The three necessary elements of Zen meditation are posture, breathing and no-mind meditation.
The following instructions come from a text written by Japanese Zen master Dogen in the 13th Century:
Truth is perfect and complete in itself. It is not something newly discovered; it has always existed. Truth is not far away; it is ever present. It is not something to be attained since not one of your steps leads away from it.
Do not follow the ideas of others, but learn to listen to the wordless voice within yourself. Your body and mind will become clear and you will realize the unity of all things.
The slightest movement of your dualistic thinking process will prevent you from entering the palace of meditation and wisdom.
The practice of meditation is not a method for the attainment of realization – it is enlightenment itself.
Your search among many books, word upon word, may lead you to the depths of intellectual knowledge. But to illuminate your true Self you must learn to withdraw, turning the light of your attention inwards.
When your ideas as to mind and body have dropped off naturally, the original truth will fully appear. Zen is simply the expression of truth; therefore longing and striving (for enlightenment) are not true attitudes of Zen.
To actualize this meditation you should practice with pure intention and firm determination.
- Your meditation room should be clean and quiet.
- Eat and drink moderately.
- Let go of all associations, and put all affairs aside.
- Do not dwell in thoughts of good or bad, or be concerned with either right or wrong.
- Many thoughts will crowd into your mind - ignore them, letting them go.
- If they persist be aware of them with the awareness that does not think. In other words, think non-thinking.
- Just relax and forget that you are meditating.
- Put aside the operation of your intellect, volition, and consciousness.
- Stop considering things with your memory, imagination and contemplation.
- Do not desire enlightenment since that thought will keep you confused.Zen meditation is not physical culture, or learning step-by-step - nor is it a method to gain something material. It is nirvana itself. It is the actualization of truth and wisdom.
In your meditation you yourself are the mirror reflecting the solution to your problems. The human mind has absolute freedom within its true nature. You can attain your freedom intuitively. Do not work for freedom, rather allow the practice itself to be liberation.
Life is short and no one knows what the next moment will bring. Open your mind while you have the opportunity, thereby gaining the treasures of wisdom, which you in turn can share abundantly with others, bringing them happiness.
The Methods of Zen Meditation
It cannot be emphasized too much that you should not be overly rigorous with the details of your meditation method. A particular meditation method is just one of many paths to understanding – a framework within which to silently explore the present moment.
Zen meditation methods are aimed at two things - first there is calming, then concentration. A mind unburdened with random thoughts develops a profound awareness about its own state.
First there is the need to quiet, or let go of, wandering thoughts. You need to develop the facility of gathering your attention so that you can better control your mind, to let your mind be calm and stable, so that it does not lead you off where you don’t want to go. If you succeed in quietening the mind, it will no longer be wild and scattered. At that point pain, numbness and itching that arise during meditation will not bother you or draw your attention, and neither will passing moods, feelings or emotions.
Second, one develops the ability to concentrate, either on what exists right here and now (shikantaza), or on a meditation method such as a koan. The fruit of this concentration is insight into your own mind, and thus all things.
The most commonly encountered methods are breath counting, following the breath, koans and shikantaza.
Breath counting – Just mentally count each exhalation, from one to ten, and then start again at one. Do this for the whole sitting period. It sounds easy but that’s all there is to it. Remember to stay focused on the counting. When you become aware that you have become diverted by a distracting thought, just return to the counting, starting again at one. Invest yourself fully into experiencing each breath – just be “one”, “two”, “three”, and so on, without thinking about it. Don’t expect anything, and don’t become attached to any clear state you experience, nor reject any confused or drowsy state that may occur.
Following the breath – When concentration on breathing becomes such that awareness of the counting is clear and the count is not lost, the next step, a slightly more difficult type of zazen, involves following the inhalations and exhalations of the breath with the mind’s eye only, again in natural rhythm.
Koan (kung-an in Chinese) – a phrase from a teaching on realization, an episode from the life of an ancient master, or any sort of incident, which points to the nature of ultimate reality can be a koan. To people who don’t understand the “logic” of koans, many appear to be dialogues between extreme eccentrics, if not the insane. Koans are not nonsensical riddles to be solved and discarded. Rather they are subtle teachings on one’s own life.
An essential ingredient of a koan is paradox, that is something that transcends the logical or conceptual. A koan cannot be solved by reason, but only by accessing another level of comprehension that takes the student to a world beyond logical contradictions and dualistic modes of thought. The meanings of koans can only be intuited by direct experience. Because they cannot be solved by discursive logic, koans make clear to the student the limitations of thought. They challenge our limited, conditioned viewpoint, and refine our alignment with our deeper selves.
Students who have sufficiently settled the wandering nature of their minds may be given (or where no teacher is available) a koan or themselves select a koan on which to meditate. The koan may come from one of the classical Zen collections (e.g. “What is the sound of one hand?”), or it may be a more immediate case, based on the practitioner’s own situation, such as the question “Who am I?”.
Koans are used as a meditation subject and are looked into unremittingly by practitioners during sitting meditation and whenever possible throughout the day. During intensive retreats the koan is looked into constantly, in the same way a hen watches her eggs or a cat watches a mouse.
Shikantaza – Japanese for “just sitting”. This refers to alert non-reflective attention that neither pursues nor suppresses thoughts, sensations, etc., but rather gives alert detached attention to whatever arises in and vanishes from consciousness, whether inside your body or outside. It is full awareness that your body is sitting.
Zen master Dogen regarded that “presence itself” is itself a koan which, when correctly grasped, indicates “things as they really are”. “Correctly grasping” this koan proceeds from the pre-reflective experience manifested by “without-thinking”. A famous passage in Dogen’s 13th Century Japanese Genjokoan states:
To learn the truth is to learn ourselves. To learn ourselves is to forget ourselves. To forget ourselves is to be experienced by the myriad things. To be experienced by the myriad things is to let our own body-and-mind, and the body-and-mind of the external world, fall away. There is a state in which the traces of realization are forgotten; and it manifests the traces of forgotten realization for a long, long time...
Being “experienced by the myriad things” expresses the mental activity of “without-thinking” wherein the personal self (and also “others”) is “forgotten”, because awareness of such distinctions is not present. No separate self is present to perceive “other” things. Rather, the Self is all these things, and vice versa, in THIS moment of perception. From “without thinking” flows the only identifiable “reality”, namely the unceasing, ever-changing, impermanent unfolding of experience.