For most beginners, distractions are perhaps the most common challenge that they encounter when meditating. This is why it is very important to have a method that can effectively rein in wandering thoughts. Using a koan in Zen meditation is one helpful technique.
Koans (pronounced as KO-ahns) have been around for ages. These are statements that Zen masters pose to students to open the mind for enlightenment. It is meant to puzzle the mind with its a-logical or paradoxical nature. It can be in a form of a question or a story like the famous “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “Cup of Tea”. Koans are not riddles, though. Novices search for an answer by deep contemplation and introspection, mulling on the koan during meditation.
Koans with Meditation
Designed to release the mind from distractions, a koan is repeated over and over again when in meditation. It occupies your mind processes and intensifies concentration with the search for a solution to the question. Pairing koans with Zen meditation should leave you utterly relaxed, calm and focused. It is important not to rush, or this will defeat the purpose.
The Koan Method
To help you focus, follow these steps for a rewarding meditation session.
- Posture. Facing the centre of the room, sit on a meditation cushion or bench with your preferred sitting position. A half-lotus is appropriate for the inexperienced and beginners. Make sure you are seated comfortably. A stable sitting position helps the mind to focus.
- Breathing. Take deep breaths, feeling the sensation of cool and warm air entering and leaving your nostrils with every breath. Do five cycles of deep abdominal breathing (in through the nose, into the throat, lungs and diaphragm, out through the nose again), counting 21 repetitions for each cycle. With each slowly expelled breath, relax and feel the sense of “letting go”.
- Thought Process. Once your breathing is controlled and your mind is focused, introduce a koan. Repeat the koan over and over in your thoughts. You may come up with many possible answers that could lead to more questions. When you find yourself straying, call to mind your koan. Start with any of the following koans:
- The principle of Zen is complete freedom.
- Make Mt. Fuji take three steps.
- Look into a well, a man without shadow is drawing water.
- Pick up a stone from 10,000 meters deep in the ocean with dry hands.
- Reveal the true nature of the universe while washing bowls.
- Why is it not our tongue that we speak with?
This is just one of many techniques you can choose from but practicing Zen koan meditation will reward you with an awakening of your innate self.