Frequently Asked Questions
Open Mind Zen FAQ
What is Zen Buddhism?
Zen Buddhism is not a theory, an idea, or a piece of knowledge. It is not a belief, dogma, or religion; but rather, it is a practical experience. Zen is not a moral teaching, and as it is without dogma, it does not require one to believe in anything. Meditation is its core practice. Zen is very simple. It is so simple, in fact, that it’s very difficult to grasp. Meditation is the core of Zen Buddhism.
Do I need to be a Zen Buddhist to come to the Open Mind Zen center?
No. Everyone is welcome to attend.
Do I have to be Buddhist to meditate?
Meditation can be practiced by anyone. The practice of meditation is a process of turning inward to learn about the workings of the mind and how thoughts and emotions shape perception. It does not require one to believe any particular religious doctrine, though many of the world’s greatest sages and saints have used meditation as a way to deepen their understanding and experience of their own faith.
What can I expect from meditation?
Meditation has many benefits. In a general sense, meditation allows us to access the mind’s innate qualities of peace and serenity. Eventually, these experiences become a living reality and our happiness is no longer dependent on the fluctuating conditions of the world around us. Meditation can also be used to cultivate certain qualities, such as compassion or wisdom, and also to address specific problems, such as destructive emotional patterns, chronic illness, and challenging relationship issues. The point of meditation is not to escape such situations, but rather to see that everything we experience can be transformed into a source of joy through the practice of meditation.
What is the best way to learn how to meditate?
There is no one approach to meditation that works for everyone. Indeed, the “best” approach is simply the one that works best for you. We offer meditation instruction on the last Sunday of every month. Please see the Weekly Schedule for more information.
How do I know if I’m really meditating?
Meditation is a state of heightened awareness. When you try to meditate, there will likely be periods where you are lost in thought, and other times when you are fully aware in the present moment, meaning that you are fully conscious of what you are doing at that time. Whether you are focusing on your breath, observing thoughts, or simply resting in awareness, the sign of meditation is that you know what you are doing. In other words, you are not only watching the breath, but also aware that you are watching the breath. Meditative awareness can be practiced at all times. You simply need to be aware of whatever you are doing in the present moment. If you are driving to work, for example, you can pay attention to the road and your surroundings, but also maintain a heightened sense of awareness that you are driving. You can even do this while engaged in conversation, watching television, or working in front of a computer.
What do I do when thoughts come up?
Thinking is a natural function of the mind; there is no need to stop thoughts from occurring. When you are meditating and you realize that you have been lost in thought, simply return your awareness to the object of your meditation. There is nothing more to it than that.
How does meditation relate to daily life?
Meditation allows us to be more aware and present in whatever activity we are doing. This has a beneficial impact on virtually every aspect of day to day life. In relationships, meditation will help us develop unconditional love that springs from a place of deep peace and serenity. At work, meditation will enable us to be more focused, creative, and efficient, while at the same time being emotionally balanced. In terms of health, meditation has been shown to have a dramatic impact on the physical body, including lowering stress levels, increasing immune system functioning, and increasing the capacity to cope with illness and chronic pain.
What are the practices and forms you use at Open Mind Zen?
The forms we practice in the Zendo (meditation hall) such as bowing, chanting together, enjoying noble silence, and moving in accord with the bells, offer a space for us to nourish our mindfulness of thoughts, speech and action. Upon entering the center we remove our shoes. It is normal, and expected that, when you arrive to talk and greet others, however when seated on your cushion or chair for meditation silence is observed. Discussions and formal Dharma talks are lead by our teachers and “mindful” speaking during these discussions is allowed and encouraged. “Mindful” speech avoids harming, lacks ill-will, is helpful and isn’t idle chatter. We bow to the teacher before speaking and the teacher bows back to acknowledge your desire to speak.
We alternate between sitting meditation (zazen) and walking meditation (kinhin). We meditate sitting on a cushion or a chair for approximately 30 minutes, followed by walking meditation for approximately 5 minutes. We repeat this pattern twice. Instruction in walking meditation is provided.
Why all the bowing and chanting?
In Buddhism, bowing is a physical expression of the Buddha’s teaching. When we bow, we are paying our respects to our practice, our situation, our sitting companions, and all beings. We bow to our cushions and to each other. Instruction is provided at every session. Chanting is means of harmonizing body and mind. When chanting we are aware of others who are also chanting and blend our voice with theirs, making one voice, all together. Booklets with the chants are provided prior to any chanting.