BUDDHIST MEDITATION : Zazen and Vipassana Meditation
ZEN Meditation (Zazen)
History & Significance
Zazen means “seated meditation” or “seated Zen” in Japanese. This type of meditation is ancient. We can find it`s roots in the Chinese Zen Buddhism (Ch`an) tradition, tracing back to Indian monk Bodhidharma (6th Century CE). In the West, the most popular form comes from Dogen Zenji (1200-1253), the founder of Soto Zen movement in Japan. Rinzai school of Zen, in Korea and Japan practice meditation similar to Zen Meditation.
How do I practice?
It is generally practiced seated on the floor over a mat and cushion, with crossed legs. Traditionally, it was done in lotus or half-lotus position. Nowadays, most practitioners sit on the floor or on a chair.
The most important aspect, is keeping the back completely straight, from the pelvis to the neck. Mouth is kept closed and eyes are kept lowered, with your gaze resting on the ground about two or three feet in front of you.
It is practiced in two ways:
Focusing on breath – focus all your attention on the movement of the breath going in and out through your nose. Counting the breath in your mind is helpful. Each time you inhale you decrement the number by one, starting with 10, and moving backward to 9, 8,7, etc. When you arrive to 1, you resume from 10 again. If you get distracted from your count, just bring back your attention to 10 and resume from there.
Just Sitting (Shikantaza) – the practitioner is not using any specific object of meditation. The goal for this form of meditation is to remain as much possible in the present moment, aware of and observing what passes through their minds and around them, without dwelling on anything in particular. This is a type of Stillness Presence Meditation.
Do I need this meditation?
Zazen is a very sober meditation style, and you can find a lot of practitioners in different communities. Also, there is a lot of information on the internet on this subject. Keeping the right posture is an aid for concentration. This meditation type is usually practiced in Zen Buddhist center (Sangha), with strong community support.
In most of this centers, you will find it coupled with other Buddhist elements, like prostrations, ritualism, chanting and group readings of the Buddha teachings. Some people will like this “package” of elements, some won`t. But definitely, having a bit of formality can create a structure for the practice, being easy to remain in a meditative state.
History & Significance
“Vipassana” is a Pali word that means “clear seeing” or “insight”. It is a traditional Buddhist practice, dating back to 6th century BC. Vipassana practice comes from the Theravada Buddhist tradition, and was popularized by S. N. Goenka and the Vipassana movement. Due to the popularity of Vipassana meditation, the “mindfulness of breathing” has gained further popularity in the West as “mindfulness”.
How do I practice?
Most teachers recommend to start with mindfulness of breath in the first stages, to train the mind and achieve “access concentration”. This is more like focused attention meditation. Then the practice moves on to developing “clear insight” on the bodily sensations and mental activity, observing them moment by moment. Here is an introduction, useful for beginners. If you want to read and learn more about this type of meditation, I suggest following up the provided links or learning from a Vipassana teacher.
Sit on a cushion on the floor, cross-legged, with your spine erect. You can use a chair, but do not support your back.
The most important thing is to develop concentration, using samatha practice. This is tipically done through breathing awareness.
Focus all your attention
Focus all your attention, from moment to moment, on the movement of your breath. Also, notice the subtle sensations of the movement of the abdomen rising and falling. You can also focus on the sensation of the air passing through the nostrils and touching the upper lips skin, on an advanced level.
As you focus on your breath, you will notice that other perceptions and sensations continue to appear: sound, feelings in the body, emotions. Simply notice this phenomena as they emerge in the field of awareness, and then return to the sensation of breathing. You focus your attention on the object of concentration (breathing), while these other thoughts or sensations are there simply as “background noise”.
We call the object that is the focus of the practice (for instance, the movement of the abdomen), the “primary object”. The “secondary object” can be anything else that arises in your field of perception. It may occur either through your five senses : sound, smell, itchiness in the body, or through your mind : memory, feeling, thought. If a secondary object hooks your attention, or if it causes desire or aversion to appear, you should focus on the secondary object for some moments. Label that object with a mental note, like “memory”, “thinking”, “desiring”. This practice is often called “nothing”.
How to react to pain?
The mental note has the capacity to identify an object in general, not in details. That is why it is important to label secondary objects with general names. If you hear a dog barking, you might want to label it with a more general term, like “voices”. If an unpleasant sensation arises, note “pain” instead of “knee pain” or “back pain”. Then return your attention to your primary meditation object.
When you find ”access concentration”, you focus your attention on the object of practice, which is a normal thought or a sensation in the body. Most of all, observe the object of awareness without attachment, letting thoughts and sensations arise and pass away of their own accord. Mental labeling is a practice that prevents you from being carried away by thoughts, and keep you in more objective observer state.
The goal of this meditation is to develop the clear seeing that the observed object exists by the three “marks of existence”: impermanence (annica), insatisfaction (dukkha), and emptiness of self (annata). As a result, you should feel a deep sensation of peace and inner freedom.
Types of Vipassana (read the answer from Anh-Minh Do)
Vipassana Dhura (very in-depth article)
Vipassana for beginners (Goenka style)
Do I need this meditation?
Vipassana is an excellent meditation to help you ground yourself in your body, and to understand how does the processes of your mind work. It is a very popular type of meditation. You can find plenty of teachers, books or online information about it as well as 3-10 days retreats. The teaching of this meditation should be always free. There are no other rituals or practices belonging to Vipassana.
If you are completely new to meditation, Vipassana or Mindfulness are probably good ways for you to start.
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