Meditation in Zen

For a beginner in meditation, “anapanasati” is the word that the Buddha (Siddhartha Gautama) used to describe his personal meditation technique, and it means mindfulness established on an object all the time with each in and out breath. In the ancient Indian language of Pali, “ana” means inhale; “pana” means exhale; and “sati” means mindfulness or attention.
And meditation is the heart of Zen practice. We have different types of meditative methods, but they are all just techniques designed to investigate our experiences.
In our Zen tradition we say that the mind makes everything. Meaning our discriminating minds, caught in the world of likes and dislikes, can create or magnify our own suffering. We can lose the ability to see the world as it is.
Our teaching is aimed to pierce through our selfish desires, fears and conditionings and come back to this moment. We start doing this by keeping a great question of “What am I?” or “What is this?” when we meditate. And we do it one step at a time, moment-to-moment-to-moment. Questioning life with kind curiosity and putting down our expectations of conditions and outcomes.  

Our founding teacher, Zen Master Seung Sahn would say that meditation in Zen means keeping a “don’t-know” mind. He meant keeping 100% of your focus on the matter at hand. This is formal Zen practice. And when doing something, just do it. When driving, just drive; when eating, just eat; when working, just work.
Finally, he would say, that your don’t-know mind would become clear. Then you can see the sky, only blue. You can see the tree, only green. Your mind is like a clear mirror. Red comes, the mirror is red; white comes the mirror is white. A hungry person comes, you can give him food; a thirsty person comes, you can give her something to drink. There is no desire for myself, only for all beings. Zen Master Seung Sahn believed that this clear mind is already enlightenment, what he called Great Love, Great Compassion, the Great Bodhisattva Way.
So Buddha said that all beings have Buddha-nature (enlightenment nature). But an ancient teacher once said that a dog has no Buddha-nature. Which one is right? Which one is wrong? If you find that, you will find the true way.

Here are specific meditative practices in zen and suggested sitting forms.



A student once asked Ichu, a great painter and Zen Master, "Please write for me something of great wisdom."
Master Ichu picked up his brush and wrote one word: "Attention."
The student said, "Is that all?"
Master Ichu then wrote, "Attention. Attention."

In our practice, one key is returning our attention to the present moment as soon as we realize we have drifted away. Working against the tendency to feed one thought with another, we return calmly and without judgment to the present moment and, like pressing the “clear” function key on a calculator, begin again.

Mindfulness has become a very popular subject these days. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s definition of mindfulness is this:

“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way;
On purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

Kabat-Zinn, if you haven’t heard of him, is a well-known teacher of mindfulness meditation and the founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. He was also an early student of Zen Master Seung Sahn.

Other well-known figures spoke of the importance of bringing our wandering attention back again and again in order to make a deep mental pathway.

The faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention, over and over again, is the very root of judgment, character, and will. No one is compos sui [master of himself] if he have it not.
An education which should improve this faculty would be the education par excellence. But it is easier to define this ideal than to give practical directions for bringing it about.
— William James
As a single footstep will not make a path on the earth, so a single thought will not make a pathway in the mind. To make a deep physical path, we walk again and again. To make a deep mental path, we must think over and over the kind of thoughts we wish to dominate our lives.
— Henry David Thoreau