Cape Cod Zen Center  

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Cape Cod Zen Center Meditation Guide

What is Zen?  Zen comes from Chinese “Ch’an” and before that from Sanskrit “Dhyana”; which means meditation or concentration.  But this means a broad view: not just sitting meditation, but all forms of meditation: sitting, walking, chanting, and bowing.  But even broader: each and every aspect of living (cooking, resting, watching baseball, working, everything) done with a “Clear Zen Mind”!

Thus is the essence of Zen: that it really is not a formal religion, even though it has its roots in Buddhism.  Zen is a way of living: how to live one’s live; to perceive one’s life with a Clear Mind (free of likes, dislikes, desire, greed, anger and hatred); to understand Who your are (your “True Self”); and to dedicate one’s life to helping ALL beings.

Why study Zen, and why meditate?  Because this world is suffering, and we all need to do what we can to relieve that suffering.  The examples are, sadly, innumerable: people depressed, people hurting or murdering others, people kidnapping children, people in almost half the world’s countries at war.  And of course, September 11, 2001, where a handful of extremists thought that crashing airplanes into buildings was “appropriate”!  Why are these things happening?  In large part, it is because of many people filled with desires and greed and lust; or with folks overcome by dislikes and negative opinions and prejudice and anger and hatred!  SO why do we study Zen?  We study and meditate to clear our minds, and understand ourselves, and open our minds; and then to help other people to do the same!

Goal of Zen & Meditation – Wisdom & Compassion
The goal of Zen is simple: to help the world and to reduce all the suffering in the world.  We do this by first attaining “wisdom” in Zen terms.  Wisdom means several things in Zen: 1) It first means understanding that our opinions and desires and dislikes and anger, be they big or small, create suffering in ourselves and in others.  2) It next means understanding that, while we often want things to “stay the same,” that we and everything in this world are constantly changing, changing, changing.  If we “hang on” to this delusion of “no change,” then this too creates suffering.  3) Finally, it means understanding that we are “one” with everyone and everything in the Universe.  We are all made of the same “substance”; but that given this same substance, we are also individuals too!  It’s like the animals crackers that most of us remember: the animal crackers are all made from the same dough, but then each takes the shape of a lion or elephant, etc.  This “universal substance” has no name; but in Zen, for convenience. we call it “Buddha Nature” or “God Nature” or “Original Nature,” knowing that it gets conceptualized (therefore individual “reality”) when we name it.  Once we have Wisdom (that is, Enlightenment), we proceed with the second goal: to help and teach all beings in the Universe.  That means helping, in any way (caring for others, cooking, working, teaching, etc.) that is done for others, not for ourselves.  Now, many of you already have great compassion, and help others.  That’s wonderful!!  Zen simply says that by first attaining Wisdom, that we can do a better job of helping others! 

How does one practice Zen?  A quick Meditation Instruction: Traditionally, in China and Korea, only monks did Zen practice. But Zen has come to the West and here lay people practice Zen. This has changed the character of Zen. Now our teaching is about Zen in everyday life. Sitting Zen all the time is not possible for lay people. Everyday-life Zen means learning mind-sitting. Mind-sitting means a “not-moving” mind. How do you keep a “not-moving” mind? Put down your opinion and situation, moment-to-moment. When you are doing something, just DO it. This is everyday Zen. For lay people the teaching of great love, great compassion and the “Great Bodhisattva Way” is very important. To attain that, it is necessary to keep a not-moving mind; then correct situation, correct function, and correct relationship appear by themselves in everyday life.  There are three Elements – Body Position, Breathing, and Mind
Basic Sitting Form/Posture: Place a cushion on a mat and sit in a simple cross-legged position.  On your mat and cushion, have three “solid” points of contact - your buttocks on the cushion, and both knees firmly on the mat.
Basic Posture Variations: 1) Full-lotus: sit with both feet upon your thighs.  2)Half-lotus: sit with one foot upon the opposite thigh and with the other foot under the opposite thigh.  3)Quarter-lotus: sit with one foot upon the opposite calf and with the other foot under the opposite thigh.  4)"Burmese" posture:  sit with both feet touching the mat.  Pile several cushions on top of each other, turning them sideways (widest part of cushion runs from the front to the back of the mat, not left to right), and straddle them. This is often comfortable for beginners, but is not a stable position if you have a tendency to fall asleep during the sitting period.  Kneel on the mat and put a cushion on your calves and sit on it.
Other posture options include: 1) Use a 'meditation bench' consisting of a slanted board on 2 legs; put it over the calves as you kneel on the mat and then sit on the bench; 2) Sitting on a chair - sit comfortably with feet flat on floor; sit erect with back straight; and 3) Standing - with your hands in hapchang (“prayer”) position).
Common Errors: 1) Not sitting with the backbone straight. This may be remedied by using more cushions.  Most people are also more comfortable sitting with their hips higher (on cushion) than their knees. 2) Sitting past one's physical endurance so that the mind becomes focused on the physical position instead of its real work.
Spine: Sit erect, keeping your spine straight, as if someone were gently tugging at the top of your head, with shoulders back and loose; tip your head forward slightly, tuck in your chin so that you can see the floor about 3 feet in front of you.
Hands: Place your hands in your lap, just below your belly button; place your left hand over your right hand (both palms up), and put your thumbs together – to make an oval.  This is called “maha mudra.”
Eyes: Recommend keeping eyes half open, and gently gazing – about 45 degrees down - at the floor in front of you.

2. Breathing: Recommend breathing through the nose – unless allergies, cold, etc. don’t permit.  Take deep breaths – expanding your diaphragm down into your abdomen; when you do this, you can feel your “belly” expand out as you breathe in.  In all meditation techniques, the breath is important. To calm your body down, it is helpful to take several long, deep breaths at the beginning of meditation. Breathe using the diaphragm and center it in the lower belly. It should be relaxed, natural and quiet - the breath should breathe you.

3. Mind Practice: These practices are the heart of meditation.  Allow your mind to quietly stop thinking and only perceive one’s environment (texture of carpet or floor, sounds of birds, etc.).  Different mind practices have different effects on the mind when they are practiced.  Some of the various techniques are:
Mantra Practice: Using a mantra to calm the mind and strengthen the center is one technique used by Zen students.  To do this, we quietly say a “mantra” to ourselves, to keep us from “internal dialogue” (thinking).  The main difference between the mantras is the length of the mantra used and the mantra's direction. Generally the more incessant the thinking, the shorter the mantra.  The usual technique is to recite the mantra constantly, paying attention to it and allowing all other thinking to drop away. This takes some practice since it is very easy to let one part of the brain “do” the mantra while the other part is thinking about dinner or going to the movies. When this happens, gently bring the mind back to the mantra without any judgment.  The most common mantra used in our School is: “Clear Mind, Clear Mind, Clear Mind -- Don't Know”   This mantra is usually suggested to beginners in conjunction with a breathing exercise. Breathe in to a count of 3, saying "clear mind" at each count and breathe out to a count of 7 saying 'dooooonnn't knnnooooooow' just once for the whole 7 count. The count may vary with the individual, but the exhalation should be more than twice as long as the inhalation.  If you start thinking, that’s okay – simply go back to the mantra and only perceiving your surroundings, moment to moment.
Counting the Breaths: The breath is counted either on the exhalation (best for beginners) or the inhalation (more difficult) from 1 to 10.  When you lose count or reach 10, start over.
Clear Mind Meditation: This form of meditation involves just sitting and being aware of what is going on at just each moment. This is moment-to-moment mind. It hears the birds in the trees, the cars going by, the planes overhead, and the children playing outside, etc.  To the clear mind, there is no such thing as “noisy”, it all just “is”….  Meditation Practice times.  Barnstable Unitarian Church - 8 a.m. Tuesdays.  Also see our Cape Cod Zen Center web site –