Practice and Enlightenment
Zen practice primarily consists of meditation in the lotus posture, known in Japanese as zazen (Ch: zuochan or tso-ch'an), and the study of kōan (Ch: gongan or kung-an). Practice within the Sōtō school emphasizes the sitting meditation of zazen. The Rinzai school also acknowledges the value of zazen; however, it encourages its practitioners to exhaust their thinking in the contemplation of riddlelike kōan to progress in meditation. The Rinzai school points out several dangers in the Sōtō emphasis on zazen, such as becoming attached to the practice of sitting or promoting a quietistic asceticism that goes only halfway−refining the mind but not attaining a dynamic breakthrough−and teaches that a perfect and spontaneous realization that does not rely on practice is also possible. This difference in emphasis between the Sōtō and Rinzai schools dates back to the Song dynasty in China, when there was much dispute between the two schools.
The practices of zazen and kōan study are directed toward the inner experience of enlightenment (satori); however, they are not necessarily linked with it in a causal relationship. The enlightenment experience can occur without a specific practice of Zen. On the other hand, practice is not to be regarded as futile, even if years of effort do not culminate in the enlightenment experience. Practice is considered worthwhile in itself.
Meditation in the lotus posture. Zazen is not entirely of Zen origin. Its basic form is taken from the Indian tradition of yoga, which covers a wide range of meditation practices. Among the numerous postures (āsana) of yoga, the lotus position, regarded as the most perfect posture in yoga, was adopted by the Zen school. The practitioner sits with legs crossed and drawn in, and back perfectly upright. Zen recommends breathing in a natural, rhythmical way with a prolonged exhalation. By shutting out all sense impressions and conscious thinking, the Zen practitioner seeks to attain the highest possible state of mental concentration. What is desired is an objectless meditation, devoid of conceptual thought, that can only be described in negative terms. Meditation is first of all a concentration exercise that calms the body and mind, thus supplying the requisite conditions for higher states of consciousness.
Zazen can also be said to represent the enlightened state of mind itself. This conception is found particularly in the teachings of Dōgen and his school. The lotus posture is the external sign of enlightenment, just as the Buddha Śākyamuni and all Buddhas sitting in this posture reveal the enlightened Buddha-nature. The Zen disciple possesses Buddha-nature, or rather is the Buddha-nature, which is manifested through sitting.
practice Zen meditation sitting cross-legged