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Home > Types of Meditation > Zen Meditation
Zen Meditation
Satori Types of Zen

Zen MeditationZazen is a particular kind of meditation, unique to Zen that functions centrally as the very heart of the practice. In fact, Zen Buddhists are generally known as the "meditation Buddhists." Basically, zazen is the study of the self.

Rooted in ancient meditative practices, Zazen differs from other forms of meditation in a number of ways. Zazen uses no meditation object or abstract concept for the sitter to focus on. The aim of Zazen is first to still the mind - the sitter`s everyday disorganized, animal mind - and then, through practice, to reach a state of pure, thought-free wakefulness so that the mind can realize its own Buddha-nature. And unlike other forms of meditation, Zazen is not simply a means to an end. It is believed that Zazen is itself Enlightenment, one minute of sitting, one minute of being Buddha.

The Three Aims of Zazen:

  1. Development of the power of concentration (Joriki) 
  2. Satori-Awakening (Kensho)
  3. Actualization of the Supreme way in our daily lives (mujudo no taigen).

Zazen is at the heart of Zen Buddhist practice. The aim of Zazen is to open the hand of thought while sitting. This is done either through koans, Rinzais primary method, or whole-hearted sitting, the Soto sect`s method. Once the mind is able to not be hindered by its many layers, one will then be able to realize one`s true Buddha nature. In Zen Buddhism, Zazen (Japanese: literally "seated meditation") is a meditative discipline practitioners perform to calm the body and the mind and experience insight into the nature of existence.

During Zazen, the hands are folded together into a simple mudra over the belly. In many practices, one breathes from the hara (the center of gravity in the belly) and the eyelids are half-lowered, the eyes being neither fully open nor shut so that the practioner is not distracted by outside objects but at the same time is kept awake. (The latter practice has its origins in a superstition where those who close their eyes during meditation are said to be in the hungry ghost cave of Black Mountain.

Zazen is a particular kind of meditation, unique to Zen, that function centrally as the very heart of the practice. In fact, Zen Buddhists are generally known as the "meditation Buddhists." Zazen is the study of the self.

We tend to see body, breath, and mind separately, but in Zazen they come together as one reality. The first thing to pay attention to is the position of the body in Zazen. The body has a way of communicating outwardly to the world and inwardly to oneself. How you position your body has a lot to do with what happens with your mind and your breath. Throughout the years of the evolution of Buddhism, the most effective positioning of the body for the practice of Zazen has been the pyramid structure of the seated Buddha. Sitting on the floor is recommended because it is very stable. Buddhists make use of zafu - a small pillow - to raise the behind just a little, so that the knees can touch the ground. With your bottom on the pillow and two knees touching the ground, you form a tripod base that gives three hundred and sixty-degree stability.

The importance of keeping the back straight is to allow the diaphragm to move freely. The breathing in Zazen becomes very deep. The abdomen rises and fall much the same way as an infants belly rises and falls. In general, as we mature, our breathing becomes restricted, and less and less complete. We tend to take shallow breaths in the upper part of the chest. Usually, weve got our belts on very tight or we wear tight clothing around the waist. As a result, deep, complete breathing rarely occurs. In Zazen it is important to loosen up anything that is tight around the waist and to wear clothing that is non-binding. For instance, material should not gather behind the knees when you cross the legs, inhibiting circulation. Allow the diaphragm to move freely so that the breathing can be deep, easy, and natural. You dont have to control it. You dont have to make it happen. It will happen by itself if you assume the right posture and position of your body properly.

In Zazen, the mouth is kept closed. Unless you have some kind of a nasal blockage, breathe through your nose. The tongue is pressed lightly against the upper palate. This reduces the need to salivate and swallow. The eyes are kept lowered, with your gaze resting on the ground about two or three feet in front of you. Your eyes will be mostly covered by your eyelids, which eliminate the necessity to blink repeatedly. The chin is slightly tucked in. Although Zazen looks very disciplined, the muscles should be soft. There should be no tension in the body. It doesn`t take strength to keep the body straight. The nose is centered in line with the navel, the upper torso leaning neither forward nor back.

It is important to center your attention in the hara. The hara is a place within the body, located two inches below the navel. It`s the physical and spiritual center of the body. Put your attention and mind there. As you develop your Zazen, youll become more aware of the hara as the center of your attentiveness.

It is also important to be patient and persistent. One should not be constantly thinking of a goal, of how the sitting practice may help us. We just put ourselves into it and let go of our thoughts, opinions, and positions - everything our minds hold onto. The human mind is basically free, not clinging. In Zazen we learn to uncover that mind, to see who we really are.

The three aims of Zazen (namely Joriki, Kensho and mujudo no taigen) form an inseparable unity, but for the purpose of understanding these will be explained separately.

Joriki, the first of three aims of Zazen, is the power or strength, which arises when the mind has been unified and brought to one-pointedness in Zazen concentration. This is more than the ability to concentrate in the usual sense of the word. It is a dynamic power, which once mobilized, enables us even in the most sudden and unexpected situations to act instantly, without pausing to collect out wits, and in a manner wholly appropriate to the circumstances. One who has developed Joriki is no longer a slave to his passions, neither is he at the mercy of his environment. Always in command of both himself and the circumstances of his life, he is able to move with perfect freedom and equanimity. The cultivation of certain super normal powers is also made possible by Joriki, as it is the state in which the mind becomes like clear like still water.

The second aim of Zazen is Kensho, seeing into your true-nature and at the same time seeing into the ultimate nature of the universe and "all the ten thousand things" in it. It is the sudden realization that "I have been complete and perfect from the very beginning. But this does not mean that we can all experience Kensho to the same degree, for in the clarity, the depth, and the completeness of the experience there are great differences. As an illustration, imagine a person who was blind since birth and gradually begins to recover his sight. At first he can see very vaguely and darkly and only objects that are close to him. Then as his sight improves he is able to distinguish things a yard away then objects at a distance of ten yards, then at a hundred yards, until finally he can recognize anything up to a thousand yards. At each of these stages the phenomenal world he is seeing is the same, but the differences in the clarity and accuracy of his views of that world are as great as those between snow and charcoal. So it is with the differences in clarity and depth of our experiences of Kensho.

The last of the three aims of Zazen is mujodo no taigen, the Actualization of the Supreme Way throughout our entire being and our daily activities. At this point we do not distinguish the end from the means. When you sit earnestly and egolessly in accordance with the instructions of a competent teacher - with your mind fully conscious yet as free of thought as a pure white sheet of paper is unmarred by a blemish - there is an enfoldment of your intrinsically pure Buddha-nature whether you have had Satori or not. But what must be emphasized here is that only with true awakening do you directly apprehend the truth of your Buddha-nature and perceive that Saijojo, the purest type of Zen, is no different from that practiced by all Buddhas.

Relation between Joriki, Kensho and Mujodu no Taigen
The practice of Buddhist Zen should embrace all three of these objectives, for they are interrelated. There is, for instance, an essential connection between Joriki and Kensho. Kensho is "the wisdom naturally associated with Joriki," which is the power arising from concentration. Joriki is connected with Kensho in yet another way. Many people may never be able to reach Kensho unless they have first cultivated a certain amount of Joriki, for otherwise they may find themselves too restless, too nervous and uneasy to persevere with their Zazen. Moreover, unless fortified by Joriki, a single experience of Kensho will have no appreciable effect on your life and will fade into a mere memory. For although through the experience of Kensho you have apprehended the underlying unity of the cosmos with your Mind`s eye, without Joriki you are unable to act with the total force of your being on what your inner vision has revealed to you.

Likewise there is an interconnection between Kensho and the third aim of Zazen, mujudo no taigen. Kensho when manifested in all your actions is mujudo no taigen. With perfect Enlightenment, Anuttra Samyak Sambodhi, we apprehend that our conception of the world as dual and antihectical is false, this and upon realization the world of Oneness, of true harmony and peace, is revealed.

The Rinzai sect tends to make Satori-awakening the final aim of sitting and skims over Joriki and mujodo no taigen. Thus the need for continued practice after Enlightenment is minimized, and koan study, since it is unsupported by Zazen and scarcely related to daily life, becomes essentially an intellectual game instead of a means by which to amplify and strengthen Enlightenment.

On the other hand, while the practice advocated in official quarters of the Soto sect today stresses mujodo no taigen, in effect it amounts to little more than the accumulation of Joriki, which, as discussed earlier, "leaks" or recedes and ultimately disappears unless Zazen is carried on regularly. The contention of the Soto sect nowadays that Kensho is unnecessary and that one need do more than catty on his daily activities with the Mind of the Buddha is specious, for without Kensho you can never really know what this Buddha-mind is.

These imbalances in both sects in recent times have, unfortunately, impaired the quality of Zen teaching.

ZazenZazen must not be confused with meditation.
Meditation involves putting something into the mind, either an image or a sacred word that is visualized or a concept that is thought about or reflected on, or both. In some types of meditation the meditator envisions, contemplates, or analyzes certain elementary shapes, holding them in his mind to the exclusion of everything else. Or he may contemplate in a state of adoration a Buddha or a Bodhisattva image, hoping to evoke in himself parallel states of mind. He may ponder such abstract qualities as loving, kindness and compassion. In Tantric Buddhist systems of meditation, mandalas containing various seed syllables of the Sanskrit alphabet-- such as Om, for example--are visualized and dwelt upon in a prescribed manner. Also employed for meditational purposes are mandalas consisting of special arrangements of Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and other figures.

The uniqueness of Zazen lies in the fact that the mind is freed from bondage to all thought-forms, visions, objects, and imaginings, however sacred or elevating, and brought to a state of absolute emptiness, from which alone it may one day perceive its own true nature, or the nature of the universe.

Such initial exercises as counting or following the breath cannot, strictly speaking, are called meditation since they do not involve visualization of an object or reflection upon an idea.

Zazen that leads to Self-realization is neither idle reverie nor vacant inaction but an intense inner struggle to gain control over the mind and then to use it, like a silent missile, to penetrate the barrier of the five senses and the discursive intellect (that is, the sixth sense). It demands energy, determination, and courage. It is believed to be a battle between the opposing forces of delusion and Bodhi.

This state of mind has been vividly described in these words, said to have been uttered by Shakyamuni Buddha as he sat beneath the Bodhi Tree making his supreme effort, and often quoted in the zendo during sesshin: "Though only my skin, sinews, and bones remain and my blood and flesh dry up and wither away, yet never from this seat will I stir until I have attained full Enlightenment."

The drive toward Enlightenment is powered on the one hand by a painfully felt inner bondage--a frustration with life, a Fear of Death, or both-- and on the other by the conviction that through Awakening one can gain liberation. But it is in Zazen that the body and mind`s force and vigor are enlarged and mobilized for the breakthrough into this new world of freedom. Energies, which formerly were squandered in compulsive drives and purposeless actions, are preserved and channeled into a unity through correct Zen sitting; and to the degree that the mind attains one-pointedness through Zazen it no longer disperses its force in the uncontrolled proliferation of idle thoughts. The entire nervous system is relaxed and soothed, inner tensions eliminated, and the tone of all organs strengthened. Furthermore, research involving an electrocardiograph and other devices on subjects who have been practicing Zazen for one to two years has demonstrated that Zazen brings about a release in psychophysical tension and greater body-mind stability through lowered heart rate, pulse, respiration, and metabolism. In short, by realigning the physical, mental, and psychic energies through proper breathing, concentration, and sitting, Zazen establishes new body-mind equilibrium.

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