Zen meditation – that’s how it really started for me

Meditation is probably the most essential tool in our spiritual growth. This is because there is within us an aspect of our being that will not blossom if we do not meditate. It is only in meditation that we can come to really know ‘it’ for what ‘it’ truly is.

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Of all the meditation methods I have been taught, Zen meditation is the one I have found to be just right for me. It is simple, easy to learn and I found that if you made the zafu a part of your sadhana as much as your yoga mat, regularly and diligently, it would bring you to ‘places’ you’d never imagine existed within you. Well, that’s been that way for me. If you are living here in Singapore, and you are wondering which meditation might suit you or want to learn, there is a whole list to choose from. It all depends on what you are looking for and probably to some extent on karma, fate, or ‘yuen fern’ as well. I tend to think that the teacher always appears when the student is ready and your inner wisdom will bring you where you need to go.

Wooden kneeler vs cushion

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Very early on, way before yoga and Zen, my journey with meditation began on a wooden kneeler in a meditation room above a convent situated on some lovely grounds. Because I was boarding there for a spell, I could go to the room whenever I could while at other times I sat cross-legged under a tree outside in the back. Meditation was just that, simple and uncomplicated by breath counts or meditation objects whatsoever. Just simply some quiet time spent with oneself.

I remember how ergonomic the kneeler was. The seat slanted downwards at a perfect angle and it kept my back straight without strain for a long spell. There’s little chance for my back to slouch or for my legs to go to sleep. The only thing were the knees and for me then I had no issues with my young knees unlike now as they get more arthritic with age. Still I am thankful I can still sit in Vajrasana and the half-lotus when I am on the zafu as it raises the back with the knees (with legs crossed) slanting down to the front very nicely. You just need to adjust how you sit on the edge of the zafu, that’s all.

Related reading: Meditation rug and zafu.

Venerable Chi Boon

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Then one day, as the year was coming to an end in December 1998, a friend asked if I would be interested in joining her for a 7-day Zen Buddhist residential silent retreat. Nothing fancy, it would be a sort of back-to-basics and held in a rustic kampong across the causeway in Pengerang, Johor Baru. I said, sure. Even with the first 3 days fasting. No food, only water. No bed or mattress and cold showers. Sure. No problem.

That’s how I met my first and only meditation teacher. A Zen Mahayana Buddhist monk from Kwan Yin Chan Lin whom I will always fondly remember for facilitating such a memorable experience during those 7 days. After the retreat, I did go for a couple more meditation sessions at the Lavender Street Center. And during my last visit there, he basically gave me his blessings to take wing where I saw fit. By the way, there is a lot of Zen in Raja Yoga and so his sending me off was propitious because what I started with Shi-fu continued and bloomed in my yoga sadhana.

Taste the tea for yourself

Shi-fu is a great believer of ‘just do it’. Instead of us running around looking for this teacher or that teacher, he would say, just sit, everything is there, no need to run around looking everywhere else but here. He also discourages lengthy cerebral discussions that detracts us from the doing. During the retreat, he had no hesitation shutting off all unnecessary thinking questions. Often his answers are succinct and to “taste the tea for yourself”. I think what he was really saying was that if you would just take yourself to the zafu, the answers will come.

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“Zen, tea, one taste.” (read right to left)

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There is already plenty said about Zen meditation so I am not about to add anymore here as such. That’s not my intention for this article anyway. What I could say is that it’s been worth it even though the practice demanded much discipline because it’s true. You won’t know until you have tasted the tea for yourself. You won’t know what meditation is all about unless you are willing to make it a part of your daily spiritual practice. With that said, yes, find a teacher. If not, get a zafu and just start. It can’t be more simple than that.

Related article: Mindfulness – clean, clear, bright.

Related article: Meditation – how to manage the 4 aspects of your mind.

Related article: Life’s vexations – manage them and set yourself free.

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