Zen. Sitting is becoming still. Zen is becoming clear. So sitting Zen is practicing stillness to experience the clarity of your Original Mind

There are three aspects to becoming still: stilling the body; stilling the breathing; stilling the mind. To allow your body to become still and stable, sit with your back straight, but not stiff, neck and shoulder muscles relaxed. Let the weight be supported at the base of your spine where you are sitting, so that your muscles hang loosely on your spine with very little tension. Place your right hand below your left hand with thumbs lightly touching to form an oval and the heel of your palm tucked into to your lower belly about two or three inches below the navel.  The thumbs should form a bridge, never a valley.

Look down at the floor through half-opened eyes at about a 45 degree angle. As you sit this way, allow yourself to experience physical sensations just passing through you, so that rather than reacting to them, you just observe them as they appear, differentiate, change again, disappear, and are replaced by other sensations. If you attend to your body in this way, you will find that you can sit still for the duration of the 15 minutes that we sit and that the posture becomes stable and strong.

Please the tip of your tongue on the roof of your mouth and breathe deeply through your nose, about 5 or 10 percent more slowly tan usual, so that without forcing things your breath your breath gradually becomes quieter, deeper, more stable, and more

relaxed. Relax the upper part of your chest and your middle chest, and let your breath fall all the way down to your lower belly so that as you breathe in your diaphragm expands, pulling the air in, and as you exhale it contracts, letting the air escape.

As you sit with your attention on your breath, pick up this question, What am I? Don’t be so concerned with the words so much as with the question mark at the end of the question. If you allow yourself to rest with this question for a few moments you will soon see that that a cognitive or conceptual answer can’t contain it, and you are left in a condition of not knowing. We refer to this as Don’t know mind. In this Don’t know, as with physical sensations allow mental formations to appear, differentiate, change again, disappear, and be replaced by other mental formations, so that thoughts, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and awareness come and go freely with no hindrance as you rest gently with the question and answer, What am I? Don’t know.

[During first meditation period]  Because we want to see our true nature we ask the question, What am I? The question has no limits to it, and so it points to our original condition of Don’t know, which has no boundaries, and allows all things to flow in and out freely. Since this is the case we don’t try to cultivate any particular state of mind or to reject any particular state of mind in our practice, as this would be setting limits and boundaries, where originally there are none. Rather than doing so, just let all states of mind come and go as you rest gently with the question, What am I? Don’t know.

[Walking meditation]  Clasp your hands in the center of your chest so that your elbows are at a 90 degree angle and continue to look down at the floor through half-open eyes at 45 degrees. Keep the tip of your tongue at the roof of your mouth and continue to breathe in deeply and slowly as you stay with the question and, What am I? Don’t know. As you do so walk around the room slowly and just let this question permeate each step. We won’t be doing anything special other tan just walking, so give your attention to each step. Keep in mind that each step you take is a step that you have never taken before and one that you will never take again. If you keep this attitude as you walk, you will find that with each step your mind becomes quieter, clearer, more focused, and more stable. And each step becomes a natural expression of your original nature. This is an exercise in awareness. Please try to keep the same distance between you and the person ahead of you so that the line does not become too elongated or bunched up. Do not become so self-absorbed that you lose track of where you are, or so outwardly focused that you forget to do the practice.

[During second meditation period]  Because we want point to see our true nature we ask the question, What am I? This is a task that we often approach through judging or evaluating ourselves, or others, as good, or bad, or right, or wrong. However, because the question What am I? Points to our original condition of  Don’t know, which has no limits or boundaries, there is no subject to do the judging and no object to be judged. So allow yourself to dispense entirely with this habit and just rest gently with the question, What am I? Don’t know.