While yoga seeks to outline a system of mental development, zen is just the Japanese pronunciation of Dhayana (Chan in China). In other words, the Far East took the basic concept of meditation and applied it to ALL aspects of life making life itself a form of meditation. This became the way of Zen or "The Tao". Here is an extract from one of my commentaries that explains the most commonly used mediation technique of zen practitioners.
Note: "Zen" is how the Japanese pronounce the Sanskrit word for meditation, i.e. "Dhayana".
A Basic Outline Of Meditational Practices (Extract from Book 1 of A Zen Commentary On The Yoga Sutras)
1.1 Now, instruction in Union.
There is no preamble to this text. It’s a straightforward, ‘Ok, now I will teach you how to achieve union’. It’s meant to be understood by the novice. In other words, it’s a basic meditation manual that is as ancient as it is concise. Note that “yoga” means to ‘join together’ or ‘to become one’ or more succinctly “union”.
1.2. Union is restraining the thought-streams natural to the mind.
This sutra indicates that this is a manual to attain zen or 'dhayna'.
The most traditional technique is to count your breaths, while breathing deeply and slowly, to slow down the mental chatter and focus the mind. A more advanced technique tells you to find the “gap” between thoughts and learn to space it out till you can maintain the no-thought state for long periods of time. I’ve included 2 meditation techniques below, from a Zen classic, to help a person get started (there’s also an outline of meditation on Instant Stress Management.com).
In more detail; “Restraining” thoughts that are natural to the mind refers to the duality that arises when you define yourself as “I” and start labeling the rest of the world thereby creating “the 10 thousand things”. When you remove such thoughts all you see is “that”, “that” and “that”, i.e. it’s all part of the same unified experience of living. From a Zen perspective, you achieve union with yourself by getting rid of extraneous thoughts and conceptions.
In other words, creation of the ego (which is a natural behaviour of the mind) takes you away from the experience of union. Letting go of the ego (storytelling or ‘meaning making’ aspect of the mind) is restraining thoughts streams natural to the mind. This often manifests itself as constant mental chattering or inability to maintain mental silence.
Two meditation techniques from the The Religion Of The Samurai used to attain dhayana (zen);
Zazen, or the Sitting in Meditation.--Habit comes out of practice, and forms character by degrees, and eventually works out destiny. Therefore we must practically sow optimism, and habitually nourish it in order to reap the blissful fruit of Enlightenment. The sole means of securing mental calmness is the practice of Zazen, or the sitting in Meditation. This method was known in India as Yoga as early as the Upanisad period, and developed by the followers of the Yoga system. But Buddhists sharply distinguished Zazen from Yoga, and have the method peculiar to themselves. Kei-zan describes the method to the following effect: 'Secure a quiet room neither extremely light nor extremely dark, neither very warm nor very cold, a room, if you can, in the Buddhist temple located in a beautiful mountainous district. You should not practise Zazen in a place where a conflagration or a flood or robbers
may be likely to disturb you, nor should you sit in a place close by the sea or drinking-shops or brothel-houses, or the houses of widows and of maidens or buildings for music, nor should you live in close proximity to the place frequented by kings, ministers, powerful statesmen, ambitious or insincere persons. You must not sit in Meditation in a windy or very high place lest you should get ill. Be sure not to let the wind or smoke get into your room, not to expose it to rain and storm. Keep your room clean. Keep it not too light by day nor too dark by night. Keep it warm in winter and cool in summer. Do not sit leaning against a wall, or a chair, or a screen. You must not wear soiled clothes or beautiful clothes, for the former are the cause of illness, while the latter the cause of attachment. Avoid the Three Insufficiencies-that is to say, insufficient clothes, insufficient food, and insufficient sleep. Abstain from all sorts of uncooked or hard or spoiled or unclean food, and also from very delicious dishes, because the former cause troubles in your alimentary canal, while the latter cause you to covet after diet. Eat and drink just to appease your hunger and thirst, never mind whether the food be tasty or not. Take your meals regularly and punctually, and never sit in Meditation immediately after any meal. Do not practise Dhyana soon after you have taken a heavy dinner, lest you should get sick thereby. Sesame, barley, corn, potatoes, milk, and the like are the best material for your food. Frequently wash your eyes, face, hands, and feet, and keep them cool and clean.
'There are two postures in Zazen--that is to say, the crossed-leg sitting, and the half crossed-leg sitting. Seat yourself on a thick cushion, putting it right under your haunch. Keep your body so erect that the tip of the nose and the navel are in one perpendicular line, and both ears and shoulders are in the same plane. Then place the right foot upon the left thigh, the left foot on the right thigh, so as the legs come across each other. Next put your right hand with the palm upward on the left foot, and your left hand on the right palm with the tops of both the thumbs touching each other. This is the posture called the crossed-leg sitting. You may simply place the left foot upon the right thigh, the position of the hands being the same as in the cross-legged sitting. This posture is named the half crossed-leg sitting.
'Do not shut your eyes, keep them always open during whole Meditation. Do not breathe through the mouth; press your tongue against the roof of the mouth, putting the upper lips and teeth together with the lower. Swell your abdomen so as to hold the breath in the belly; breathe rhythmically through the nose, keeping a measured time for inspiration and expiration. Count for some time either the inspiring or the expiring breaths from one to ten, then beginning with one again. Concentrate your attention on your breaths going in and out as if you are the sentinel standing at the gate of the nostrils. If you do some mistake in counting, or be forgetful of the breath, it is evident that your mind is distracted.'
Chwang Tsz seems to have noticed that the harmony of breathing is typical of the harmony of mind, since he says: " The true men of old did not dream when they slept. Their breathing came deep and silently. The breathing of true men comes (even) from his heels, while men generally breathe (only) from their throats." At any rate, the counting of breaths is an expedient for calming down of mind, and elaborate rules are given in the Zen Sutra, but Chinese and Japanese Zen masters do not lay so much stress on this point as Indian teachers.
The Breathing Exercise of the Yogi.--Breathing exercise is one of the practices of Yoga, and somewhat similar in its method and end to those of Zen. We quote here Yogi Ramacharaka to show how modern Yogis practice it: "(1) Stand or sit erect. Breathing through the nostrils, inhale steadily, first filling the lower part of the lungs, which is accomplished by bringing into play the diaphragm, which, descending, exerts a gentle pressure on the abdominal organs, pushing forward the front walls of the abdomen. Then fill the middle part of the lungs, pushing out the lower ribs, breastbone, and chest. Then fill the higher portion of the lungs, protruding the upper chest, thus lifting the chest, including the upper six or seven pairs of ribs. In the final movement the lower part of the abdomen will be slightly drawn in, which movement gives the lungs a support, and also helps to fill the highest part of the lungs. At the first reading it may appear that this breath consists of three distinct movements. This, however, is not the correct idea. The inhalation is continuous, the entire chest cavity from the lower diaphragm to the highest point of the chest in the region of the collar-bone being expanded with a uniform movement. Avoid a jerking series of inhalations, and strive to attain a steady, continuous action. Practice will soon overcome the tendency to divide the inhalation into three movements, and will result in a uniform continuous breath. You will be able to complete the inhalation in a couple of seconds after a little practice. (2) Retain the breath a few seconds. (3) Exhale quite slowly, holding the chest in a firm position, and drawing the abdomen in a little and lifting it upward slowly as the air leaves the lungs. When the air is entirely exhaled, relax the chest and abdomen. A little practice will render this part of exercise easy, and the movement once acquired will be afterwards performed almost automatically."
This part is longer, by far, than any other part of the commentary as the basic and traditional meditational techniques are covered here which provide the foundation of the mental training for yoga and zen practice as far as this book is concerned with appendix one providing more meditation training for the curious.
1.3. Then the seer dwells in his own nature.
So, what is your “nature”? Your nature is that part of you that doesn't exist in conception, like when you get lost in the beauty of a sunset or any landscape.
As it is, by letting go of various thoughts and emotions that one imagines around one’s 'self' is what opens the door to direct experience. This direct experience brings you to the 'mystical experience' of oneness that people have felt when the ego dissolves and thus you cease experiencing the world around you through the ego and live it directly, like a baby with no concept of self, but as an adult who can enjoy the world with confidence.
Alan watts describes it best;
“When I use the word mysticism I am referring to a band of experience – a state of consciousness, shall we say – that seems to me to be as prevalent among human beings as measles…
One ordinarily feels that one is a separate individual in confrontation with the world that is foreign to one’s self, that is ‘not me’ In the mystical kind of experience, though, that separate individual finds itself to be of one and the same nature or identity as the outside of the world. In other words, the individual suddenly no longer feels like a stranger in the world, rather, the external world feels as if it were his or her own body.” Lecture on Mysticism and Morality by Alan Watts
In other words, when you 'restrain' the thoughts that arise from your ego you attain union with yourself and your experience.
A technique from The Religion of the Samurai describes it another way which contains the more popular conception of mysticism, i.e. an experience of divinity;
Calmness of Mind.--The Yogi breathing above mentioned is fit rather for physical exercise than for mental balance, and it will be beneficial if you take that exercise before or after Meditation. Japanese masters mostly bold it very important to push forward. The lowest part of the abdomen during Zazen, and they are right so far as the present writer's personal experiences go.
'If you feel your mind distracted, look at the tip of the nose; never lose sight of it for some time, or look at your own palm, and let not your mind go out of it, or gaze at one spot before you.' This will greatly help you in restoring the equilibrium of your mind. Chwang Tsz thought that calmness of mind is essential to sages, and said: "The stillness of the sages does not belong to them as a consequence of their skillful ability; all things are not able to disturb their minds; it is on this account that they are still. When water is still, its clearness shows the beard and eyebrows (of him who looks into it). It is a perfect level, and the greatest artificer takes his rule from it. Such is the clearness of still water, and how much greater is that of the human spirit? The still mind of the sage is the mirror of heaven and earth, the glass of all things."
Forget all worldly concerns, expel all cares and anxieties, let go of passions and desires, give up ideas and thoughts, set your mind at liberty absolutely, and make it as clear as a burnished mirror. Thus let flow your inexhaustible fountain of purity, let open your inestimable treasure of virtue, bring forth your inner hidden nature of goodness, disclose your innermost divine wisdom, and waken your Enlightened Consciousness to see Universal Life within you. "Zazen enables the practitioner," says Kei-zan, "to open up his mind, to see his own nature, to become conscious of mysteriously pure and bright spirit, or eternal light within him."
Once become conscious of Divine Life within you, you can see it in your brethren, no matter how different they may be in circumstances, in abilities, in characters, in nationalities, in language, in religion, and in race. You can see it in animals, vegetables, and minerals, no matter how diverse they may be in form, no matter how wild and ferocious some may seem in nature, no matter how unfeeling in heart some may seem, no matter how devoid of intelligence some may appear, no matter how insignificant some may be, no matter how simple in construction some may be, no matter how lifeless some may seem. You can see that the whole universe is Enlightened and penetrated by Divine Life.
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