What is Chan or Zen Meditation?
Shifu meditating by the river
Shifu's Grandson, Michael Erickson meditating at the Shaolin Temple in California
Chan is the Mandarin or Chinese word used for meditation, and Zen is the Japanese term. They both relate to the exact meaning of 'seated meditation' or 'peaceful contemplation.'
The beginnings or birthplace of Chan or Zen goes way back to the spiritual awakening of the first Buddha, which means 'awakened one,' by the name of Siddhartha Gautama. Siddhartha was the son of a King who made him Prince and heir to his father's province in India, who lived over 2500 years ago.
Siddhartha grew up sheltered in a luxury palace, surrounded by young, healthy-looking people. He did not see old age, poverty, sickness, or suffering. He was saddened and moved to tears by death, despair, disease, and poverty outside the palace walls.
Seeing this, he vowed to find a way or path to alleviate them by finding the causes that created them. He discovered a 'middle path' that would bring happiness and end suffering for all living sentient beings.
Chan - Zen is a practice about living and understanding life. Siddhartha or 'Shakyamuni' is not, nor ever stated to be any type of God. He sternly told his students never to do, say, or write anything about him like that! They only called him by the term or word 'Lord' back then and in later writings because he was a ' Hindu Brahmin Prince' from an upper social class and heir to the throne of his father, which he renounced. He was an enlightened teacher who understood the ways of life, nature, and the causes of suffering through many years of great study and meditation. He founded a method or means to learn how to deal with these causes and effects and overcome them or control them through a concentrated form of meditation and breathing techniques.
Meditation is a practice that needs to be experienced and not to be intellectualized by our brain, just like having honey for the first time. We can look at it and see what it is, but we don't know what it will taste like until we taste it. Seated mediation is a way of vigilance and self-discovering. We do this by clearing our minds of useless negative thoughts that can only bring about stress, depression, confusion, pain, or anger. When we can allow ourselves to concentrate on our breathing while seated in a chair or sitting on a pillow, we can, with practice, just let go of these negative thoughts and this chaotic world. We can experience living in the moment, in the very here and now, being present, but at the same time being apart while we discover our deeper inner selves.
With continued practice, we will knock down the damaging doors and walls to reveal a more lasting 'inner peace' that we never knew existed or was possible. This inner wisdom will teach us just how we create our world each day by how we think, what we say, and what we do! It will also teach us just how this affects us, our daily life and the world at the same time!
It's funny, here we are 2500 years later, and our modern-day physicists not too long ago discovered the 'quantum theory. Multiple dimensions are going on simultaneously, and how we can make things happen through cause and effect by our thought patterns. I guess Siddhartha was way ahead of his time on that one!
Through solid persistence and time, we will be able to gain more control over our thoughts, emotions, and lives through the practice of Chan mediation, no matter what religion or system one might believe. It is universal! And, in our doing so, we can become more peaceful, proactive, and compassionate individuals that are better able to help our families, communities, and even our world because of it!
Amituofo. which means, May you be blessed.