Meditation in the Zen Tradition

Meditation in the Zen Tradition

The word `Zen’ comes from the Sanskrit `Dhyana’, meaning meditation, and one of the main characteristics of the Zen schools of China and Japan is the importance they give to the practice of contemplation. The following is translated from an article on Meditation by a Japanese Zen Master, Amakuki Sessan, a monk who lived in the present century.

Those who perform meditation for even one session
Destroy innumerable accumulated sins ;
How should there be wrong Paths for them ?
The Paradise of Amida Buddha is not far.

These four lines speak of the effects of sitting in meditation (Za-zen) especially in regard to repentance and destruction of sins. The Sixth Patriarch, defining the word Zazen, says :

Outwardly to be in the world of good and evil yet with no thought arising in the heart, this is Sitting (Za) :
Inwardly to see one’s own nature and not move from it, this is Meditation (Zen).

The wrong paths of the verse are those which lead ultimately to reincarnation as a dweller in hell, as a ghost, or as an animal.

If the meditation practice is really done, then the merits are as great as declared in the song. The important thing in practising Zen, rather than the question of the length or shortness of the time, is that the mind should be in the state where the meditation is steady and continuous. When the song teaches us that those who perform meditation for even one session destroy innumerable accumulated sins, it means that if this meditation goes into the real Samadhi, then even the one session has this great power.

One session means a single sitting, as when we set up a stick of incense and do not leave our meditation till after it has burnt down.

Directions are given for our practice.

In a place, which must be quiet, spread a thick cushion and sit yourself on it in an upright posture.

Now first swell out the abdomen and put your strength there.

Let the shoulders be in a straight line below the ears, and navel below the nose.

Make the spine straight. The mouth should be shut, but you may have the eyes slightly opened.

Making the breath flow gently will help to secure a correct posture.

Then meditate on the text you have been given, or in the case of beginners there is a method in which they count their breaths and so remove dull and distracted thought. So entering the Samadhi of undisturbed purity, remain in the meditation.

Those who are really determined to enter upon meditation should read some small classic on the subject, such as the Zazengi.

Of course it may be that there are those whose insight and whose inner nature are so advanced that they would not necessarily require to practise in the way given. But I believe there are many advantages in beginning in the prescribed manner. If the practice is truly carried out, then one session of meditation is one session of Buddha, a day of meditation is a day of Buddha.    Or as an Ancient has said :

One inch of meditation, one inch of Buddha;
So inch by inch, make the six-foot form of Buddha.

If we do our meditation practice properly, then the thoughts which arise, though they be the sins and impediments accumulated for aeons past, will be extinguished of themselves, and then where should the wrong paths be The Paradise of Amida is not far. We shall enter the state where this very body is the Buddha. The thing to be kept in mind in meditation is to have the great conviction that this is the path that can save me, and it is only this path that can save me.

The attitude of trying just to see what it is like, or as an experiment, is not appropriate in such a serious business. Underneath the great Faith you will come upon the great Inquiry, and then if you whip up your efforts with great determination and rush on ahead, below the great Inquiry there is the great Enlightenment, and without any doubt know that you will have it.

Without claiming that the practice of meditation will always lead at once to the removal of ignorance and the opening of enlightenment, yet to be able to sit quiet for a time and turn one’s attention within oneself is a great advantage in ordinary life, and this is the beginning of meditation. People these days have their heads boiling with thought and are ever turned outwards as if searching for something.

They have forgotten how to still the heart and turn within for the inward vision.

In fact they know the way of going forward, but not how to withdraw.

In controlling the traffic at cross-roads, we have the traffic lights, Go ! and Stop !

If there were only the Go ! and not the Stop ! accidents would be inevitable. The Stop ! is essential.

Modern people only strive to rush on, as if they were all in a horse-race, and they have lost the power of withdrawing and reflecting. They go ahead and go ahead, but in the end there is a deadlock, a jam, and they finish up pathetic victims of a spiritual disaster.

By paying attention to how to withdraw, by turning within and reflecting, one can reach the inexhaustible treasure there, can experience directly the spiritual Paradise of Amida.

One has sometimes heard that to practise meditation it is necessary to retire to a mountain away from society, or perhaps to bury oneself in some old temple, to discard humanity and become a so-called hermit. Of course, it may be that for the final training in seeing one’s own nature and attaining enlightenment it would in some cases be necessary for a time, but this is not one’s objective.

Zen must be to use that power which grips the Zen meditation and to bring it directly to bear upon and vivify our present daily life.  Withdrawing into meditation, and then advancing and handling affairs this advancing and withdrawing, movement and rest, together, must be Zen.

The Taoist book Saikondan says:

The rest in rest is not the real rest; there can be rest even in movement.

An ancient worthy says :

Meditation in movement is a hundred, a thousand, a million times superior to meditation at rest.

In this way he teaches the importance of meditation in activity.

The Sutra teaches that by the practice of meditation the lake of the heart becomes pure and calm, and when the lake of the ordinary man’s heart becomes pure, it is the reflection of a Bodhisattva which appears within it. When the wellspring of the heart is purified, the wrong paths which otherwise appear as a result of his wrong actions, to that man become as if non-existent. How should there be wrong paths for him ?

The Paradise of Amida Buddha is not far. As the phrase goes :

This heart becomes one’s meditation room.  

The world of light, of virtue, appears, and now our daily life has a changed meaning.

In fact, for the first time, our ordinary life becomes radiant with real meaning.


Translated by T.L.

© Trevor Leggett

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