Recently during the lockdown period we have been offering out advice about how to staying calm in difficult times and ways in which to improve your mental heath and wellbeing . One method we suggested is through Meditation and mindfulness practice. I thought it would be intresting to write about some of the deeper aspects of the practice. Exploring the philosophy that underpins the practice known as “Zen” or in Chinese “Chan”. And also give some practical advice to follow.
What is Chan?
To start with, some Chinese history! Bodhidharma was a fifth century Indian Buddhist monk who, in legend, came to China to spread the teachings of Buddhism, he is said to have been responsible for the birth of Chan. Chan is a direct translation of the word “Dhyana” which means meditation. Historically Shaolin Temple is where Bodhidharma chose to settle and teach this method or “Way”.
What can we gain through practice?
Chan is the main philosophy that underpins Shaolin Kung Fu. It is a method or way of practice that gives us greater insight or awareness into our true nature, true mind, Buddha mind.
The mind plays a huge part in this practice. Great sages have said that the mind has no form and its awareness no limit and once we see our true nature or mind we are no longer bound by attachments, there is no duality, we are free from negativity and we can can see the world more clearly with greater wisdom and insight.
Through the practice it encourages us to live and experience the present moment, to liberate the body and mind, and in time can lead us into a deeper understanding about our own being, existence, life, death and beyond.
The sages expressed that all living things share the same nature, which is difficult to see as it is covered by our human sensations and mental delusions. One way to help us to uncover or discover our true nature can be done through meditation. Meditation can come in many forms and is not always sitting and still but this ancient and traditional method of crossed legged seated meditation seems to be the most effective way to help us to gain this insight.
How we practice.
Zen Practitioner, Katsuki Sekida, expressed that we are never separated from our personal practice, which we carry out with body and mind.
When we practice it is important that we are mindfully conscious, by that I mean not sleeping or dreaming. We are mindfully present in the moment as we practice.
How do we become aware of the mind?
Through meditative activities consciousness is stopped and we cease to be aware of time and space and causation.
The brain can’t do this by itself; it is unable to control thoughts alone. The power of the control of the mind comes from the body; it depends on the posture and breathing.
So firstly immobility is essential. Sitting crossed legged is a traditional and effective method for practice as it keeps the body still but the mind awake. By keeping the body still it results in producing as little stimulus as possible to the brain, this posture and non-movement reduces the activity of the brain’s cortex. Putting us into a state where we are not aware of the sensation our bodies, this brings our attention solely to our thoughts and minds.
Therefore to summarise – when we meditate we try not to move at all, and by our bodies being in a correct posture it can create as little bodily sensation as possible without us falling asleep, hence the traditional method of sitting crossed legged.
Correct posture also includes straight back, tongue placed to the roof of the mouth behind the teeth. Relaxed muscles. Hands relaxed in lap.
This beginning stage can take a lot of practice and some getting used to. Some may find it uncomfortable as their bodies adjust to this posture (its interesting to note that traditional Indian Yoga training, is a physical training method in order to prepare the body for meditation and its sitting posture) For others it can be very painful and for some it can even be difficult to stop the body from moving. You will be pleased to know that this all passes with practice.
Once this stage has passed and we are able to sit unmoved, a sensation of timelessness and “unbodily” awareness occurs. This is the first step into our practice. Breathing is then adjusted.
Our breathing can affect the state of our mind; therefore quiet relaxed breathing has a specific calming affect on the mind. In practise lower abdominal breathing can be performed. This is a way to breathe where the chest is bypassed and breathing is done by the muscles of the diaphragm and lower abdomen alone. We breathe into where the Dantien is located and is said to store our energy and power.
Through the practice the student can go on to realise pure existence, then comes the next and many other stages in training. Hope this is helpful to you and encourages you to keep practicing. I will leave you with this interesting thought – Bodhidharma explained to us that Buddha nature is something you have always had. Your own mind is the Buddha. Don’t search outside yourself for Buddha. Where you are there is a Buddha.
The Buddha is your own mind so to find Buddha you have to see your own nature or your own mind.
Many blessings and Happy Life.