As I may have posted elsewhere, I've been meditating for about a month or so. I've also recently researched Zen Buddhism since for some reason I
felt drawn towards this "religion" and branch of it more than anything else.
When I was curious about Buddhism, I guess I could've also researched Tibetan Buddhism, but for some reason I feel that Tibetan Buddhism is more
involved with ritual, whereas I feel that Zen Buddhism has more to do with straight up meditation and connecting with that source rather than
concerning itself with gods, demons, heavens and hells.
So I started looking into Zen Buddhism with the express purpose of trying to find a school that was the best fit. An interesting one was Rinzai. I
find the use of koans in Rinzai fascinating, and I had some success contemplating some koans that I made up myself (just simple, one sentence
However, the school that I found extremely fascinating, and the one that I felt a strong calling for was the Sōtō school. Not only are they more
concerned with just meditation as opposed to other techniques, but I found it interesting that they believe that while meditating you should allow
your thoughts to flow freely without policing your thoughts. I found this interesting because I have spontaneously been utilizing this very technique
for almost this whole month that I've been meditating. I have had doubts while I was doing this before reading that this was an established method,
but after reading that, my meditation is that much freer since I feel comfortable in knowing that my technique is not just going to lead nowhere.
While I am very happy that there is such a school as the Sōtō school, since I am interested in meditation secularly, I feel compelled to separate
the wheat from the chaff, so to speak. On the official Sōtō page, they mention things that I feel are not really important. Some examples are
swaying from side to side while meditating (since I meditate while lying down this action would be rendered impractical, anyway). Another thing is to
have a statue of Buddha in the place that you are meditating. One more thing is the use of a mudra while meditating. A mudra is a symbolic or ritual
gesture done with the hands and fingers while meditating. While meditating I just place my hands on top of each other on my chest, or resting on
pillows by my sides.
One of the techniques that actually does give me comfort in knowing that it is an aspect of this school is that of having your eyelids slightly open
while meditating. This gives me comfort because, while meditating, sometimes my eyelids flutter about, and this would lead me to the belief that the
meditation was not as deep since I could partly see the room around me.
I also get struck by the realization that secular mindfulness based interventions seem to utilize techniques from Zen Buddhism (especially the Sōtō
school) more than any other branch of Buddhism.
Here's a description from the Sōtō website about the technique that I was speaking of. It's properly called, shikantaza:
In Hinayana [this would include branches such as Tibetan Buddhism], there are two elementary ways (of beginner's practice): one is to count
the breaths, and the other is to contemplate the impurity (of the body). In other words, a practitioner of Hinayana regulates his breathing by
counting the breaths. The practice of the Buddha-ancestors, however, is completely different from the way of Hinayana. An ancestral teacher has said,
“It is better to have the mind of a wily fox than to follow the way of Hinayana self-control.”
I hope that this thread will inspire people to look into the different established schools of meditation, and if necessary, perhaps adapt those
methods to fit your needs. Happy meditating!
Official Sōtō Website (Zazen)