Sunday, September 22, 2013


Mainstream meditation practice is slowly becoming unified into several distinct traditions largely based on ancient Buddhist practice.

The three major categories are: 1.) meditation based on Vipassana, a Theravada Buddhist practice; 2.) meditation based on Zen Buddhism from Japan; 3.) assorted, mottled meditative practices based on several traditions, including modern science and western religions. Looking closely, two of these categories might be classified as more visible and accepted whereas the third category, Vipassana, is still relatively fringe in popular culture, although popular amongst the masses who are interested in meditation broadly.

Meditation based on the smorgasbord of practices might be closely aligned with this modern Western sense of spirituality without a God or gods. That leaves us with meditation based on Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism, like most Japanese cultural practices, is one of the cleanest and streamlined of spiritual practices in the world since it emphasizes a carefully orchestrated symphony of actions that are to be repeated ad infinitum.

A Description of Zen

Zen Buddhist meditation is three-fold. First, there is a period of chanting, usually the Heart Sutra. This chanting is usually accompanied by a beating of a drum if one is practicing meditation at a temple. Next, there is sitting meditation for approximately 30 minutes. In this meditation, one’s eyes are open, contrary to popular belief, and focused on a singular point ahead.

The Zen master will walk row-by-row helping students to adjust their posture, making sure that the back is straight, neck aligned, and eyes open. Lastly, the third facet of Zen meditation is walking meditation. This is a simple, quiet walk around the room, the temple, or another place. Hands are generally folder and the steps are short. After 30 minutes of walking, students may proceed back to sitting meditation, called Zazen. Depending on how long the meditation session lasts, a practitioner will alternate between sitting and walking meditations.