INTRODUCTION TO ΖΕΝ

Zen is a “school of meditation” that perhaps is the most important revolution of human consciousness. It exists in the heart of every true and living spiritual tradition. The great master Dogen Zenji, who articulated the wisdom and compassion of Zen in 13th century Japan, once said, “To study Zen is to study oneself. To study the self is to forget about the self. To forget about the self is to be illuminated by myriads of things.” Enlightenment is the recognition of our unity with the universe. We see without our selfish self, without the veil of duality.

Zazen is a seating meditation, which is the heart of Zen. Essentially, it is a study of the self. The word Zazen is a Japanese term derived from the words Za –meaning, “I sit”– and Zen – meaning, “I am meditating and concentrating.” Ultimately, Zazen aims to move our mind back to its original state, which is a pure and cleansed state, with the ability to see the world as it really is. In Zazen practice silence is key, a quality closely related to enlightenment.

The Buddha “sat” in this particular position and the practice of Zen returns to that same seated position over and over again, without alterations or modifications, for over 2,500 years. The practice has survived and traversed the world, from India to China and Japan and from there to every corner of Asia, until it reached the West in the 20th century. It may seem rather easy, but like so many other practices, great dedication is required if someone is to find its deeper essence and discover its real strength.

“Here and Now” is the key concept. Nothing else exists except for this particular instant. This “now” is the reality. Most of us tend to think in past or future terms, rather than concentrating our attention on the actions, words and thoughts of each moment. One is urged to be “present” in the absolute sense of the word, present in every movement; to concentrate on the “here and now”, this is the lesson learned by Zen. This is what Zazen teaches , the “sikantaza”, meaning, “I’m just sitting”, “with no excuse, no purpose or self-interest”(musotoku).

We practice to free ourselves from any attachment, to increase our inner energy in order to channel it through our mental and physical being in the most beneficial way. Gradually and through practice, we develop compassion, the power of giving.

For the contemporary human being, the body, the breath and the mind are all scattered. In Zazen, all these function as one truth, one true reality. The first thing we can practice on is the positioning of the body, since the body has its own way of communicating both with the outside world and with our inner being. The stance of the body is directly related to what is happening in our mind and our breath. The most effective body position in Zazen’s practice is the stable, symmetrical position of the Buddha, where tension and relaxation come to equilibrium.

At Zen Center Athens, we are practicing Zazen, a practice that is beneficial to all people, regardless of gender, nationality, religion and social class. In Zen you neither add nor subtract, you simply experience totality.