Zen Meditation (Zazen)

zen

Origin & Meaning:

Zazen (坐禅) refers to, ‘seated zen’, or in other words ‘seated meditation’ according to the Japanese. It has deep-seated roots with Chinese Zen Buddhism (Ch’an) tradition. It’s history traces far back as 6th Century BC to the Indian monk Bodhidharma. In the West however, the most popular form of zazen comes from Dogen Zenji (1200-1253), the creator of the Soto Zen movement in Japan. Similarities exist between Soto Zen and the Rinzai school of Zen taught in parts of Japan and Korea.

How To Do It:

This meditation is typically done on a cushion or a mat over the floor. Traditionally, the practitioner sits in lotus or half-lotus position, this is not necessary. Most practitioners now use chairs: 

Traditional half lotus pose.

Traditional half lotus pose.

Modern day meditation.

Modern day meditation.

The most fundamental tip for this method of meditation is to keep your spine vertical from hip to neck. The mouth must be kept close and your eyes must lowered, its gaze a few feet on the ground in front of you.

The mind aspect of this meditation can be broken into two parts:

Focusing on breath — Put the entirety of your consciousness on your breath. Doing things such as counting breaths will help immerse yourself into deeper levels of consciousness. If you lose focus, gently resume focus on your breath again.

Shikantaza (“just sitting”) — In this form the user does not focus their consciousness on any particular object. They do however focus on the present moment, trying to be aware of all aspects of the present including thoughts, memory, sounds, smells etc. This is a form of Effortless Presence meditation.

Is It For Me? : 

Zazen is very orthodox form of meditation and has strong communities around the world practising it. There is also plentiful information around the web regarding this popular form of meditation. It is most commonly practiced in Zen Buddhist centres. A heavy emphasis is placed on posturing, as this helps aid in concentration. There are also ritualistic tendencies associated with zazen such as chanting and group readings of Buddhist teachings. This may appeal to some people. 


Vipassana Meditation

vipassana

Origin & Meaning:

Vipassana is Pali means “insight” or  “clear seeing”. This is a traditional Buddhist technique dated back to 6th Century BC. Modern Vipassana-meditation is follows the Theravada Buddhist tradition and was popularized by S.N. Goenka and the Vipassana movement. The popularity of vipassana has invigorated the “mindfulness of breath” concept.

How To Do it:

There are various stages to Vipassana meditation, each stage descends you further into the abyss of the empty mind. The initial stage is “breath mindfulness”, this is done to clear the mind. Your awareness needs to be locked with your breath and you must be able to notice subtle movements in your abdomen raising and falling. You can alternatively focus on the sensation of your breath passing through your nostril and hitting your upper lips; this however requires more practice. This portion of the meditation is an example of focus attention meditation. This first act is gatehouse to the second stage.

The second stage is the development of “clear insight”. This is done by observing, not rejecting nor accepting, bodily sensations and mental phenomenons. This is done by observing the situation moment to moment. Like a gentle leaf floating through a river, so must your mind as well float through all sensations without sinking into the raging river. As you focus on your breath, you will notice other senses and perceptions lighting up with activity. Sounds, sensations in the body and emotions will raise out of this narrow sense of focus. Simply notice these occurrences and continue focusing on your breathing. The attention is always kept on the object (breathing), while other perceptions and sensations are simply background noises.

The object that is the focus on this meditation becomes the primary object. Secondary objects are all other sensations that arise from your perceptions, such as through your five senses (sound, smell, itchiness of the body etc) or thoughts the mind (thought, memory, emotion etc). If the secondary object latches on to your attention take a few seconds to recognize it. Upon recognizing the sensation, one must make a mental note of the secondary object. A mental note identifies the general theme of the the sensation but not every detail. For example, if you hear voices or a car or a ambulance, you would note it down as “hearing”. Likewise, if a unfavourable sensation overwhelms you like knee pain or back pain, note it down simply as pain. After you finish noting you must return back to the primary object, the breath. Mental noting is used so that one does not get too carried away with thought and keeps ones attention above-the-fold.

If one is successful at doing this, they will overcame the three marks of existence: impermanence (annica), unsatisfactoriness (dukkha) and emptyness of self (annata). The results raising from overcoming the marks of existence include peace, equanimity and inner freedom.

Is It For Me? :

Vipassana is a excellent form of meditation for all students of various skill sets. It allows you to ground your body and observe ones mind. The teachings for this brand of meditation is always free, but some places do ask for donations. There are no rituals or formalities associated with this tradition.


Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness-meditation-002

Origin & Meaning:

Mindfulness meditation is a fresh take on traditional Buddhist meditation practices, especially Vipassana, also it has strong influences from other zen practices (such as the Vietnamese Zen Buddhism from Thich Nhat Hanh). This type of meditation has strong western roots.

How To Do It:

Mindfulness meditation is the art of intentionally focusing on the present moment, while accepting in a passive manner various sensations, thoughts and emotions that may raise.

The practice of this meditation involves sitting either on a cushion or a chair (without back support) and paying close attention to ones breath. Be aware of every small movement that your body makes. You do this for the entire length of the session or you can focus you object on particular sensations, thoughts or feelings. The gist of this practice is to stay as close as possible to the “moment”, without compromising ourselves with secondary objects.

Distractions by secondary objects do happen so its best to take a second and readjust your awareness of the primary object, whether that would be your breath, emotions or thoughts. There is a big difference between being inside thoughts and sensations and simply being aware of its presence. You can also practice mindfulness throughout the day. While walking, eating and talking pay attention to every aspect of these actions, stay within the present moment. The trick is to be aware, rather than going through the motions of life in “auto-pilot”. If you are speaking, this means paying special attention to the words you output, the tone of you speak in and your ability to listen with presence and attention. Daily practice like this and mindful meditation are essential for understanding this skill.

Is It For Me? :

The general census on this type of meditation is that it is very western friendly. It has roots to associated to ancient buddhist meditation techniques and is often practiced in hospitals and schools. The practitioner of this method receives the mental and physical benefits that you would get from tradition buddhist meditation, but without the eastern concepts and philosophies attached to them. This makes it an ideal choice for beginners that want to learn more about meditation and for people who are looking for mental and physical improvement of self. Those seeking to gain spiritual knowledge should practices other Buddhist meditations such as Vipassana.


Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Meditation)

love and kindness

Origin & Meaning:

Metta is a Pali word that means kindness, benevolence and goodwill. This practice arose out of Buddhist traditions, especially the Theravada and Tibetan lineages. Compassion meditation is also another name for this tradition. This meditation technique has proven benefits: boostings ones level to empathize, positive emotions through compassion, loving oneself, increased self-acceptance, feeling of competence in life and increased feelings of purpose in life.

How To Do It:

“For one who attends properly to the liberation of the heart by benevolence, unarisen ill will does not arise and arisen ill will is abandoned.” – The Buddha

The practionor must close their eyes and generate feelings of kindness and benevolence in their heart and mind. Initially this pure loving energy will raise from oneself. If the energy is strong it will progressively disassociate to all other things. The general flow of love:

  • oneself
  • a good friend
  • a stranger
  • a difficult person
  • all four equally
  • the entire universe, gradually

The feels that are developed are through wishing happiness and well-being to all living and non-living things. This meditation technique can be further aided by chanting words that evoke “boundless warm-hearted feelings”. Visualizing the sufferings of others and sending love is another way of strengthening this energy. The more you practice this method, the more joy you will experience.

Is It For Me? :

Are you too down on yourself or have hatred towards others ? Do you feel the need to improve all aspects of your relationships with the world? Loving-Kindness Meditation will help you in all these aspects. This meditation is ideal for both self-centred and selfless people. In general it will improve your general happiness. You cannot feel love-kindness and depression at the same time. It is also often recommended, by Buddhist teachers, as an antidote to insomnia, nightmares, or anger issues.


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