What is Zen Meditation?


Zazen, or seated meditation, is fundamental to Zen practice. We practice zazen to realise exactly what the Buddha realised — the mind completely at rest in its circumstances.

The traditional posture for zazen is one leg in front of the other (half-lotus or full-lotus) on a round meditation cushion (zafu). However, kneeling on a bench or sitting on a chair is just as welcome. The left hand is nestled gently in the right, with thumbs lightly touching. The back is kept straight and the shoulders soft. With chin tucked in and eyes half-veiled, allow the body to settle completely onto the earth.

If you are new to practice, a good place to start is to count your breaths. Silently embody “one” on the out-breath, followed by “two” on the next out-breath, all the way up to “ten”. If you notice your thoughts drifting at any point, simply return to “one.” By settling completely into each breath, a strong capacity for focus and attention is developed. The intention is not to cut off thoughts, but rather return with each breath to what is actually happening, before thoughts even arrive.

Zen also encourages shikantaza, or “just sitting”, a radical invitation to experience just what arises without counting, judgement or intention. The great poet of shikantaza, Dogen Zenji, put it this way: “Sit solidly in samadhi (serene, settled concentration) and think not-thinking. How do you think not-thinking? Nonthinking. This is the art of zazen.”

The Diamond Sangha tradition also places strong emphasis on koan inquiry. Koans are “public cases” that usually take the form of dialogues between student and teacher. Thousands of koans have been collected and studied over the years, most famously from Tang Dynasty China, although new ones are appearing all the time. Students explore a koan in collaboration with their teacher to discover, with patience and creativity, that they share the same mind as these funny, brilliant and deeply compassionate ancestors.

Our form also includes sutra chanting, longer walks (yatras), dharma discussions, ritual meals and dharma interviews (dokusan). You don’t need to be a Buddhist to enjoy all this, just someone with an open heart who longs to realise the immediacy of this one unrepeatable life.

To arrange an orientation before one of our events, please email us at castlemainezen@gmail.com

Photograph by Margaret Hogg

Photograph by Margaret Hogg