In the Aikido and Zen Dojo:
Zazen and Mindfulness Meditation

Rinzai Style of Zazen

mindfulness meditationYou’ve probably read or heard about styles of meditation. It seems that the most popular style these days is mindfulness meditation. And you may eventually come to realize that there are actually many forms. And you should know about the form that we practice at here at BHC. We practice traditional zazen (seated Zen meditation). Also, realize that zazen actually comes in a couple of flavors. We practice the Rinzai style. A couple of characteristics of Rinzai zazen are:

  • We meditate seated.
  • While meditating, we always keep our eyes open.
  • We hold our hands in mudra (hands overlapped and held near the navel).
  • We always follow our breath (no counting).
  • While meditating, we always face toward other meditators (as opposed to facing the wall).

Mindfulness Meditation

As we mentioned earlier, mindfulness meditation seems to be the style of the day. It is usually seen as a kind of secular practice. (As a point of fact, there is nothing religious about zazen.) Some characteristics of mindfulness practice are:

  • Meditators can sit or lie down.
  • While practicing mindfulness meditation, practitioners very often close their eyes.
  • Mindfulness does not generally specify hand placement.
  • Meditator focus awareness on different parts of the body, often creating a kind of cycle. For example, the meditator may move awareness from the head, past the abdomen and down to the feet – and back.
  • Mindfulness meditation is generally a solo practice.

So, the obvious question is – “Is there a difference between zazen and mindfulness meditation?”

And the answer is – yes there is a very key difference between the two. And it deals with the fundamental goal of understanding ourselves. Mindfulness meditation makes no effort to come to terms with the workings of the mind or of the notion of a self. There is never any question about this thing that I call ‘me’. On the other hand, Zen’s primary concern is the thorough understanding of the workings of the mind and of the self. And for Zen, it is crucial to eventually come to see that we are actually composed of many notions of a self. And finally, for Zen, not fully appreciating our inherent complexity creates most of the problems in our lives.

A headache makes a good analogy. We can treat the symptoms or we can address the cause. Mindfulness meditation would be the aspirin approach. Meditate twenty minutes every other day to deal with life’s hectic pace. On the other hand, zazen tries to understand the true source of hecticity.

And there are those who are plenty happy with the aspirin approach – and there are those who are not.


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