About Zen Meditation

How you can clear your mind and strengthen your spirit with this age-old meditation practice

Zen, a school of Mahayana Buddhism, asserts that meditation can ultimately lead to enlightenment. According to the Zen Mountain Monastery in New York, the goal of the practice of Zen is to discover this Buddha-nature within each person through meditation and mindfulness of daily experiences. Learn the basics of Zen meditation, including its history, proper posturing and how to know if your Zen master is the real deal.

Zen meditation

Seated meditation is the main focus of Zen practice. Seated Zen meditation is commonly known as zazen, its Japanese name. The meditation in Zen practice includes the Buddhist elements of mindfulness and concentration. Zen teachings and training encourage daily practice and intense periods of meditation. Zen also encourages practicing and meditating with others.

Zen and Buddhist meditation

Unlike other Buddhist sects, Zen doesn’t emphasize religious texts, though it is deeply rooted in Buddhist scriptural teachings and philosophy. Zen emphasizes using meditation to search within yourself, which, according to the Zen Mountain Monastery, is also called “introspection” or “turning the eye inward.” Like all forms of Buddhism, Zen emphasizes meditation. Zen practices emphasize that the enlightenment taught by the Buddha was found through meditation, not through words he read. Zen teaches that it is through meditation that you can find the same awakening as the Buddha.

Proper posture

The heart of Zen practice is Zen seated meditation, also called zazen in Japanese. According to the Zen Mountain Monastery, the various sitting positions in Zen meditation include the lotus, half-lotus, Burmese and seiza positions.

According to the Monastery, proper position is as follows:

  • Keep your spine straight with the lower part of the back curved. The diaphragm needs to move freely because the breathing you do in Zen meditation is very deep.
  • Keep your mouth closed and breathe through your nose.
  • Keep your eyes lowered and mostly closed, with your gaze focused on the ground a few feet in front of you.
  • Keep your hands folded in the “cosmic mudra,” an oval shape with your dominant hand held palm up, holding your other hand with your thumbs touching. The Zen Mountain Monastery says the cosmic mudra turns your attention inward.
  • Focus only on your breathing by counting your breaths. This will strengthen your concentration.

A main focus of Zen meditation is turning your thoughts and focus inward. When you achieve effortless concentration, you can turn to other practices.

Zen masters and Zen meditation instruction

A Zen master is a teacher who teaches Zen Buddhism and meditation to others. The title of Zen master is usually bestowed upon someone who has undergone many years of Zen training and meditation and realized a deep understanding of the Dharma. You can’t just declare yourself a Zen teacher; only a Zen master can place a student in a teaching position.

If you’re interested in learning more about Zen meditation, and want to verify if your Zen master is an actual master of Zen, Zen Buddhism and meditation, check with organizations like the American Zen Teachers Association and the Soto Zen Buddhist Association. These organizations can verify if your teacher is officially sanctioned and has the proper teaching credentials.

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