Sitting Meditation

For those first beginning to meditate, it is often difficult to determine whether the mind or body is giving more trouble. In truth, the difficulties are inextricably commingled, but there are different techniques for attacking each side of the mind/body coin. The body will come along at its own pace, and choosing a beginner's posture can ease the transition. Yet mind practices are just as vital.

The Kwam-Um School of Zen has a very nice basic guide to sitting meditation. Part one focuses on the mind, part two focuses on the sitting. Since the second part includes a number of pictures, please visit the original page to learn more. Here, I've reprinted the suggested mind practices. Several of the techniques listed are ideally suited for beginners who are just beginning to exercise their mindfulness muscle.

There are various forms of meditation. Each technique has a special effect on the mind.

Mind Practices: These practices are the heart of meditation. They have different effects on the mind when they are practiced. Also the speed of the effect can be different depending on the technique used.

In all meditation techniques, the breath is important. To calm your body down, it is helpful to take several long, deep breaths at the beginning of meditation. Breathe using the diaphragm and center it in the lower belly. It should be relaxed, natural and quiet - the breath should breathe you.

Some of the various techniques are:

Technique 1: Keeping a Question

Traditionally this is called "hwa tou." If you have a question, this question will help you practice. If the question is big enough and intense enough, (the usual ones are "What am I?", "What is life?", etc.) it will practice you and will give you don't-know before-thinking mind. Let go of all thinking, opinions and desires and continually return to the questioning mind.

Technique 2: Mantra Practice

Using a mantra to calm the mind and strengthen the center is one technique used by students of Zen. The main difference between the mantras is the length of the mantra used and the mantra's direction. Generally the more incessant the thinking, the shorter the mantra.

The usual technique is to recite the mantra constantly, paying attention to it and allowing all other thinking to drop away. This takes some practice since it is very easy to let one part of the brain 'chant' the mantra while the other part is thinking about dinner or going to the movies. When this happens, gently bring the mind back to the mantra without any judgment.

The most common mantras used in our School are listed below.

Clear Mind, Clear Mind, Clear Mind -- Don't Know

This mantra is usually suggested to beginners in conjunction with a breathing exercise. Breathe in to a count of 3, saying "clear mind" at each count and breathe out to a count of 7 saying 'dooooonnn't knnnnooooooow' just once for the whole 7 count. The count may vary with the individual, but the exhalation should be more than twice as long as the inhalation.

This is generally the first technique taught in our School.

Kwan Seum Bosal

This is the Korean name for the bodhisattva of compassion, Avalokitesvara. This mantra is commonly suggested for people whose minds cannot be quiet one minute or who cannot concentrate for very long. Because it is short it can be repeated over and over (usually with a set of beads for counting). The usual recommendation is for 3000 to 10000 a day for someone who really wants to clear their mind of a particular problem. It is also used on a daily basis by many people as part of their sitting meditation technique.

Technique 3: Kong-an Practice

Kong-an practice is an ancient form of question and answer. The actual word means "public record". So these are the public records of past Zen Masters. The answers are rooted in the reality that is beyond time and space, likes and dislikes, but is just-like-this. One of their functions is to give you a Great Question if you don't have one. Another is to help you eliminate the "hooks" from your mind. Each Kong-an has hooks (like mental fishhooks) and when you cannot solve it, it is because your mind has gotten caught on one of the hooks of the Kong-an. Sitting with the Kong-an as a question is one of the trademarks of Zen Practice.

Technique 4: Counting the Breaths

The breath is counted either on the exhalation (best for beginners) or the inhalation (more difficult) from 1 to 10. When you lose count or reach 10, start over.

Technique 5: Clear Mind Meditation

This form of meditation involves just sitting and being aware of what is going on at just this moment. This is moment-to-moment mind. It hears the birds in the trees, the cars going by, the planes overhead, and the children playing outside. To the clear mind there is no such thing as 'noisy', it all just 'is'. This is not a beginning technique, but is an out-growth of the previous meditations.