Zen meditation (also known as “Zazen” meditation) is a Buddhist form of meditation. Many Buddhists practice this meditation technique to improve their commitment to the religion. However, you don’t need to be a Buddhist to be a Zen practitioner.Zen meditation involves specific steps and postures.
If you study under a teacher who has mastered this kind of meditation, you too can become a Zen practitioner. Life coach Jonah Engler became a Zen practitioner by learning from acclaimed teachers.Although he doesn’t identify as a Buddhist, he honed the discipline required to master this practice and find new spiritual paths.
Can anyone become a Zen practitioner? Yes.
You have to learn how to mindfully observe your thoughts/emotions without judgment while focusing on nothing but your breathing.Once you master this simple technique, other “Zen” practices will come easy to you. But, before you start your Zen meditation practice, you must learn about the basics of this ancient meditation technique.
The Three Truths in Zen Buddhism
- Zen meditation comes from Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism is a unique mixture of Taoism and ancient Indian Mahayana Buddhism.
- The word “Zen” comes from the Chinese word “Ch’an.” Ch’an means meditation or concentration (“Dhyana” in Sanskrit).
- Zen meditation was introduced in China in the sixth century by an Indian monk named Bodhidharma. Since then, Zen Buddhism has spread to Japan, European countries, and other parts of the world.
According to Zen Buddhist principles, there are three truths in life. Japanese Zen Master Nishida illustrated these truths by providing an analogy of a play. According to him, humans participate as both actors and spectators in the grand play of life.
- If we were only spectating the play, our perspective would be totally intellectual. We would value things for their aesthetical and intellectual appeal only.
- If we were merely acting in the play, we would be over-immersed in our roles. We would have no way to observe the grand play of life unfold.
- However, we’re both actors and spectators at the same time. We observe the unfolding of life’s grand play while playing meaningful roles in it.
Here’s a simpler way of processing Nishida’s philosophy. When we observe reality from a detached perspective, we see that the mountains are mountains. We recognize the world around us from a third-person’s viewpoint.
We realize that we’re different from a material, lifeless object like a mountain. When we’re on a mountain, our first-person experience may make us think that we’re not on a mountain.
People often lose their objectivity and subjectivity when they’re immersed in their own lives. The third stage in Zen meditation is unique. In this stage, we’re both observing and experiencing the mountain at the same time.
We can see that we’re on a mountain. But, at the same time – we can exist without the mountain existing at all in our minds. Not everyone achieves this third stage of awareness as these states of mind are removed from our daily experiences.
Zen meditation is the practice of reaching this state of mind where mountains exist and don’t exist simultaneously. Practicing Zen meditation will give you insights into the true nature of being.
Types of Zen Meditation
The goal of practicing Zen meditation is to remove your sense of self from your judgments, thoughts, and perceptions. Nothing exists but only your sense of awareness when you’re in a “Zen” state of mind. This doesn’t mean entering a dream state.
Zen meditation is the art of being aware of every little thing around you. But, practitioners must always redirect their awareness towards their breathing. Sounds complex, right? That’s why there are different types of Zen meditation for different types of people.
- Bompu Zen is ideal for beginners. It only teaches people to control and calm their minds. There are no religious or philosophical guidelines for Bompu Zen practitioners. This practice is very similar to modern Western meditation practices. That’s why Jonah Englerrecommends Bompu Zen to people who are new to Eastern philosophies.
- Gedo Zen features a variety of meditation techniques from Hindu yoga and Confucianism. Even the Christian art of contemplation is taught to Gedo Zen students.
- Shojo Zen is slightly more physical. The term “Shojo Zen” means “small vehicle” in Chinese. It teaches students the dual reality of nature (mountain and no mountain). People who master Shojo Zen also get to go to the third stage of meditation. In this stage, people can see themselves as separate yet connected beings at the same time.
- Saijojo Zen is not recommended for beginners. It’s the highest stage of Zen meditation a practitioner can achieve. People who practice Saijojo Zen have no specific goals or ambitions. They’re only seeking Enlightenment. They’ve realized the dual and fake nature of reality. All they want is to understand their true nature and attain liberation from the cycle of life, death, and illusions.
Zen Meditation: How to Get Started
You don’t need to be a seeker or an aspiring “enlightened one” to benefit from Zen Meditation. People who practice this technique enjoy health benefits such as – improved self-esteem, stress relief, decreased depression/anxiety, and better sleep.
More research on the benefits of practicing Zen meditation is needed. But, the best way to learn about these benefits is to experience them. Start practicing Zen Meditation by –
- Setting aside a meditation spot and creating a schedule for practicing Zen meditation. Start with 10 minutes of Zen meditation per day. Increase this duration once you get more comfortable with the practice.
- Sit or stand still while meditating. Select a position that doesn’t cause any tightness or discomfort in your body. Continue meditating in this fixed position for the first few weeks.
- Be mindful of the postures and positions you take. From the neck to the pelvis – your back should be straight, irrespective of your posture/position. Keep your eyes closed or half-open.
- Focus on your breathing. Bring your focus and awareness back to your breaths whenever your mind starts to wander.
Try out this simple Zen meditation technique at home. If it doesn’t yield any results – try again. Or, take a course with experienced Zen meditators and learn under their guidance.