Buddhism was created around 2500 years ago following the 50 years long verbal teaching of The Buddha which means the “awakened one” (563-483? BCE). His real name was Siddhartha Gautama son of a rich local king (North East of current India near Nepal).
Zen is a branch of Buddhism and started in China 500 years later under the influence of Taoism and Confucianism. Zen is the Japanese word for meditation, Chan in Mandarin. For more information about the history of the Buddha, Buddhism and Zen Buddhism please contact me.
Meditation has been used as spiritual practice by all religions. Born around 30,000 years ago in Eastern countries and now growing very fast in our Western world. In recent years the therapeutic use of meditation in particular for stress management has generalized.
Zen meditation is the daily practice of:
- Physical concentration by keeping our body still in a specific posture (sitting cross-leg or on a chair) or by walking mindfully.
- Mental concentration by focusing our attention on our breathing while letting go our ongoing thoughts. In Zen we use our breathing (exhale) as our focusing point to anchor our mind. This is the first step toward mind control that you will achieve eventually.
Meditation involves 4 mental stages that are repeated over and over:
- Imposing our mind to focus on our posture and our breathing (exhale).
- Being mindful of our incoming thoughts (thoughts will always appear).
- Letting our thoughts go one by one…
- ….Returning on our breathing … and so on….so on….over and over.
There is nothing more in Zen meditation: no mantra, no music, no visualization, no candle, no guided meditation. Practicing meditation with your teacher will help you greatly “to reboot” your daily practice at home. The more we meditate the faster we will progress as long we are not judgmental about practice and result.
How does Zen meditation works?
Meditation is acting on 3 levels: mind control, mindfulness and skill and discovery of our inner self also called “True self” different from ego-centered “I, me, myself, mine”.
1- Control our ego-centered mind and make it quiet and clear.
Our deceptive ego-centered mind produces all the time thoughts such as desire, dissatisfaction, anger, fear, anxiety, frustration, resentment, illusion and uncertainty. With meditation we learn to tame our mind and eventually these negative thoughts and emotions will be controlled. Our mind becomes then a mirror reflecting things as they are without judgement or decision.
2- Becoming mindful of your thoughts, senses, present moment, surroundings and activities moment to moment without judgement nor action.
3- Discovering the wonders of your inner self to achieve peace within and to help others.
Meditation is also a great exercise to increase concentration, memory, analytic skills, thought management, mind & body relaxation, mental rehearsal, and self-confidence.
If you hold a bottle of muddy water with shaky hands the water will remain muddy and you will not be able to see through.
If your hands are still the water becomes clear.
In this metaphor the bottle is your mind, the mud is your thoughts and your still hands is your meditation.
BESIDE ITS EFFECTS ON OUR MIND WHAT ARE ITS BENEFICIAL IMPACT ON OUR BODY?
If you practice proper daily meditation & weekly group class you will reap its “body” benefits beside its effect on the mind.
1) Intellectual: enhancing concentration, creativity, memorization, analytic / cognitive skills
2) Psychological: enhancing energy, muscle relaxation, well-being, weight control, compassion, self image , patience, etc….
3) On stress: reducing stress impact, blood pressure, headache, chronic pain, compulsive behavior. Enhancing productivity, efficiency, time control. See page on ” Meditation for stress management”.
Zen Teaching & Zen practice:
Zen Buddhism teaching called Dharma is very simple and yet very rich. The following are just some of the key points. More information will be given during meditation class and by emailed to you upon request.
The core of Zen. Physical & mental focusing practice aiming at relaxing & controlling body & mind. Schedule: solo daily (20 to 30minutes) + weekly group practice as “rebooting”.
2) TO BE MINDFUL MOMENT TO MOMENT TO:
A- What is real:
- What is received & analyzed through our 5 senses (see, hear, touch, smell, taste).
- What we are currently doing at the present moment.
- To “Now” since past & future are “illusions stored in our mind”.
- To our environment: respecting all living beings and their surroundings.
B- To our thoughts:
All day long we are thinking (~30,000 thoughts/day) without realizing it most of the time. Zen talks about “Sleep walking mind” or “in mind auto pilot”
3) TO PAY ATTENTION THEN TO LET GO WHAT IS NOT REAL:
Our ego-centered mind is the mean source of our problems: ongoing desires, negative emotions (anger, fear, frustration, resentment, anxiety, jealousy), judgment, illusions, concepts, past (not much we can do about) & future (little we can do about).
4) TO ACQUIRE PROPER UNDERSTANDING:
- Life, situations, events and facts are what they are: they have no specific agenda for each of us; in fact they do not care about us.
- Most of our dissatisfactions, suffering, stress come from our ego-centered mind (see 3)
- No living being has a permanent, independent, separate self-entity. (Called no self in Zen).
- All living beings are interconnected and interrelated.
- Everything is a transient manifestation submitted to endless changes and part of a “ Global entity” which is beyond our human comprehension. It is called True Nature. Others call it “God”.
5) TO DEMONSTRATE GOOD PERSONAL & SOCIAL BEHAVIOR:
Respecting our own health, showing generosity, compassion, forgiveness, patience, perseverance, love, ethical conduct, concentration, wisdom (right vs. wrong).
6) TO MANIFEST SOCIAL INTEREST IN YOUR “ZEN MATES”:
Participating in our weekly “get together” is important. Why?
To meditate together as a reboot, listen to the “teaching”, ask questions, exchanging opinion and socialize during tea at the end. After almost 10 years of practice I am still going to my weekly class. Oakville Zen Meditation has been up early November 2014 and yet many members are still invisible despite our 6 classes/week giving a chance to everyone to fit in their life constraints. One may wonder what “strong interest in Zen” means to these members.
Again: Zen teaching & Zen practice will enable us to have a better understanding of our mind, our thoughts and our life.
1-Our mind :
Our mind is a fantastic instrument to function in our daily life but, being so ego-centered it is also a great deceiver bringing many negative emotions and ongoing stress. By practicing daily meditation we learn how to tame our ego-centered mind and control our negative emotions.
We are producing around 30,000 thoughts during day time. It is like talking to ourselves all the time without listening to them. Zen talks about “sleep walking monkey mind” that is behaving mentally on auto pilot or cruse mode.
We should not believe in all your thoughts. If decisional thoughts are obviously necessary to function in our daily life. Many of our ego-centered thoughts are useless and may trap you. Thoughts, ideas, concepts, opinions and judgment are just a product of our self-centered mind. Do not be attached to all of them.
3- Our life : 3 fundamental realities to grasp.
– Our life is full of dissatisfactions and suffering and most of our dissatisfactions come from our ego-self centered mind that generates through such as desires, anger, anxiety, hatred, fears, resentment, frustration, misunderstandings, illusion, etc…
– No living being has an independent, separate, unique self-entity or self existence. We are all interconnected and dependent of our environment to survive. For example humans cannot survived without the oxygen of the trees, the food of the ground and the energy of the sun.
– Nothing is permanent. This reality of impermanence is crucial to understand. All living being are transient changing continuously from one form to the next one, from one manifestation to a new one.
Again daily Zen meditation with the assistance of your teacher will help you to:
- Develop, control and maintain a quiet and clear mind free of deceptive ego-centered thoughts. Your mind becomes a mirror reflecting things as they are and not as you want them to be that is without judgement, idea, opinion, concept and decision.
- Control and reduce your ego-self main source of dissatisfaction, anger, fear, illusion and uncertainty.
- Become mindful of your thoughts, 5 senses, present moment, surroundings and activities moment to moment without judgement.
- Discover the wonders of your inner self to achieve peace within and to help others.
Zen has no doctrine, dogma, rules, principles or scriptures. Zen is just be, now, moment to moment
Q: How to register for group meditation classes?
A: By joining www.meetup.com/oakville-zen-meditation-meetup/. It is free and allows me to communicate directly with all members.
Q: Where do the classes take place?
A: They are located at home, 2344 Lakeshore Rd East OAKVILLE just West of Winston Churchill. On Wednesday the class is held in West Oakville.
Q: What is the schedule?
A: Monday 7:00 – 8:30PM, Wednesday 7:00 – 8:30PM (in West Oakville), Thursday 1:30 – 3:00PM, Friday 9:30 -11:00AM, Saturday 1:30 – 3:00PM and Sunday 1:30 – 3:00PM.
Please register (RSVP) with Meetup prior class so I can anticipate the size of the class. In West Oakville the classes are limited to 8 participants. At home the classes are limited to 12 participants.
If you are new in meditation, please come to your first class 20 minutes before to get the basics about meditation i.e. posture, focus point, why, etc. Don’t forget to let us know by email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to come earlier.
Q: May I bring a friend or two with me?
A: You may bring anybody.
Q: Do I have to read about Zen & Zen meditation before my first group class?
A: No but it is preferable. If you send us your email address prior your first visit I will send you 2 short doc. regarding Zen history and Zen meditation.
Q: What is Zen?
A: Zen is the Japanese word for meditation. Imagine Zen as our “spiritual tool” bringing us to our self realization. Self realization is simply the discovery of our “True self” which is very different from our “I, Me, Myself, Mine” or ego in short. Zen calls it “little self”. Our mind is, above all, very self-centered and according to Zen teaching thoughts and actions from our ego-centered mind are the main cause of our on going dissatisfactions, sufferings and negative emotions such as craving, anger, fear, jealousy, resentment, anxiety and misunderstanding. Meditation is helping us to relax and control our mind and our thoughts. You will learn more about Zen philosophy and practice by joining regularly our meditation classes. See schedule.
Q: What is Zen meditation?
A: Also called zazen, Zen meditation is the simplest form of meditation. Beside the initial introduction by the teacher it is not a guided meditation and no outside helpers is required. Zen meditation is a physical & mental focusing practice aiming at relaxing then controlling our body and mind. Daily meditation and weekly group practice are by far the core of Zen practice and therefore essential for your progress. Reading hundred books on Zen will make you a good Zen scholar but a lousy Zen practitioner.
Q: Can you describe Zen meditation?
A: 1) Appropriate posture (cushion or chair) 2) Focusing on our exhale as mind anchor 3) Being mindful to incoming thoughts (they will always pop-in even after years of practice) 4) Let them go by going back to your focusing point. Nothing more nothing less; an ongoing repetition of 1-2-3-4 til the end of the session.
Q: Why do we use our own breathing?
A: Because it is here, with us anytime and easy to focus on. No external or internal artificial tool is used. Focusing on breathing is also very relaxing by itself especially when we exhale slowly. After becoming a good meditator you will be able to pick another focus point as guided by your teacher such as focusing on surrounding silence. The Buddha said: “If you can listen to silence you can quiet your ego-centered mind. If you can quiet your mind you can control negative emotions such as anger, fear, grief, resentment.”
A: Does meditation can be used as therapy? (Also see section on ” Meditation for stress management”)
Q: Absolutely. In fact meditation is now recognized as an important therapeutic tool for many medical conditions such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, poor self image, chronic pain, etc… Many health care centres around the world are now providing meditation classes to their staff, inside and outside patients. For more info. please contact me for references.
Q: Why meditation is so important?
A: As we mentioned earlier most of our dissatisfactions in life are fueled by our ego and our mind is very ego-centered. By controlling your mind & thoughts you will be able to manage your negative emotions. Meditation is not a quick fix and require understanding, practice, time, patience, perseverance, trust and above all a non judgmental approach about your practice. Never judge the quality – bad or good- of your meditation, just do it. One day you meditate well. Its OK. Next day you meditate poorly. Its OK too . Weird isn’t! To have a non judgmental attitude is very difficult to achieve for Westerners who learned to have an analytic mind.
Q: Do I have to meditate at home?
A: Absolutely! Practicing only once a week will bring you nowhere. At least 20 minutes of daily practice is recommended. I will tell you how to proceed.
Q: What should I do if I cannot find time to meditate during the day?
A: We always find time for priorities and never for non priorities. If you cannot find 20minutes/day at least 5 times/week meditation is not perceived as important for you; you should quit and say bye bye to the group.
Q: Is weekly group practice important?
A: Yes for many reasons. 1) Meditation is more formal helping you to “reboot” your solo practice. 2) It is an occasion to share experience with others. 3) The Dharma talk (teaching) may/will help you to progress. 4) Tea at the end is a good way to socialize. Our classes are very relaxed and friendly.
Q: What are the hindrances to meditation?
A: There are many:
- No time (we never find time for non priorities).
- Too impatient for results.
- Physical discomforts if seating cross leg for a long time.
- Doubt: not for me, it is useless.
- Too judgmental on the quality of our meditation: this is the most common cause of quieting the practice. NEVER judge the quality of your meditation. Just do it. This non analytic attitude i.e. contemplative is very difficult to achieve for Westerners.
Q: Is reading about Zen useful?
A: Venerable Yansing Sunim my Korean Zen Master for many years told me 2 years ago that I was reading too much and becoming too intellectual about Zen. He also said that more knowledge is only good for the ego!
I am recommending only 2 books: Buddhism for dummies (excellent) and What is Zen by Allan Watts. For other books please let me know. Some web sites and YouTube are OK, others are dangerous. Again contact me for assistance.
Q: How long are the sessions?
A: The session lasts around 1h15 min. Initial meditation for 35-40 minutes. Teaching and Q&A. Last meditation for ~ 20 minutes. Then we take tea. Classes always start on time. Please refrain from exchanging business card during session and turn off your cell phone before. As you progress in meditation our group meditation time will increased. With practice more time will be spent on meditation and less on talking.
Q: What is the role of the teacher?
A: Teaching Zen is somewhat a pretentious word. The teacher is mainly your GSP showing you the directions. You are the driver. I will help you and assess your progress if the request is made. Even as a Zen Master I still go to my weekly class to practice and listen to my teacher.
Q: What do you teach?
A: We review the key points of Zen Buddhism and mindfulness meditation as taught by the Buddha (nickname for “the awakened one”) and how to apply them in our daily life. (See also the first question: What is Zen?). Between the 2 sets of meditation the teacher will try to answer any question after the Dharma talk (Zen teaching). Beside meditation Zen implies a way of life and thinking. Details will be given during class.
Q: How much is the session?
A: The sessions are free. Please arrive on time i.e. 5 minutes before or 20 minutes before if you are new in meditation.
Q: How should I dress?
A: Casual, non-tight pants. The room is not very hot. Please dress accordingly.
Q: Can I practice Zen Meditation without becoming a Buddhist?
A: Absolutely. There is no commitment to become one.
Q: Can I practice Zen Meditation even if I belong to another religion or if I do not believe in anything?
A: Yes. Zen Buddhism does not discriminate and recognizes all religions and denominations.
Q: How long will it take to meditate properly?
A: Few weeks to few years if you have the understanding, will, discipline, time to practice daily, patience and if you do not judge yourself. Like for everything in life practice makes perfect.
If you are looking for a quick fix meditation is not the solution. Coming regularly to the class will make your progress faster.
Q: How do I know that I am progressing in Zen practice if I should not judge the quality of my meditation?
A: Zen is an intuitive experience. There is no exam, no test, no mark. Few clues can help you here : 1) If you are able to meditate every day without finding the excuse – such as lack of time- for not doing it. 2) When you become more mindful re yours senses, actions, thoughts. 3) From the feedback of your teacher as long you are requesting it. 4) and few more..
Q:Will I received regularly material from you?
Q: Can I email you question(s) or concern(s) any time?
A: Of course. You will get a reply within 48h.