Monday, October 15, 2012


Meditation is basic to the Zen life, but it is not exclusive to Zen. Any person can meditate, no matter what their background or beliefs may be. Sorry to say, there are many misconceptions and harebrained notions regarding meditation. Perhaps a few fundamental questions and answers may lighten some of the misconceptions.

          Question: What is meditation?
          Answer: Meditation is a human practice in which an individual gains a type of insight or self focus. I say “human” because it isn’t known if other animals meditate.

          Is meditation the same as contemplation?
          Meditation is not the same as contemplation, which has to do with thinking. To contemplate is to select an object or a belief and concentrate on it. Supposedly, thoughts arise that reveal the object’s nature.
          Meditation has no object. Instead of focusing the mind, the mind is totally blank, open, and relaxed. Any thoughts that pop up are ignored.
          It’s a fact that the mind is used to being in control, and it wants to
picture, analyze, qualify, and quantify. That is called thinking, and it’s what
the mind has been trained to do since birth. But through meditation you can
learn to still your mind and not think.

So, meditation is not thinking?
That is correct. Meditation is not thinking.
          Through meditation is anything accomplished or achieved?
Meditation can reveal one’s own nature.

Well, if I’ve been trained since birth to think, how do I not think?
The flip answer, as one ancient Zen master said, is not to think about not thinking. The practical answer is not to worry about not thinking because then you are thinking about something.
Just let go, and let your mind do whatever it wants to do. But don’t becoming attached to a random thought about your work, or your relationships, or your job, or what you are going to have for lunch. If a thought pops up, don’t fight it. Just let it go.

To unlearn sounds like it takes a lot of practice.
You are right. Not thinking does take a lot of practice. For some people it may take years of meditation.

Is meditation the same as prayer?
Meditation is not the same as prayer. There is a big difference.
Prayer is a form of appeal in which an individual seeks to communicate with a being other than oneself.
          There are several forms of prayer. Petition prayers ask for favors. Supplication prayers plead. Worship prayers show love or devotion. Guidance prayers ask for direction or assistance. Other prayers are confessions of wrongdoings.
          Prayer takes many ceremonial forms.
          Some Christians bow their heads and fold their hands. Dancing is a form of prayer for some Native Americans. Hindus chant verbal formulas. Muslims kneel or bow. Some Sufis repeat divine names or perform a whirling dance. Jewish prayer may involve swaying back and forth.

           All this sounds pretty ritualistic. Is meditation a formal ceremony? Are there certain rules to follow?
          Meditation has no rules or policies. Zen meditation is especially informal and hassle-free. It may offer certain suggestions, which are only bits of advice aimed at encouraging physical and mental renewal.

          Will meditation make my life better?
          Meditation will not heal broken bones or broken hearts. It will not cure diseases or enable you to levitate. It will not make you wealthy or assure a glorious afterlife.
          Meditation may help you to unwind, to let everything slow down. It may enable you to rely more on the real you rather than on miracles or hopes for pie in the sky.
          Meditation won’t make you a better partner or a better parent, or a better anything. Meditation is a state of mind, and it’s your own state of mind that may enhance your life.

          How should I meditate?
          There is no one single way to meditate. As I said earlier, there aren’t any rules, only common sense. I can give some suggestions for the Zen way to meditation. Try them out to see if you feel comfortable, physically and emotionally. If not, feel free to change.

1.       Choose a place that is fairly quite, and free of such distractions as insistent children, or ringing telephones, or blaring televisions.
2.     Sit on the floor with your legs crossed in front of you, or else tucked under your buttocks. Use a cushion if you like.
3.     Close your eyes halfway, but not completely or you may doze off.
4.     Take several deep breaths, and then let your breathing fall into a natural rhythm.
5.     Calm your body and your mind.
6.     Sit without moving for fifteen minutes. In subsequent sessions sit for five minutes more, building up over days or weeks to at least a half-hour.
7.     When you get up from your position, rise gradually. Stretch your legs and arms, and take several deep breaths.
8.     Sit once a day, every day, at the same time. Make meditation a part of your life rather than an entertainment.


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