FROM MAHAYANA IN INDIA >> CHAN IN CHINA >> ZEN IN JAPAN
The evolution of Mahayana Buddhism in India, one of three principal Buddhist sects there at the time - to the development of Chan - (meaning meditation in Chinese) to what eventually became Zen - (meaning meditation in Japanese) spreading to Japan at the beginning of the 12th Century.
Zen and its relationship with Japanese Budo goes right back to this period of Japanese history..
Zazen is at the heart of Zen Buddhist practice.
Zazen (literally "seated meditation") is a meditative discipline practitioners perform to calm the body and the mind and experience insight into the nature of existence.
It was introduced to the Japanese Samurai to show them how to always "be in the present moment" which was the epicentre of the teachings and philosophy of Buddha and moulded by Shinto and the practice of the Virtues grounded in Bushido, which was called Giri - or Duty.
It is also at the heart of the Budokan mindset.
It is the cement that binds all our Japanese Budo together, because everything depends on the mind.
Lao Tzu said that Meditation is "vital energy" and you do feel vitalised or energized after your practise and now there is sound science behind it as your levels of oxygen in the blood begin to rise.
Our purpose here is not to get bogged down by the sheer weight of the Zen scriptures.
Zen scholars have produced copious written documents on Buddhist teaching for centuries, most of which are way beyond the reach of any laymen in not only trying to reaad them, but the understanding of them and it is the latter that is often the cause of rejecting them.
This is a very strong reason for not getting involved in the practice of "Zen" because the word itself has been taken out of context from its original meaning - meditation.
Ancient practitioners like the Samurai and their teachers attributed the daily pratice of ZA (seated) ZEN (meditation) - as something that gave them "peace of mind" - leading to what became known as "silent illumination"
Shikantaza (just sitting) is objectless meditation, in which the practitioner does not use any specific object of meditation, but uses the power developed in concentration to remain in a state of conscious awareness, favoured by the Soto School of Zen Buddhism.
CLICK HERE TO READ AN AIDE MEMOIRE OF A TYPICAL SHIKANTAZA EXPERIENCE WRITTEN BY DAVID PASSMORE
HOW TO DO SIMPLE MEDITATION
In this Podcast, after you have spent a few minutes establishing a rhythm in your breathing, you will be asked to become aware of your senses and go through a few exercises in managing your thoughts.
All that is needed is somewhere to sit that is free from any distractions - something to sit on in a upright position so that you are comfortable and something that will require you to focus your mind - such as conscious or rhythmical breathing - which you will need to learn how to do to get into the method of learning to focus your attention - use the Podcaast below.
As you begin to manage your breathing rhythms oxygen levels begin to rise pretty soon after you start, your muscles soften and you begin to relax.
Serotonin, the daytime calming hormone is triggered as a result and soon begins to do just that - calm you.
You will need to micromanage your posture from time to time, so that your spine is upright and balanced.
And the only other thng you need is time - around 20-30 minutes a day.
After thousands of hours of meditation experienced daily over the years we know that it only has good consequences.
Once that has been realised, pretty early on as it happens, you can begin to delve into some of the articles and literature available, so that your understanding of the practice of Zazen, is like Zen itself once you get it- SIMPLE.
It is a "rich unfolding of contentment".
Before you can benefit from the practice of SHIKANTAZA you will need to do some training in how to breathe consciously and maintain a rhythm for extended periods of time that you set for yourself.
Its really not difficult to do and does wonders for your Budo training and practice!
Practice makes perfect (almost) and you will know when you are ready to begin to do SHIKANTAZA - MEDITATION WHICH IS FREE.
Listen to these two Podcasts to help you get started.
You will probably use these Podcasts maybe 4-5 times and then you should be able to do this on your own.
HOW TO SIT COMFORTABLY
It doesn't matter whether you are sitting on a cushion on a floor, on the edge of a seat, or kneeling on a stool - your knee needs to be below the line of your pelvis - to an angle of 5º/10º which as you can see rotates your pelvis forward slightly.
Your thighs should not be at 90º to the upright body.
YOUR UPPER BODY NEEDS TO BE PERFECTLY UPRIGHT AND BALANCED SO THAT WHEN YOU COMPLETE EVEN AN HOURS ZEN OR MEDITATION YOU SHOULD FEEL NO MUSCULAR STIFFNESS AT ALL.
YOUR LOVER ABDOMINALS AND MUSCLES OF THE LOWER BACK SHOULD NOT BE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR UPRIGHT POSTURE - IT IS ENTIRELY SKELETAL.
This makes the lower lumbar vertebrae a little more concave.
Which allows you to raise your ribcage in a gentle upswing, making the lower lumbar more concave.
Without moving your shoulders, extend the head slightly forward and then backward until a gentle stop is reached with a natural lowering of the chin.
Illustration courtesy of Will Butcher.
In this position your muscles of the Torso become totally relaxed.
You can "feel" it happpening.
From the neck to the shoulders - the upper chest - the shoulder blades - the upper arms - the mid-back - the abdominals - the lower back and the lower abdominals.
All of your muscles become relaxed and soft and do not feature in supporting your upright spine, as long as you maintain this posture.
Your entire musculature of the upper body appears to feel as if they are all "hanging" from the skeletal frame.
In this way and only in this way will you emerge from an hour long 'zesshin" feeling relaxed, alert and reviatlised.
Local stifness in the lower back and the knees will occur from sitting still for lenghty periods of time.
Jusst begin with the back - lower your chin down to your chest slowly, round your shoulders forward and lean slowly forward bending your entire back for 60 seconds and then slowly sit upright.
It is suggested you straighten your legs out slowly until they are straight and generally massage each knee with both hands.
Stand up slowly with your feet an inch apart.
Lift both arms to shoulder height in front of you.
Keeping the arms out in front of you bend your body forward from your hips until your body reaches 90º to your legs.
Hold it there for 60 seconds.
Then lower your arms to the floor.
And see if they reach the floor.
Don't push it if they don't.
Just resume the upright position and breathe gently for a minute.
IF THE STONES CAN DO IT
SO CAN YOU.