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Instructions for Meditation

Sitting Meditation:

Wear comfortable loose clothing - no jeans or shorts. If you must eat shortly before doing meditation, eat lightly and drink water to keep leg discomfort at a minimum. Stretching a bit beforehand will help you loosen up and be more comfortable.

Quietly come into the meditation hall, gassho (palms together in respect) and bow to the Buddha (this is not mandatory - the bow is in respect for his teaching). Sit on the forward half of the cushion in the lotus, half lotus, Burmese or simple cross legged fashion. If you can not sit on the floor, sit in a chair on the forward half of a cushion with your feet flat on the floor. Rock forward and back and side to side two or three times to find your center of balance. Head and back erect, chin tucked in to aid breathing. Reach as if to touch the ceiling with the top of your head. Without letting the rib cage drop down, let the shoulders relax. Hands are palm upward, left upon right with the thumbs lightly touching to form an ellipse. They rest on the thighs with the little fingers resting against the lower abdomen. The open eyes look at an imaginary spot three and a half feet away, sighting down the bridge of the nose. They may be in or out of focus and the lids may droop but do not close them as you may go to sleep.

Breathing is done through the nose using the diaphragm. The chest should not move noticeably. Breathing should be natural, not shallow or controlled. At first you may want to follow your breath in and down, and up and out to aid your concentration. Some like to count silently 1 on the inhalation, 2 on the exhalation and so on to 10 and then go back to 1.

The mouth is closed with teeth lightly touching and the tongue is at the roof of the mouth touching the back of the upper teeth.

Do not zone out. Continue to be completely aware of your surroundings. The sounds, sight, smells, the feel of a breeze on your cheek. As thoughts come up, treat them as a man sitting by a river with blinders on. A leaf floats into view and out of view. He neither anticipates nor follows the leaf. So it is with thoughts. Do not participate in, manufacture, entertain or push thoughts away. Allow them to rise and fall. When you don't participate in them, they will return less and less. Each time you are distracted just return to your breath and the count of one. This does not happen over night and some days you may rarely even get to two but that is why it's called practice.

If you find yourself daydreaming, check your posture and then go back to the breath. If you find yourself getting sleepy, check your posture and your breath. Shallow breathing usually causes sleepiness. Your thumbs pulling apart is early warning that you mind is wandering.

Should your legs and knees become very uncomfortable, change position using your hand and quickly move your leg to a new position. Doing it slowly and trying to be quiet is usually more disturbing to the others around you than just doing it.

At the sound of the bell with hands in gassho position, chant the Mantra "Om Mani, Padme Hum" three times (it means " the jewel in the lotus"). Each time, it is done in two full breaths using a low tone which will help get your breathing under control. Then bow and begin your meditation.

At the sound of a single bell, gassho, bow, relax and get ready to rise for walking meditation. (Section on Walking Meditation follows.)

At the end of meditation, a bell will be struck two or three times. Gassho and again chant the Mantra "Om Mani, Padme Hum" three time. Then bow, get up and straighten your cushion for the next person, gassho and bow in thanksgiving for any insight you may have found. Before leaving the hall, again gassho and bow to the Buddha in thanksgiving for his teachings. Save the talk until you are well outside the room so as not to disturb anyone who is still there.

Walking Meditation:

At the sound of a single bell, gassho, bow, relax and get ready to rise for walking meditation. Try not to lose your concentration.

When the drum or wood blocks are struck, rise and stand facing the Buddha. At the second striking, gassho and bow. Indoors walking is done in a clockwise circle so at the third striking, turn and follow the person next to you and begin. Space yourselves three to four feet apart if there is room. As much as possible stay in step with the leader or the person in front of you. Pay attention to your spacing, neither falling behind or walking up the heels of the person in front of you. Be aware that in some Zendos everyone quickly and quietly lines up behind the leader so as to start off together on the same foot and at the same pace.

Take half steps only, i.e. Place the foot with the heel in line with the instep (about 3"). If you find yourself a little unsteady on your feet, take a slightly wider stance. This is not a hesitation step, but continuous flowing slow motion of putting your foot down, shifting your weight on to it, rising up on the toe of the other foot before lifting it from the floor.

Your posture should be erect. Breathing should continue as in sitting. However, you may find it helpful to inhale on one step and exhale on the next. Some people prefer to do one complete inhalation/exhalation with each step or other combination of breaths. Be consistent.

Walk with your left palm held inward, fingers curled around the thumb and the right hand covering it. Right thumb on top of left, right fingers in front of left with little fingers at bottom. Carry them against the abdomen, at or below the navel.

Continue dealing with thoughts as in sitting mediation. Instead of coming back to your breath, you may find being aware of the soles of your feet touching the floor is helpful when your mind wanders.

In some instances, the drum being struck twice indicates speeding up to a normal stride, and a second double strike indicates either an even faster (almost running) pace or slowing to the original pace; watch the leader or the person in front of you.

At the sound of the drum return to stand by your cushion. At the second strike, gassho and bow to the Buddha. At the third strike, take your seat. At the sound of the bell, begin meditation.

Meditation at home

If possible, have a place used only for meditation - even the floor of a closet will work. If you have a small shrine (a book of religious scripture, statue, picture or even a book of poetry or vase of flowers), light a candle and/or a stick of incense and/or bow, then take your seat, ring a bell if you have one and chant the mantra. If you are not a Buddhist you may want to use some other phrase in place of the "Om Mani Padme Hum" such as "Lord King of the universe, how wondrous are your works" or "Christ be with me, Christ be in me". The reason for doing this is that it signals the mind that you are about to meditate and you will find that it helps the mind to settle down.

Follow the instructions above. Start out trying to do a good five minutes. Doing it at a set time as part of your routine, is helpful. If your mind won't settle down, take several deep breaths, clear your mind for 30 seconds then strike the bell, do the ending manta. Do not struggle if it is not working for you. Try to end with a clear mind. Then the next time it will be easier. If you try for a half hour and are not successful then next time it will be even harder to settle down. One clear minute is far superior than an hour of struggle. Note that it is always easier to meditate with other people.