One of the more notable practisers of Zen Buddhism was a monk named Kodo Sawaki – or “Kodo the Homeless” as he was nicknamed for his refusal to take charge of any monastery.
He is famously quoted as describing Zen by saying:
“We stop the one who can’t cease from seeking things outside, and practice with our bodies with a posture that seeks absolutely nothing. This is Zazen.” – Zenshu, Collected Works, vol 15. (Tokyo: Daihorinkahu, 19660), p.336
Zazen meditation (literally translated as ‘seated meditation’) is characteristically the chief religious practice, and the heart of, Zen Buddhism. Zazen meditation is the study of oneself. Only through consistent meditation can a person broaden their awareness and develop their intuition.
Different Styles of Zazen Meditation
There are five different styles of zazen meditation, as classified by Kuei-feng Tsung-me, a scholar-monk who practiced during the Tang dynasty. While they may appear outwardly as extremely similar it is important to remember that each style has its distinct purpose.
Bompu is the first style of zazen meditation. Bompu translates to ‘ordinary’ or ‘usual’; as such, it is not comprised of any religious or philosophical content. As a newcomer to zazen meditation, bompu is a great place to start as it is for anyone and everyone.
The second style of zazen meditation is gedo. Gedo literally translates to ‘an outside way’. This style of meditation is used to contemplate teachings other than Buddhism. For example, yoga is a form of gedo meditation, as is Christian meditation. Both practices are similar to Zen, but are not Buddhist.
The third style is shojo, or hinayana practice. Literally translated, hinayana means ‘smaller vehicle’. This form of meditation is often referred to as an expedient Zen, because shojo is aimed at the liberation of the self. It is Buddhist, but is not in alignment with Buddha’s highest teachings which state that one cannot attain personal peace while remaining indifferent to the wellbeing of others.
The fourth style is daijo, or Mahayana Zen. Daijo is true Buddhist Zen. The purpose of this form of meditation is to awaken your essential nature; to comprehend ‘the Way’ in your everyday existence.
The final style of zazen meditation is saijojo. Saijojo is ultimately the height of Buddhist Zen practice and is referred to as the ‘easy and perfect’ stage. In saijojo, you are firm in the principle that the practice of zazen is enlightenment in itself. You have actualized your true – or original – self.
Zazen Meditation Steps
In order to practice zazen meditation on your own you will need a few things: a zafu (or any pillow will do), a quiet space, and a clear mind.
- Get into position: as zazen is translated as ‘seated meditation’, the position you choose to meditate in is important. Begin in any of the following zazen sitting postures: the half lotus, the full lotus, Burmese, kneeling, standing, and chair.
- Fold your hands in your lap with your dominant hand on top, palms up, and your two thumbs lightly touching. This is called the cosmic mudra.
- Clear your mind.
- Focus on your breathing, counting every inhale and exhale until you get to ten; then, begin again. Start by doing this for fifteen minutes without any thought intrusion. Eventually, you will be able to meditate this way by only focusing on your breathing and you will no longer need to count to ten.
- When you are finished meditating, open your eyes and stretch out your arms and legs to retain their normal pressure rates.
So Should You Practice Zazen Meditation?
Ultimately, should you practice zazen meditation? That depends on a few things. If you are searching for a way to increase your spiritual connection and your self-awareness; if you are searching for a source of inspiration; if you are searching for rejuvenation; if you are looking to be more present in your life; or, maybe you just want to cure that stubborn case of insomnia you have. Zazen meditation could be the answer that you have long been looking for. It is worth a shot, isn’t it?
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