How to Practice Zen Meditation?

Zen Meditation has a rich history, derived from Mahayana Buddhism during the 6th century, and originating in China. It later spread to Vietnam, Korea and Japan. The term Dzyen, which describes Zen is actually derived form the Sanskrit word, Dhyana, which yogis used to describe a state of absolute absorption, or meditation. It especially adapted to an appreciation of nature, and is heavily influenced by Taoism. Taoism emphasizes living in harmony with ‘the way’ or the ‘Tao.’ It is often said that the Tao that can be described is not the Tao, so this understanding of life according to this philosophy is very different than most of us can conceptualize.

Practice Zen by First Understanding 4 Precepts

One practices Zazen in order to calm the mind and come to a true realization of reality. Bodhidharma is a famous Zen yogi. In almost every school of Zen, there are several unconditional precepts, which underlie all attempts to meditate. They are:

  1. We all suffer injustice.
  2. We must all adapt to varied conditions.
  3. By seeking nothing, we gain everything.
  4. We must practice the dharma.

In the first case, we all suffer injustice, either in this life or in past lives, and so by calming our minds and seeing things as they truly are, we can be sure not to add to the condition of further suffering, i.e., by making more unwise choices.

Secondly, we must realize that nothing stays the same. Ruin and prosperity are just different sides of the ever-swinging pendulum of existence. We must adapt to all conditions, whether we name them ‘good,’ or ‘bad’ with an equally calm mind.

Third, wise people do not seek satisfaction in the ever-changing qualities of the world, and therefore ‘wake up’ to reality as it truly is – they are in this world but not of it. They are unattached without being nihilistic. They realize that all things rise and fall in the illusory world of the ego, but that when we stop seeking happiness outside ourselves, we magically realize a state of bliss – one that is not conditioned by outside influences.

Finally, we can practice the dharma. The sutra which details this precept states, “The Dharma embraces no being because it is free from the impurity of being, and the Dharma includes no self because it is free from the impurity of self.” This statement is hard to understand at first, but with practice sitting in Zazen, its true wisdom will become more apparent.

How To Practice Zazen Meditation ?

In order to practice Zazen, or ‘sitting’ you will need a clean, draft-free place to sit in quiet contemplation where you will not be disturbed. You can sit on the floor or a meditation cushion, one that resembles a small round pillow. You can also sit facing a bare wall or visually nondescript place to reduce or eliminate visual stimulation. You can practice at any time during the day, but the early morning is the most beneficial because the mind is least active at this time.

If you can sit in Lotus Position, this is ideal, but not everyone is able to hold this posture for a full 25 to 30 minute meditation session, so sit in any way that you can keep the spine erect. The hands can be placed in a zazen mudra with the right hand resting on the lap and against the belly and the left hand slightly overlapping it. The tips of the thumbs come together, gently, without making a pyramid shape. The negative space created by the hands and thumbs should resemble an oval.

The breath should be deep and even, utilizing the diaphragm instead of the chest. Breathe in and out of your nostrils. You can start with a deep breath and then just allow the breath to continue at a natural pace.

You will begin to observe the breaths. You will count an in-breath as one, and an out-breath as two. You will continue to do this throughout the meditation, restarting at one each time you reach ten, no matter the duration of your practice. Your breath is the ‘object of meditation.’ In other practices this can be a mantra, a rock, a flower, etc. for now, you simply focus on your breath. If you lose track of the one to ten count, because the mind has drifted off to other thoughts, you will simply begin at one again and start anew. Without chastising yourself for allowing your mind to wander, you simply draw it back to the breath. As you do this again and again, you will train the mind to be 100% present in the now moment and thus take your attention away from the suffering of reality, or the illusions of the ego.


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