When walking, standing, sitting, lying down, speaking,
being silent, moving, being still.
At all times, in all places, without interruption – what is this?
One mind is infinite kalpas.
– from the Compass of Zen
When we come together to meditate, we first experience becoming quiet, relaxed and grounded. After that, we start to see more clearly our habitual tendencies in body, speech and mind.
As we continue this way with Zen meditation, we develop a deeper understanding of what we really are and what is our job in this world. Over time, correct practice will also transform our everyday life. Although challenges appear, we naturally become more equipped to face them and find creative solutions for ourselves and others.
A combination of these forms are also used in retreats. These practices can also be done at home. Whether you are new to Zen or already have a practice that you do in Zen or another tradition, all are welcome.
Traditionally in China and Korea, only monastics engaged in Zen meditation, usually spending at least six months each year in retreat. Today, most Zen practitioners are ordinary men and women with jobs, families and community obligations. Since few lay practitioners can dedicate themselves to full-time Zen meditation, modern Zen teaches the importance of ‘mind-sitting.’
Mind-sitting means keeping a not-moving mind while engaged in in our everyday life activities. What are you doing right now? In each moment, just let go of your opinion, condition and situation. Then your mind becomes clear and when you are doing something, you just do it. Clear and complete actions already help this world. This is everyday Zen.
Bowing means that our body and mind become one. By using our physical form, we do bowing practice to connect body, breath and mind so that our thinking is cut off and our actions are clear in this moment. Sometimes our body is here but the mind is off somewhere else. Then bowing helps us to bring our mind and body back to correct situation, correct relationship, and correct function moment to moment.
When we bow 108 times first thing in the morning, we purify our habitual tendencies and get refreshed with a clear mind for the day. 108 is a number originating in Hinduism and Buddhism, and symbolizes 108 mind hindrances. By doing 108 bows daily we become more clear and start changing our habit energy which we call karma.
Bowing is also a useful practice if we have strong emotions such as anger, resentment or fear. By consistently bowing, our center (Kor. danjeon, Ch. tantien, Jap. hara) gets stronger and stronger. We can be in charge of our emotions, believe in ourselves more and function spontaneously with clarity and energy. Over time, our practice then can develop a direction with this question: “who is bowing?” Perceive who is the one that bows, and your practice will benefit not only yourself but all beings.
If you cannot physically do the full prostrations, standing bows or sitting bows are also good practice. The important point here is that you are doing ‘mind bowing’.
Zen chanting means becoming one with sound by paying attention to the sound of your own voice and that of others, as well as the moktak (wooden instrument) or bell. Each syllable is clearly pronounced and we follow the rhythm, speed and intonations. It is a ‘just do it’ practice. Some of the chants are texts from Buddhist sutras, but don’t worry about the meaning of the words. By reciting the text continuously with attention and sincerity, one day you will attain the meaning by itself.
When we chant this way, we don’t have time to think or check. There is no need to hold any opinion and our mind becomes clear. Chanting also helps to digest our emotions. If we feel sad or frustrated, chanting can soothe our hearts and give energy to direct our aspirations to help ourselves and others. Whether chanting alone at home or with a group, make each sound clearly by just doing it, and perceive – who is chanting? This is direction of Zen chanting.
Student: Zen master, what is nirvana?
Zen master Seung Sahn: Nirvana? Together action is nirvana.
Walking meditation is done between sitting periods during practice sessions or retreats, or by itself as a practice. The human body is designed to move, and while we sit for a time to meditate, it is just as important to stand up and walk as a continuation of our practice. Modern lifestyle has proven that too often for many of us, we spend a lot of time sitting at our desk in front of the computer for prolonged periods of time. Walking meditation can help us balance our sitting with movement. Breaks of 10 minutes of walking in between two 30-minute periods of sitting are recommended.
Mantra Walk is a movement based meditation aimed at becoming clear in mind and fit in body by simply walking and doing a mantra. It is a practice that helps us develop awareness while moving. Mantrawalk is a simple practice that can be done in any situation; in a busy city taking a short break during work sessions, or out in the wilderness while hiking or walking by a pond. When we look closely, there are many moments in our day when we can relax and just go for a walk anywhere, even for a short time. That can be our daily spiritual practice.
How do I do a Mantrawalk?
Walk at a leisurely pace so that your breathing is normal at a level where you could hold a conversation without panting. Walking can be done on a flat or varied terrain as long as you are able to keep your breath and heart rate even and at a relaxed walking pace.
On Keeping a Mantra
In Zen meditation, a mantra can be used as a technique to cut off thinking. In the Kwan Um tradition various mantras can be used depending on the practitioner. ‘Kwan Se Um Bosal’ (Kor. for Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva, the Bodhisattva of Compassion) is a common mantra that can be used for walking. For clear instructions on using a mantra for your own meditation practice, we recommend you first consult a teacher.
A mantra can be kept while walking by using a beaded mala or a number counter to count. When walking, repeat the mantra quietly inside, pay attention to the road and your surroundings and be aware of your breath. You may find that the mantra and walking become a rhythm. At a crossing, if a red light appears, stop. When it turns green, check for cars and then go. You can hear the sound of birds or cars clearly, or if someone calls your name, you respond. That is clear mind and clear mantrawalk practice. Regular mantrawalks can be incorporated into retreats, workshops or community activities.
Kong-ans (Ch.: kung-an, Jap.: koan, meaning ‘public case’) have their origin in the records of encounters between Zen practitioners in ancient China. A kong-an interview is the private exchange between teacher and student wherein the teacher checks the student’s grasp of the point of the kong-an. Kong-ans are probably best known for their unusual, seemingly non-rational quality of their questions, language and dialogues, and are not meant to be studied, analyzed or approached conceptually. The kong-an is an experiential tool that helps us cut through our thinking so that we can just perceive truth and function clearly.
A monk asked Joju, “Does a dog have Buddha nature?”
Joju answered “Mu.”
That is the kong-an. Then there are questions connected with the kong-an, for example:
“Does a dog have Buddha nature?”
Sometimes the kong-an and the question are the same, for example:
“The whole universe is on fire; through what kind of samadhi can
you escape from being burned?”
Associated with kong-ans are short commentaries, sometimes in the form of poems. Some kong-ans go back over 1,500 years, others are created spontaneously by the teacher right there in the interview room. Some Zen schools recommend using the kong-an as the single-pointed focus of meditation. This is not our style. Our kong-an practice has two functions: first, it helps us keep the correct direction of our practice—only don’t know—and second, it helps our wisdom to grow. The kong-an will often come up naturally during practice and in our life, so there is no need to make a special effort to hold it. Don’t worry about this. If we practice sincerely, the kong-an interview will take care of itself.
There is an interview room etiquette, involving bows and prostrations. The teacher will help you through it your first time, and as many times as you need afterwards.