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Zen Buddhism Essay, Research Paper

Buddhism was founded by Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha (the enlightened one), in southern Nepal in the fifth and sixth centuries B. C. Buddhism teaches that meditation and the practice of good religious and moral behavior can lead to nirvana.

The teachings of the Buddha have, to this day, been passed down from teacher to student. Around 475 A.D. one of these teachers, Bodhidharma, traveled from India to China and introduced the teachings of the Buddha there. In China Buddhism mingled with Taoism. The result of this mingling was the Ch’an School of Buddhism. Around 1200 A.D. Ch’an Buddhism spread from China to Japan where it is called (at least in translation) Zen Buddhism.

Zen is also known as Eastern Buddhism, which is prominently in China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Buddhism was initially accepted by the working class and then slowly became accepted in the ruling classes. Buddhism flourished from the sixth century until the nineteen sixties when it was repressed in China during the Cultural Revolution. Zen Buddhism spread into Canada in the nineteen nineties. Buddhism has spread to all parts of the globe. Zen has influenced Japan by infiltrating all classes of citizens.

What is the essence of Zen? The question cuts right to the heart of the matter and can only be answered by you. Perhaps the best answer is “practice”. One of the central points of Zen is intuitive understanding. As a result, words and sentences have no fixed meaning, and logic is often irrelevant. Words have meaning only in relation to who is using them, who they are talking to, and what situation they are used in. Some postings are indeed nonsense; other postings appear to be nonsense at first but this is because the meaning is all between the lines. Zen and poetry have gone hand in hand for centuries.

Meditation is the key element in Zen. The harder you work to achieve Zen the less likely you are to achieve it. In fact, Zen means meditation practice. It is sometimes called a religion and sometimes called a philosophy. Choose whichever term you prefer; it simply doesn’t matter. Through my research I have found some common meditation techniques used by Zen Buddhists. These techniques are about the positioning of body and mind to experience the full affect of meditation.

Hand Positioning is the first element. Gassho is performed by placing the hands palm to palm slightly in front of the chest with the arms parallel to the floor. Shashu is performed by placing the thumb-tip of the left hand as close to the left-palm as comfortable and making a fist around it. Place the fist in the center of the chest and cover it with the right hand. Keep the elbows away from the body with the forearms parallel to the floor. Isshu is the same as shashu but with the left fist turned thumb side toward the chest. Left fist and thumb are parallel to the floor and not vertical as in shashu.

Hokkaijoin (Cosmic Mudra) is performed in the following manner. Place your right hand palm upward in your lap against the lower abdomen. Place the left-hand palm upward on top of the right. The second joints of the middle fingers should be touching, and your fingers parallel. Raise the thumbs up opposite the fingers and touch the thumb tips lightly together; forming an oval between the thumbs and fingers. The thumb tips should join at the approximate level of the navel. In some Tibetan teaching lines the right hand is placed on top of the left.

Settling Into the Posture is the second step. Place a thick mat (zaniku or zabuton) in front of the wall and place a small round cushion (zafu) on it. Sit on it facing the wall. There are several positions for the legs. If not too cold sit with bare feet.

The cross-legged positions provide greatest stability. To sit in full lotus, place the right foot on the left thigh and then the left foot on the right thigh. To sit in half lotus place your left foot on your right thigh. Try to cross the legs firmly so that the knees and the base of the spine provide a stable tripod of support. The order of the crossing of the legs may be reversed. It is also possible to simply sit on the floor with one foreleg in front of the other or kneeling using a bench or a cushion. To sit in a chair, place the feet flat on the floor and use a cushion to elevate the seat so that the upper thighs fall away from the body and follow the rest of the applicable instructions.

Rest the knees firmly on the zaniku, straighten the lower back, push the buttocks outward and the hips forward, and straighten your spine. Pull in your chin and extend the neck as though to support the ceiling. The ears and shoulders should be in the same plane with the nose directly above the navel. Straighten the back and relax shoulders, back, and abdomen without changing posture.

Keep the mouth closed placing the tongue with the tip just behind the front teeth and the rest of the tongue as close to the roof of the mouth as comfortable. Keep the eyes at least slightly open cast downward at a 45 degree angle without focusing on anything. If closed you may slip into drowsiness or daydreaming.

Rest the hands palm up on the knees and take 2 or 3 deep abdominal breaths. Exhale smoothly and slowly with the mouth slightly open by pulling in on the abdominal wall until all air has been expelled and inhale by closing the mouth and breathing naturally. Hands still on the knees sway the upper half of the body left to right a few times without moving the hips. Sway forward and back. These swayings are at first larger and then smaller enabling you to find the point of balance of your posture. Finally, place your hands in Hokkaijoin (Cosmic Mudra, the oval shape against your abdomen described above under Hand Positions).

Observe breathing during zazen, but do not try to manipulate the rhythm or depth of the breath. Breathe gently and silently through the nose without attempting to control or manipulate the breathing. Let the breath come and go naturally so that you forget all about it. Simply let long breaths be long and short ones short. On inhalation the abdomen expands naturally like a balloon inflating, while on exhalation simply let it deflate.

Do not concentrate on any particular object or attempt to control thoughts, emotions, or any modification of consciousness. By simply maintaining proper posture and breathing the mind settles by itself without fabrication. When thoughts, feelings, etc. arise, do not get caught up by them or fight them. Simply permit any object of mind to come and go freely. The essential point is to always strive to wake up from distraction (thoughts, emotions, images, etc.) or dullness and drowsiness. Letting go of any thought is itself thinking non-thinking.

One may need to rise from meditation for various reasons. To do this, first Bow in gassho. Place hands on the knees and sway the body slightly and then more so. Take a few deep breaths and unfold the legs. Arise slowly especially if the legs are asleep and do not stand abruptly. Return your sitting place to its original condition. (Fluff up the zafu and brush it off with your hand.)

There is also something known as walking zazen, or basically walking meditation. Place the hands in shashu (or isshu). Walk clockwise around the room so that your right shoulder is toward the altar in the center of the zendo. The posture from waist up is the same as in zazen. Walk taking a half step for each full breath, slowly, smoothly, and noiselessly, without dragging the feet. Always walk straight ahead and turn to the right.

I have learned a lot about Zen Buddhism and meditation while researching this paper. Although a lot of the information was confusing it was well worth the effort because of the knowledge I have gained. The Zen way is a different way to approach life and it is not for everyone. For those who like to meditate and are looking for new ways, should try Zen meditation to achieve true enlightenment.


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