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The History Of Zen Meditation

Aug 21, 2008
The history of Zen meditation has its origins in Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. Some believe that it originated from yogic methods. Buddhism entered China centuries ago via a monk called Bodhidharma who visited China to teach Buddhism and blended with Taoism and its principles and practices were adopted. These practices include vegetarianism, avoiding alcohol, emptiness, etc. Gradually 'Chan' or Zen Buddhism became a major part of Chinese Buddhism and also created a huge body of scriptures, in spite of the fact that the transmission of these principles does not involve words. Zen meditation has also spread to the Americas and Europe and is widely practiced.

There is hardly anyone who has not heard about the history of Zen meditation today, with the concept of Zen so popularly being discussed wherever there is any talk about meditation. Zen or sitting meditation, as it is called, involves sitting in a series of positions and relaxing the body and mind to bare oneself to oneness with nature. As the specific positions are followed, distracting thoughts exit as the heart rate lowers, gentle breathing follows and the individual transcends to the meditative state of reflection. The energy that results from this leads to a connection between the soul, mind and body.

Throughout the history of Zen meditation, the practice is to have your mind in the current moment - there is no contemplation on the past or future. Zen meditation focuses the mind on the thought of the moment, which basically means that you mentally travel to nothingness. Instead you aim for a blank mind that is clear, clean, and calm.

The Sequence Of Steps Involved In A Typical Zen Meditation Practice:
  • Become conscious of your inhaled breath and exhaled breath.
  • As the breathing gets deeper and slower, focus on them and feel the sense of peace.
  • During the inhaled breath focus on the physical body. During the exhaled breath get each part of your body to relax starting with the shoulders and gradually working towards other parts of the body.
  • The inhaled breath helps you relax the various parts of the body and the exhaled breath helps you appreciate and empathize with its needs.
  • Next, get your facial muscles to relax one by one and in the process, relay a gentle smile to different parts of your body.
  • As you experience oneness with your body, ensure that all the muscles are relaxed.
  • Your inhaled breath will make you conscious to the joy of life, the wonders of breathing, seeing and hearing.
  • Bring yourself back to focusing on your inhaled and exhaled breath - to the current moment.
  • Your posture of sitting at this stage will make you feel in control of yourself, your body, your soul and mind.
The above steps flow into each other through regular practice of Zen meditation.

Za'zen is said to be the core of the Zen meditation process and aims at making a major shift in our attitude towards life. It tries to release the pressure of expectations and develop acceptance and appreciation for what is, and not what is expected. This is the basis from which the history of Zen meditation evolved.
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