How to Begin Zen Meditation

Zen meditation is right at the heart of Zen Buddhism to the point that Zen Buddhists are actually sometimes referred to as ‘meditation Buddhists’. Interestingly, originally in Zen Buddhism there was no original formal method of meditation, and rather the teacher would just use a range of didactic methods in order to lead the practitioners to the ‘true nature of the mind’ and a form of enlightenment.

Essentially this would mean the ability to stop the thoughts and quiet them to the point where you can give your brain a ‘break’ as well as looking at the world in a completely objective manner – which is actually quite a rare thing to be able to do. It is a form of complete relaxation which we rarely accomplish, and can also help you to understand more about how your mind works (in some cases at advanced levels, areas of your brain can shut down while other areas remain active, resulting in impressive experiences).

Thus it is important to recognise that the guidelines here, and that you read anywhere, are not completely set in stone and that if you find another method more comfortable and effective then there’s no reason not to change to that. However here we’ll look at one way that you can achieve a stillness of mind.

Take Your Position

Firstly you should take your position. This should be again anything that you find comfortable and that you can maintain for a relatively long period of time. It’s is recommended not to lie down as that can lead to falling asleep. To make yourself more comfortable meanwhile lying a pillow on the floor is a good idea.

While there are many positions you can take, popular ones are the Burmese position (kneeling), the half lotus, or the full lotus. Place your hands into the cosmic mudra – which is means you place them in your lap facing palm up and the thumbs gently touching and your dominant hand on the bottom.

Relax

Now close your eyes and relax. If you like imagine a point in your mind’s eye to focus on and to begin with just enjoy being still and calm. Listen to your breathing.

While doing this bear in mind that it is not absolutely paramount that you not move. Many people think that for meditation to work they need to be completely static and so they freeze up. However doing this will mean that they are too self conscious and they’ll keep feeling the need to itch, cough or go to the toilet. If you just allow these things to happen and itch when necessary etc, you will find that you start to not notice them any more and to completely relax.

Focus

Now the idea from here is to stop your train of thought and your inner monologue. To do this you need to focus on something other than your thoughts and a great way to do this is to count your breaths inwards – because you’re counting them your internal ‘voice’ will be too busy to think about other things. Count to ten and then start again from zero.

Otherwise it is fine to simply think or repeat a phrase or sound. This will serve the exact same purpose and is largely what the didactic sounds that Buddhists typically use are for.

Practice

It may take a while before you experience any really noticeable effects and it might seem that you aren’t able to concentrate or to fully benefit. However remember that like anything else, meditation takes time to perfect and you can’t expect it to be easy right away. You’ll know when you’ve achieved a meditative state, and once you have this will become easier and easier to recreate. Eventually you’ll have a completely still and calm place that you go in your mind to relax at any given time.

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