Written By Axel Gjertsen
Zen Buddhism is really popular among meditators in the West. In this post we’ll take a close look at the unique flavors of zen practice.
Have you ever stepped inside a Japanese temple? They’re full of character and charm; with its sliding doors, Japanese-window panels and tatami mats covering the floors. It feels special just to be there.
The words zen practice suggest that you continue with the practice even after you’re done meditating in the temple. Unlike swimming where you stop once you get out of the water, the zen practice continues outside the meditation hall.
We can divide the meditation practice into three categories:
Meditation practice in the temple.
Awareness practice, called samu.
Meditation retreats, called sesshins.
The daily meditation practice starts early in the morning, usually before daybreak. The meditators sit along the walls inside the temple and meditate with their backs as upright as possible and with the chins somewhat tucked in. In Japanese, the word zazen is used for meditation.
After about 45 minutes everyone stands up to continue with walking meditation, for about a quarter of an hour, which in zen is a group practice where the meditators walk clockwise in a circle inside the temple.
It’s really powerful to do both the sitting and walking meditation as a group. This builds up a lot of mental energy which supports concentration. In that respect, group practice makes it easier to meditate.
This is done while working or during any other activity such as reading, eating or brushing the teeth. In zen this type of practice is called samu and it forms a vital part of traditional zen practice.
Unlike meditating in the temple where you give full attention to the meditation, in awareness practice your attention is split between the activity and awareness of the activity. As a result, awareness practice is not as deep, but rather a state of relaxed attention.
Ultimately, you should practice from the morning until you fall asleep at night. With experience, this type of practice becomes almost effortless.
Zen-style retreats are very intensive. In some monasteries the practice goes on until late in the evenings. Moreover, most sesshins are five or seven days long.
The retreatants do sitting and walking meditation as a group for the whole duration of the retreat. They also eat together. The more focused the group is, the more mental energy builds up. This energy forms a platform for progress on the zen path.
It’s most satisfying to make it to the end of a retreat. Through physical pain, sleepiness and doubts about your ability to make it.
Zen practice is an excellent meditation system that has stood the test of time. It’s also a beautiful way of life.
Axel Gjertsen is a former Buddhist monk who lives in Thailand. He runs axel g which is a personal development site with a focus on meditation.
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Tags: buddhist meditation, meditation, zen