What Is Zen?

Zen is an awakening to the dynamic reality of the present moment. In Zen practice, we meditate to bring calm and attentive focus on “right here, right now.” Through meditation practice, we grow increasingly able to live our lives in the present moment throughout the day.

Zen is a spiritual path, a path of inter-connection, of seeing through all duality that separates “me” from “other,” of living the awareness that there is no separation. The practice of Zen is life itself, embodying radical inquiry into the true nature of the Self and the true nature of reality. To practice Zen meditation is in itself an expression of this reality, an embodiment of the awakened state.

Zen meditation develops a centered, focused awareness, integrating body and mind into the heart of life itself. In zazen (seated silent meditation), we assume a posture of dynamic relaxation and experience fully the natural, relaxed flow of the breath as the mind’s attention comes to the present moment.

Zen practice grew from the initial experience of the enlightenment (awakening) of Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha (the awakened one), 2500 years ago. The practices and teachings of the Buddha spread from India to China where they picked up influences from Daoism. Daoist influenced Buddhism spread to Japan, where it was called “Zen” – derived from the Chinese word "chan," which derived from the Sanskrit word “dhyana,” which means meditation. The emphasis in Zen is on meditation rather than study of sutras.

One oft-repeated characterization of Zen is attributed to the semi-legendary figure founder of Zen, Bodhidharma (5th and 6th century CE):
A special transmission outside the scriptures;
No dependence on words and letters;
Direct pointing to the mind;
Seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood.

Is Zen a Religion?

Zen is a practice of spiritual deepening available to anyone of any religion. Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, and atheists have all found their religious experience and awareness expanded through Zen. You don’t have to change your religion in order to take up Zen practice and gain the insights of 1500 years of Zen masters.

Some Zen practitioners adopt Zen as their religion, finding in Zen a complete religion of practice, teachings, experience, and community. Others, however, maintain their Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist, or other faith while finding that Zen practice facilitates openness to a fuller experience of God. Boundless Way Zen communities (sanghas) offer nonsectarian Zen practice.

Zen is a wonderful practice of wisdom, compassion, living in the present moment, and realizing your true self. This practice is available to people of any, or no, religion.

How To Meditate

The simple basics:


Sit up straight. Sit on the front edge of your chair or cushion. Extend your back, lifting the top of your head as high as it will go. In a chair, place feet flat on the floor about 8” apart; shins perfectly vertical.

Let your shoulders and arms completely relax. With your hands resting in your lap, cup one hand inside the other with the tips of the thumbs just barely touching.

Almost, but not quite, close your eyes. Leave them open a slit, with your gaze directed downward 45.


Bring attention to your breathing and count each exhale to yourself. Count up to 10, then start back again at 1. Repeat counting 1 to 10 throughout the silent period.

When your mind wanders, make a note of what it wandered off doing (e.g., planning, remembering, fantasizing), then gently bring yourself back to this moment and start again at 1.

MORE: Please read the more detailed instruction in this PDF, produced by Zen Mountain Monastery: click here.

Format of Saturday Morning Practice

Saturday Zen Service
10:00am - 11:45am

Opening Verse
Zazen (seated meditation), 25 mins.
Kinhin (walking meditation), 6 mins.
Zazen, 25 mins.
Tea Service
Dharma Talk/Discussion
Closing Verse

Chants are in: Boundless Way Zen Sutra Book.
For the chants of any given week, see: BoWZ Westchester Chant Schedule

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