Our Yoga expert, Navodita, tells us about Zen meditation, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
Meditation is an important technique to get you grounded in yourself and find inner peace and salvation which can help you focus better on your work and daily busy lives. Yet another form of meditation we discuss here is the Zen meditation or Buddhist meditation.
‘Zazen’ means ‘seated Zen’ or ‘seated meditation’ in Japanese. It has its roots in the Chinese Zen Buddhism (Ch’an) tradition, tracing back to Indian monk Bodhidharma (6th century CE). In the West it’s most popular form comes from Dogen Zenji (1200-1253), the founder of Soto Zen movement in Japan. Similar modalities are practiced in the Rinzai school of Zen, in Japan and Korea. Here’s how you can practice this form of meditation:
It is generally practiced seated on the floor over a mat and a cushion, with crossed legs. Traditionally, it was done in lotus or half-lotus pose. This is, however, hardly necessary as most practitioners can even do it in simple Swastika asana or cross-legged pose. The most important aspect is keeping the back straight, from the pelvis to the neck. Mouth is kept close and eyes are kept lowered, with your gaze resting on the ground about two or three feet in front of you. As far as mind training is done, it can be done in two ways:
Focussing on breath – focus all your attention on the movement of the breath going in and out through the nose. This may be assisted by counting the breath in your mind. Each time you inhale, you count one number, starting with ten, and then moving backward to nine, eight, seven, etc. when you arrive at one, then resume ten again. If you get distracted and lose your count, gently bring back the attention to ten and resume from there. Another way is ‘Shikantaza’.
‘Shikantaza’– which means ‘just sitting’. In this form the practitioner does not use any specific object of meditation; rather practitioners remain as much as possible in the present moment, aware of and observing what passes through their minds and around them, without dwelling on anything in particular. It’s a type of ‘effortless presence’ meditation and should be practiced at all times- while walking, talking and performing various tasks at home or at your workplace.
Zazen is a very sober meditation style, and you can easily find a lot of strong communities practicing it. There is a lot of focus on keeping the posture right. Right posture is a major aid for ‘good concentration’. It is usually practiced in Zen Buddhist centers (Sangha), with a strong community support. In many of these, you will find it coupled with other elements of Buddhist practices: prostrations, a bit of ritualism, chanting and group readings of Buddha teachings and so on. Some people will like this while others won’t.
Mindfulness, simply put, lies at the heart of Buddhist meditation. Mindfulness is the English translation of the Sanskrit word ‘Sati’. Sati is an activity. What exactly is that? There can be no precise answer. Words are devised by the symbolic levels of the mind, and they describe those realities with which symbolic thinking deals. Mindfulness is a subtle process that you are using at this very moment. Mindfulness is the reality that gives rise to words- the words that follow are simply pale shadows of reality. Everything that follows here is thus analogy.
When you first become aware of something, there is a fleeting instant of pure awareness just before you conceptualise the thing, before you identify it. That is a state of awareness. Ordinarily, this state is short-lived. It is that flashing split second just as you focus your eyes on the thing, just as you focus your mind on the thing, just before you objectify it, clamp down on it mentally, and segregate it from the rest of the existence.
It takes place just before you start thinking about it- before your mind says, for example, ‘Oh! I’m a leader.’ That flowing, soft-focused moment of pure awareness is mindfulness. In that brief flashing mind-moment, you experience a thing as an un-thing. You experience a softly flowing moment of pure experience that is interlocked with the rest of reality, not separate from it. Mindfulness is very much like what you see with your peripheral vision as opposed to the hard focus of normal or central vision. Yet this moment of soft, unfocused awareness contains a very deep sort of knowing that is lost as soon as you focus your mind and objectify the object into a thing. In the process of ordinary perception, mindfulness is so fleeting a thing as to be unobservable. When this mindfulness is prolonged by using proper techniques, you find that this experience is profound and that it changes your entire view of the universe.
Mindfulness, thus, has a number of characteristics. It is a lot of things including mirror-thought, selflessness, unsatisfactoriness, impermanence, non-conceptual awareness among other concepts. It registers experiences, without comparing them. Mindfulness also registers experiences but does not compare them. More on mindfulness and such related concepts in the next lesson.
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Navodita Pande has been practicing yoga since she was 9 years old in Iyengar Yoga. In April 1995, she performed at the International Yoga Seminar. In January 2003, Navodita taught at Hare Rama Hare Krishna Mandir in New York. Navodita had a Yoga show on NDTV 24×7 and was also the official yoga trainer for Miss Delhi contestants in 2007. She currently teaches Yoga and Reiki to
people in Kanpur.