Why We Meditate?
These practices are the heart of meditation. They have different effects on the mind when they are practiced. Also the speed of the effect can be different depending on the technique used.
In all meditation techniques, the breath is important. To calm your body down, it is helpful to take several long, deep breaths at the beginning of meditation. Breathe using the diaphragm and center the breath in the lower belly. It should be relaxed, natural and quiet—the breath should breathe you.
Technique 1: counting the breaths
This practice, often recommended for beginners, brings attention to each breath and helps to still and focus the mind. The count may be done on either the inhalation or exhalation. The count is done either up to three or up to ten and then repeated for the duration of the sitting period. If the count is lost, then the practitioner returns to one..
Technique 2: keeping a question
Having a great question is fundamental to Zen practice. The questions most often used are “What am I?” or “What is this?” (in Korean “Shi Shim Ma?”). Let go of all thinking, opinions and desires and continually return to the questioning. This practice is usually co-ordinated with the breath. The question may be asked during the inhalation, followed by a prolonged “Don’t Know” on the exhalation; or the question may be asked on the exhalation. Both techniques promote a return to the before-thinking mind.
Technique 3: mantra practice
Using a mantra to calm the mind and strengthen the center is another technique used by Zen practitioners. The main difference between the mantras is the length of the mantra used and the mantra’s direction. Generally the more incessant the thinking, the shorter the mantra should be. The usual technique is to recite the mantra constantly, paying attention to it and allowing all other thinking to drop away. This takes some practice since it is very easy to let one part of the brain “chant” the mantra while the other part is thinking about dinner or going to the movies. When this happens, gently bring the mind back to the mantra without any judgement. The most common mantras recommended for beginners are the two listed below.
1) Clear mind, clear mind, clear mind. This mantra is usually suggested to beginners in conjunction with a breathing exercise. Breathe in to a count of 3, saying “clear mind” at each count and breathe out to a count of 7 saying ‘dooooonnnn’t knnnnooooooow’ just once for the whole 7 count. The count may vary with the individual, but the exhalation must be more than twice as long as the inhalation.
2) Kwan Seum Bosal
This is the Korean name of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, Avalokitesvara. This mantra is commonly suggested for people whose minds cannot be quiet one minute or who cannot concentrate for very long. Because it is short it can be repeated over and over (usually with a set of beads for counting). The usual recommendation is for 3000 to 10000 a day for someone who really wants to clear their mind of a particular problem. It is also used on a daily basis by many people as part of their sitting meditation technique. More advanced students often use the entire Great Dharani as a mantra, reciting it sub-vocally as fast as possible over and over again.
Technique 4: chanting
Although the individual chants—especially the Great Dharani—may be done alone as mantras, chanting done in a group is also meditation practice. The key to chanting correctly is to chant with 100 percent focus and energy: just loud enough to hear your own voice, and softly enough to hear everyone else in the room. This allows everyone to follow the moktak master for the chant as there is no one voice over-powering all the rest. Also people who have a hard time singing in key can then blend in with everyone and the sound from the chant in group will truly be togetheraction–all minds becoming one. Kido chanting is an especially strong form of chanting meditation..
Technique 5: prostrations
Prostrations are a very powerful technique for seeing and working through the karma of a difficult situation because both the mind and the body are involved. Something that might take days of sitting to digest may be digested in a much shorter time with prostrations. A common practice, especially popular in Korea, is to do 1000 bows a day (actually 1080). This can be done all at once or as is usually the case, spread out through the day. For instance,
1 set for morning bows,
2 sets before breakfast,
2 sets at lunch time,
2 sets mid-afternoon,
1 set before evening practice,
2 sets after evening practice.
This is a demanding schedule. Practitioners often commit to to 300 or 500 bows a day.
Technique 6: clear mind meditation
This form of meditation involves just sitting and being aware of what is going on at just this moment. This is moment-to-moment mind. It hears the birds in the trees, the cars going by, the planes overhead, and the children playing outside. To the clear mind there is no such thing as ‘noisy’, it all just ‘is.’ This is not a technique for beginners, but is an out-growth of experience with the previous meditation techniques.