Basic of Chan

Basic of ZenThe mind is constantly tossed about by the changes occurring in the external world, leaving people living in modern society yearning for peace of mind.

Meditation calms both body and mind, returns us to our original face, and helps our innate wisdom manifest itself. This simple practice is based on the truth discovered by the Buddha, and is also common to many other religions and spiritual traditions. Starting with oneself, we find the source of inner happiness, exchange self and other, and extend this happiness to others, creating a virtuous circle.

Introduction to tranquility meditation
Nine-minute Chan—Cultivating mental equipoise at the ear-door

Also referred to as “nine-minute meditation” because it is practiced for nine minutes, three times a day, tranquility meditation is a preliminary practice for cultivating mental equipoise at the ear-door. In the midst of a hectic life, the four steps of nine-minute meditation can be practiced at any time or place, walking, standing, sitting, or lying down.

Tranquility meditation

Two main parts:
1. Awareness of the breath
2. Perfect penetration of the ear-door

The four steps of Chan meditation
1. Breathe deeply to settle the body and mind. With each deep exhalation let go of any agitation there may be in the body or mind.
2. Relax, letting the mind be free of thoughts. While concentrating, let the eyes observe the nose, the nose observe the mouth, and the mouth observe the mind, while the mind itself is empty.
3. Breathing in and out, concentrate your awareness, clearly observing inhalation and exhalation.
4. While cultivating tranquility and alertness, relax your ears, relax your entire body, and listen to the sound of silence.

Sitting posture and key points

The basic sitting posture for meditation is called the “seven limb posture” and includes the following seven elements:

1. Cross-legged posture
2. Straight back-Relax the entire body and keep the spine straight.
3. Hand position-Relax the hands and arms; place your hands lightly on your lap, one on top of the other, palms up; gently touch the tips of the thumbs together to form an oval.
4. Shoulders-Drop and relax the shoulder muscles; shrugging a few times can help the shoulders relax.
5. Tongue-Close the mouth and gently place the tip of the tongue against the upper gums behind the front teeth.
6. Lower jaw-Keep head and neck straight; don’t lower the head; bring the lower jaw slightly inwards.
7. Keep the eyes slightly open.-With eyes slightly open and line of vision slightly downwards, the gaze should remain unfocussed on any particular object. When thoughts arise, neither follow them nor suppress them.

Ending the session

At the end of the meditation session it is good to perform the following:
1. Lightly move the trunk forwards and backwards, left and right.
2. After warming up the hands by rubbing them together, rub the face and lightly massage the eyes; afterwards lightly massage the whole body; this helps the body return to its normal state.

Some pointers
1. Prior to meditating you may want to do some warm-up exercises; following the meditation session give the body and mind a little time to return to normal by moving and speaking gently; after about 15 minutes drink some warm water.
2. Beginners can use the cultivation of mental equipoise to closely examine the changes occurring in the mind and generate the energy of tranquility. For more advanced practices, such as those taught at the three- and seven-day retreats, it is important to have the guidance of an experienced teacher.
3. Following the meditation session the mind is calm and flexible; this is the best time to share the merits of one’s practice and extend thoughts of goodwill to all sentient beings.

The Benefits of Meditation

Meditation is a type of spiritual practice that shows you how to let go of desire and gain mastery over the body and mind. It’s also a way of integrating one’s inner awareness with one’s daily life. We start with ourselves, constantly remaining mindful of body, speech, and mind in order to be free of all negativities. Then, on the basis of a natural and simple way of life, we put our understanding into practice by promoting the wellbeing of nature and all sentient beings.

※A reminder from Ling Jiou Mountain: Only with proper guidance is meditation safe and beneficial.

About Meditation

Question: Is it necessary to sit cross-legged? What should I do if I can’t completely follow the “seven limb posture”?
Answer: Beginners should not let these techniques become obstacles to the practice. Actually, you can practice meditation wherever you are, in whatever posture you happen to be in. The main thing is perseverance in the practice.

Question: In practicing meditation, is it best to spend as much time as possible?
Answer: Not necessarily. While sitting in meditation, if your mind is continuously flying off in wild flights of fancy, no matter how long you sit, you won’t derive much benefit. The value of meditation is not determined by how long you practice, but rather by the depth of insight attained in the process.

Question: What’s the best time of day for practicing meditation?
Answer: It depends on the person. For nine-to-fivers, it’s good to have a moment of meditation as soon as you sit down at your desk in the morning and right before you leave work; after meetings is also a good time. In general, the mind is clear and bright when you first get out of bed in the morning, and most settled just before you go to sleep, making these the most suitable times for meditation. The best time for cultivating mental equipoise is thus between 4am and 6am.

Question: What sort of equipment is needed for meditation?
Answer: Because it’s important to keep the body warm and comfortable, it’s best to wear loose-fitting clothing. The room needs to be well ventilated, but don’t sit in a drafty place, or you might catch a cold. The light should be neither too bright (this can be overly stimulating) nor too dark (this can induce sleepiness). In cold weather you may want to use a light shawl to cover up your neck, shoulders, knees, etc.