Beginning Zen Practice

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Beginning Zen practice sometimes seems confusing. Many beginners or first-timers to our center are not sure what Zen is, how to practice, or even how to start. So many people feel that way upon visiting the Zen Center for the first time, that it is worth explaining. First of all, no one is judging you, everyone is unsure at first. So it’s no problem at all at the Zen Center.

To learn the basics of sitting meditation, we recommend that you attend a Beginner’s Night practice at the Zen Center of Las Vegas, which are always held the first Monday of the month at 6:30pm. Click HERE for calendar.

Additionally, just drop by during any scheduled practice time and let someone know you are new to the center. Please also read our Frequently Asked Questions page. If you have a question for the Abbot to discuss in private, please visit our Contact page.

Our parent school: kwanumzen.org

Beginners Guide To Zen is below. Please click each section to open.

Sitting

Most of our students are ordinary people just like you. Sitting meditation is a wonderful practice for everyone, it is also called “mind sitting”.

Everyone is full of opinions, judgements, and ideas. These thoughts mean that our minds are always moving, shifting here and there, projecting meanings, creating desire, and generally leaving us unhappy and dissatisfied. Mind-sitting means keeping a not-moving mind.  How do you keep not-moving mind? In each moment, every moment, don’t cling to your opinion, condition and situation. When you are doing something, just do it 100%. This is everyday Zen.

We focus on the teaching of great love, great compassion, and the Great Bodhisattva Way. To attain that, to attain a non-moving mind, we utilize Zen Practice, which allows us to see clearly what is right in front of us. It allows us to find our true life direction, so our correct situation, our correct function, and our correct relationship appear.

Chanting

The founding teacher of the Kwan Um School of Zen, the great Zen Master Seung Sahn Soen Sa was once asked by a student: Why do you chant? Isn’t sitting enough?”

He answered:

“Everybody has different karma. So all people have different situations, different conditions, and different opinions. One person is a monk, another is a student, another works in a factory; one person always keeps a clear mind, another is often troubled or dissatisfied; one person likes the women’s movement, another doesn’t.

But everybody thinks, ‘My opinion is correct!’ Even Zen Masters are like this. Ten Zen Masters will have ten different ways of teaching, and each Zen Master will think that his way is the best. Americans have an American opinion; Orientals have an Oriental opinion. Different opinions result in different actions, which make different karma.

So when you hold on to your own opinions, it is very difficult to control your karma, and your life will remain difficult. Your wrong opinions continue, so your bad karma continues. But at our Zen Centers, we live together and practice together, and all of us abide by the Temple Rules. People come to us with many strong likes and dislikes, and gradually cut them all off.

Everybody bows together 108 times at five-thirty in the morning, everybody sits together, everybody eats together, everybody works together. Sometimes you don’t feel like bowing; but this is a temple rule so you bow. Sometimes you don’t want to chant, to sleep; but you chant. Sometimes you are tired and want to but you know that if you don’t come to sitting, people will wonder why; so you sit.

So we live together and act together. Acting together means cutting off my opinions, cutting off my condition, cutting off my situation. Then we become empty mind. We return to white paper. Then our true opinion, our true condition, our true situation will appear.

When we bow together and chant together and eat together, our minds become one mind. It is like on the sea. When the wind comes, there are many waves. When the wind dies down, the waves become smaller. When the wind stops, the water becomes a mirror, in which everything is reflected-mountains, trees, clouds. Our mind is the same.

When we have many desires and many opinions, there are many big waves. But after we sit Zen and act together for some time, our opinions and desires disappear. The waves become smaller and smaller. Then our mind is like a clear mirror, and everything we see or hear or smell or taste or touch or think is the truth. Then it is very easy to understand other people’s minds. Their minds are reflected in my mind.

So chanting is very important. At first you won’t understand. But after you chant regularly, you will understand.”

Beginner’s Night

The Zen center does have a systematic way of doing things, and they are pretty simple once you see it a few times. Beginner’s Night (always the first Monday of the month at 6:00pm) is made for covering the basics of why we practice, how to sit, what to notice, why we chant, and then a brief 5 minute sitting period followed by a brief Dharma talk by the teacher.

If you are unable to attend a Beginner’s Night, you may attend any regular practice time, just send us an email and let us know ahead of time. If you do attend a regular practice time, just follow along as best as you can. The guide is below.

Correct Zen meditation helps to remove our ignorance, attachment and “I, my, me” mindset and to practice a correct life path. Additionally, we should strive to help all sentient beings to be free from suffering and gain happiness.

Zen represents a simple and pure approach to life. In the 21st century, our lives are becoming more and more complicated both mentally and physically. Zen practice helps our minds to return to peace, tranquility, and freedom.

The Dharma Room

The Dharma Room

The Dharma Room

Practice takes place in the Dharma Room, a quiet room where we all practice together. Everyone sits, bows, and chants together in the Dharma Room. We have chanting books to follow along. Each person’s practice supports every other person’s practice.

We all bow in the same rhythm, chant together, and then we all sit in silence until the end of each sitting period. The beginning & end of each sitting period is marked by the Dharma teacher hitting a “chugpi”, a bamboo clapper that makes a “clack” sound.

The many trees that make up a forest give it strength, and cannot be blown away by strong wind. People practicing meditation together not only help themselves, but also contribute to each other’s strength.

The important thing to keep in mind is this: whatever practice you are doing, keep 100% attention on what you are doing. When you bow, just bow. When you chant, just chant. When you sit, just sit. That’s it. Simple attention to the moment, present and mindful.

Regular Practice - What To Do

Regular Practice - What To Do

Our Zen Meditation classes include chanting meditation, sitting meditation, walking meditation, dharma talks, interview, kong-an practice, and Hua tou practice.

Sitting and walking meditations are formal meditations in which we learn to relax our bodies and concentrate on breathing naturally to focus our minds. The correct way to sit, bow, and chant is very easy.

Regular Practice

When we have a “regular” practice time, it begins a few minutes early with students entering the Dharma Room (meditation hall) and being seated for practice.

Entering the Dharma Room

Entering the Dharma Room

FIRST: Wear loose, comfortable clothing. Next, remove your shoes before entering the Dharma Room – (we ask that you please wear/bring socks). We have a small entrance hall where you can safely leave your shoes, purses, bags, etc.

You then enter the Dharma room to be seated for practice.

NOTE: You may notice some students doing a standing bow before entering the Dharma room – you may choose to bow as you enter, but it is not required for beginning students.

Where to sit?

Once in the Dharma room, there are several rows of black cushions to sit on. They are laid out in two rows, we ask new visitors to sit on any outer row. There are also two black cushions against the far walls, those are for precept students. The red cushion is for the guiding teacher only.

Once Seated – Chanting Meditation begins

A note on sitting – if you have leg or knee problems, or cannot sit cross-legged, let someone know right away. It is not necessary to sit cross legged on the cushion if it will cause pain. It is perfectly fine to ask for a chair, many people do. It is usual to see a few people in chairs.

Once everyone is seated, the guiding teacher enters. Once the guiding teacher sits, the students will give the guiding teacher a seated bow. Again, it is not necessary for you to do this as a beginner, just watch and follow along with the practice.

A precepts student will then light the incense on the alter, step back and bow, and all students will bow at the same time. Again, just watch and follow along if you like. Next, they will hand everyone a “Chanting Book”. This is a guidebook of all the chants written both in Korean, English, and phonetically as we do some chanting in Korean.

The precepts student will announce the name of the first chant, give the page number, and then they will start “keeping time” to the chants with a Moktak, a gourd like instrument used to set cadence for the chant.

NOTE: Some chants are standing, some are seated, and there are some bows during a few of the chants. No need to worry, it is slow and easy, again, just follow along as best you can. It is always the same routine, so after two or three times you will probably get the hang of it.

If you need a chair, no problem. Just ask.

How To Sit

How To Sit

We tend to see body, breath, and mind separately, but in meditation they become one. The sitting position is important, because how you position your body has a lot to do with what happens with your mind and your breath.

Throughout the years of evolution of Buddhism, the most effective position of the body for sitting meditation has been the posture of the seated Buddha.

Sitting on the floor or a mat is recommended, because it is very stable. We use a cushion to raise the rear just a little, so that the knees can touch the ground. With your bottom on the pillow and two knees touching the ground, you form a tripod base that gives firmness and stability.

Next, we move on to the sitting meditation period.

Sitting & Walking Meditation

After the Precepts student collects the chanting books, they will return to the altar to light the incense. Another couple of bows from everyone, then it is time for sitting meditation. Another student will be holding a bamboo “chugpi”, it is a split piece of bamboo that when struck against the palm, makes a loud “clack” sound.

This is used to signal the start and stop times of meditation periods. 

Now is the time to adjust your sitting posture, if you are cross-legged, the back is straight, the hands are in “mudra” position in the lap (left fingers over the right fingers, thumbs touching lightly. Your head should be up, chin down slightly, and your eyes should be open, looking about 3 feet in front of you at the floor.

The student will hit the chugpi three times, and the first round of seated meditation begins.

Beginner’s Practice Suggestion: A simple, strong beginning meditation is to just be aware… notice the floor color, notice the sounds you hear, notice the way the cushion feels, just what your senses are experiencing. Don’t make any ideas about them, just be aware of them.

Pretty soon, the mind will do what it does, namely drift off into some past scenario, or some future daydream, and pretty soon you are lost in the “mind movie”. You will become aware that you have been “daydreaming”, and when you do, it’s no problem, just bring your awareness back to this moment – notice the floor color, notice the sounds you hear, notice the way the cushion feels, just what your senses are experiencing.

When your mind drifts again, just bring focus to your senses… again. After 20 minutes, the first period of sitting is over, and there will be one loud “clack” from the chugpi.

Everyone will stand up, and begin walking in a counter clockwise circle for walking meditation for 5 minutes. Just follow along, walking slowly, until the chugpi is struck again, then stop behind your cushion.

It is struck again, and you will sit the last round of meditation for 20 minutes. Use the practice described above. When you hear 3 clacks from the chugpi, meditation is over. Remain sitting, as there will be a brief Dharma talk from the guiding teacher. That’s it!

To recap, 20 min of chanting, 20 min of sitting, 5 min of walking, 20 min of sitting.

Group Meditation and Retreats Group meditation is especially important and useful because we tend to have more determination while practicing in a group. Group meditations are held at ZCLV on Tuesday and Thursday from 6:30pm to 8:00pm and on Sunday 8:30am to 10:30am.

Full Calendar here

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