Practice of Zazen
There is no such single “thing” as zazen or Zen meditation. Zen Teachers guide students in many forms of BodyMind practice. BodyMind is another description of human consciousness that includes all our senses and thinking capacities. The various forms of Zen meditation train our consciousness to perceive dimensions of experience more fully and build skills so that we can maintain Presence in the use of our human faculties in our interactions with the LifeWorld. Indeed, this emphasis on consciousness reveals that human being is not a separate isolated entity, but interactive, co-creative, inter-relational being of Self-and-Living World. We begin to
have the capacity to suspend “in and out,” experiencing BodyMind not only as the itch on our nose, but as the sun, trees earth and its inhabitants.
Zen meditation defined as BodyMind practices can range from body scans, bringing to awareness interior and exterior sensation, to Anuttara-samyak-sambodhi, perfect Enlightenment. Zazen can help people access an inner calm, develop concentration, find the ability to connect or detach, experience a renewed sensual aliveness, awaken to the unity of all creation, and refine and master living fully and skillfully in the inter-relational multiverse present right here now.
All Core Practices in the Zen Garland Order can be understood as Zen Meditations, BodyMind practices, as all require us to be engaged experientially, whether we are concentrating on ethical, embodiment, study or service forms of practice. With beginners to Zen practice we need to help them settle down the BodyMind while deepening and slowing breathing. We teach healthy physical alignment in seated positions on chair, bench and cushion (zafu). We guide beginners to cultivate self-awareness by sitting in stillness and silence, grounded in sensing the low abdomen and how breathing expands and contracts the abdomen on inhaling and exhaling. This helps shift the default position of consciousness from cognition to sensation.
At this stage of BodyMind training, the stillness and silence eliminate distracting variables and help the beginner create a “laboratory” attention and awareness to “study the self.” This takes time, resolve, effort and patience. During this initial process, we introduce beginners to the BodyMind geography, the awareness of which mode of consciousness they are functioning with in the lived moment — thinking (concept, memory, plan, valuation, fantasy), hearing, smelling,
tasting, seeing, touching.
As students advance in training, we teach two forms of meditation: vertical mediation, which is absorptive and entails merging into a single sensate focus while releasing layer after layer of self-consciousness, which builds concentration and detachment; and horizontal meditation, which is self-environmental awareness lived moment by moment without sticking to and following any particular focus, which builds psychological flexibility, openness and Presence.
If matured students want to commit to deeper practice and finding and refining personal spiritual experience, we offer koan practice. Koans are a unique system of spiritual development. Most recount formal and informal encounters and dialogues between masters and students. Meditating on these encounters thrusts practitioners into the multi-dimensional world of spiritual experience. Presenting one’s understanding of the koan to a Zen Master requires direct BodyMind expression of the spiritual dimensions present in the koan.
Koans demand that we have opened new dimensions of BodyMind consciousness and can respond intimately and in union with these perspectives, not with explanations, but with living presence, embodying realization and bringing the ancient story into the here and now. Koan practice demands direct performance of the situation presented in the koan.
Ultimately all forms of Zen Meditation train us to be fully present and functioning interactively and co-creatively in the Life World of each moment. As Roshi Genki has said, “For me, the most accomplished form of Zen meditation is the wisdom of living life with the compassionate care born from our identity with all creation.”
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