In the Vietnamese Zen tradition, important principals of meditation have guided the monks and nuns at our monasteries. Buddhist laypeople with the interest of practicing meditation have applied this way as well. After having supervised them in daily practice, we see definite results: the practitioner’s body and mind gradually become more at ease and they develop wisdom. Practitioners live more wholesome, joyful and peaceful lives that exhibit selflessness and devotion to others, contributing to good, beauty and peace for society, their families and themselves.
As a result, we have been asked recently by monks, nuns and Buddhists from around the world to teach our method of meditation. This book is revised and republished for that purpose. Hopefully, it will provide helpful first steps toward the practice path of Vietnamese Zen.
Truc Lam Zen Monastery
Season of The Buddha’s Birth, Lunar Year 2553-2009
Zen Master Thich Thanh Tu
METHOD OF SITTING MEDITATION
In everyday life, when interacting with outside conditions and surroundings, it is easy for our minds to become restless and agitated. It is this agitated mind that creates the cycle of birth and death, and brings forth all of our afflictions. Mind is also the original source of Nirvana. For that reason, the Buddha expediently taught meditation to calm the agitation of thinking and attain total mindfulness.
In all deportments, walking, standing, sitting, and lying, we have to practice living in a state of full awareness, lighting our existence even when doing routine daily activities. For beginners, sitting meditation proves to be the most effective method of cutivating that awareness compared to the rest of the postures.
SITTING MEDITATION SUPPLIES
– One cushion about twenty centimeters high and twenty centimeters in diameter, stuffed with kapok, soft and flexible. It should sit about ten centimeters off the ground. The cushion sized are varied depends on the practitioner’s preference.
– One mat about seventy centimeters square is spread on the floor, the cushion on top.
– One soft towel or a small pillow is used to pad the gap between the crossed-legs.
There are three phases of a sitting session:
A. ENTERING INTO MEDITATION
When the session begins, lay the mat down, and put the cushion near one side of the mat.
Sit on the cushion, centering the bottom in the middle of the cushion. Stretch your body backward and forward, swing left and right until achieving a comfortable, relaxed position. Then draw your feet to the opposite thighs.
Slacken the belt or waist rope, loosen the collar of the shirt, and straighten the body.
There are two sitting postures:
For the half-lotus position: put the left foot on the right thigh. Or vice versa, it depends on the practitioner’s comfortable side.
For the full lotus position: put the left foot on the right thigh.
Then put the right foot on the left thigh and vice versa. Both knees should touch the mat.
If the space between the feet is hollow, fill the gap with the small pillow.
The right hand is on the left, fingers on fingers. Both hands rest on the pillow. The two tips of the thumb touch lightly, near the navel.
The elbows should rest comfortably on the hip areas.
Lean the torso forward and press down with the hands at the same time, five times, lessening the pressure each time.
Sit up with back straight, neither too rigid, nor too bent. Tilt the head lightly forward. A drooping back or head causes drowsiness.
The tip of the nose and tips of the thumbs should be in one direct line. The ears are opposite the shoulders. Eyelids should be one-third open. Direct the point of vision to a proper position. A too close of a vision will induce drowsiness, too far of vision will cause distractions. For those who are less likely to fall asleep during meditation, may keep both eyes closed to enhance reflection.
Sit still. The face should appear restful and peaceful.
Next, inhale through the nose slowly and deeply. Imagine the fresh air of the in-breadth pervading every part of the body, allowing all obstructed areas to open up as air passes. Open the mouth lightly and exhale thoroughly.
While breathing out, imagine all afflictions, diseases and impurities being exhaled with the air. Do this three times, with the breathes growing smaller each time.
Close the lips. The tongue tip is lightly touches the root of the upper teeth. For the rest of the session, breath in and out softly and naturally through the nose.
B. DWELLING IN MEDITATION
There are three method for practitioners:
1. COUNTING BREATH METHOD
Sổ means to count, tức means breath,means to observe the in-and-out breath, counting silently from one to ten, then repeating the process.
There are two ways: rapid and slow.
* Rapid counting: inhale, count “one”, exhale, count “two”, and again, inhale, count “three” …, keep on counting to “ten”. Then return to start from “one” and continue to “ten”…
* Slow counting: inhale and exhale, count “one”, inhale and exhale, count “two”, continue until reaching “ten”. Then start at one. Go on this during the entire session. In counting, if suddenly the practitioners forget the number or miss the count, go back to “one”.
After some time of counting, when the practitioners do not make any mistakes, switch to the Observing Breath method.
2. OBSERVING BREATH METHOD
Tùy means following, tức means breath. Tùy tức means following or observing the breath. In doing this method, practitioners are continuously and clearly aware of wherever the breath comes in and goes out.
While observing the breath, practitioners contemplate that human life exists within a single breath. Life ends if there is a breath out, but not in. The breath is impermanent, so life is brittle and unreal as well.
When the breath observation is perfectly practiced, practitioners can begin cultivating the third method, the Recognizing Thoughts.
3. RECOGNIZING THOUGHTS METHOD
When beginning the meditation, observe the breath for some minutes to put yourself at ease. Then let go the breath observation, the mind is truly peaceful and settled down. Then, if a thought arises, immediately recognize “thought” and do not follow it. Do this with each thought as they arise. The thoughts become fewer and fewer until they finally desist altogether.
When there are no more thoughts, the mind is empty, clear and pure. The True Mind is present, the ever-existing awareness revealing itself through the six sense organs.
After a while of sitting, if you become confused the drowsy, open the eyes wide and adjust the body and mind to be refreshed and serious.
NOTES: During your sitting, we have to wisely correct ourselves.
If you feel the chest heavy or the heart lightly stinging, this is due to sitting too straight, causing the breath to be jerky and unnatural. Bend down a little.
If the lumbar area around the backbone aches, this means the boddy is drooping down. Straighten it up.
Aching hip is related to your sitting leaning to one side.
If one shoulder is painful, perhaps it is not level with the other.
If both shoulder sore, you are stiffening the arms. Loosen them and the whole body will relax.
The body leaning too far back contributes to painful bottom.
If you feel something heavy on the head or some hums spoken on the ears, that signs you are sitting with rigid and stiffened body and head. Slacken and release yourselves, this will disappear in a while.
During meditation, if there are strange marks such as: a heavy object pressing down on the body, a feather-light body akin to flying, or sense of itchiness on the body, a certain bug crawling on face, an electric current running through the spinal column, or in your vision, bright light or strange images coming in front, whispering voices and ears …
All these above marks are unreal, practitioners, therefore, should not either cheerfully accept or be frightened of them. Contemplate that they are false and temporary. Sit still and be the boss of your body and mind. Even if seeing ghosts or the Buddha, practitioners clearly know that they all are illusions. Do not be scared or delighted because both cheers and fears are causes to madness. Be neither attached to, nor interested in, and pay no attention to those signs, delusions will be self-vanished.
C. RELEASING MEDITATION
Before ending the sitting meditation, first, silently recite the verse of transferring merit:
May these accrued merits and virtues
Transfer to all;
That I and all sentient beings
Completely attain the Buddha Way.