Updated: Mar 14, 2021
Zen meditation is an ancient Buddhist tradition that dates back to the Tang Dynasty in 7th century China. From its Chinese origins it spread to Korea, Japan and other Asian lands where it continues to thrive. The Japanese term “Zen” is a derivative of the Chinese word Ch’an, itself a translation of the Indian term dhyana, which means concentration or meditation.
Top 3 Zen Meditation Techniques
Observation of the breath
Meditators should assume a comfortable posture such as the Burmese, half-lotus or Seiza pose during zazen. It’s best to sit on a padded mat or cushion; sitting on a chair is also acceptable. Awareness is directed towards a certain object of meditation, generally observation of the breath and more specifically the way it moves in and out of the belly area. This method fosters an abiding sense of presence and alertness.
This form of meditation does not repose on a focal point such as the breath. Here, meditators learn to allow thoughts to flow through their minds without judgment, grasping or rejection. The Japanese call this practice shikantaza, or “just sitting.” This Zen Buddhist meditation technique is practiced with no object of meditation, anchors or contents.
The teachings emphasize that there is no goal, per se. The meditator “just sits” and allows their mind to just be. It is important for practitioners to understand that zazen is not a means to an end: it is the end.
Intensive group meditation
Serious meditators regularly practice rigorous group meditation in meditation centers or temples. The Japanese call this practice sesshin. During this period of intensive meditation, practitioners devote most of their time to sitting meditation. Each session lasts about 30 to 50 minutes, alternated with walking meditation, short breaks and meals. Meals are taken in silence as part of the practice, usually with oryoki bowls. Brief periods of work are also performed mindfully. Today, such Zen meditation retreats are practiced in Taiwan, Japan and the West.