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Japanese Meditation

Japanese meditation is one that suits a wide variety of lifestyles, combining the duality of Japan's warlike generals and contemplative priests.  The peace that it offers can be achieved with a little bit of contemplation.

One famous type of Japanese meditation is zazen, a technique that focuses on deep thought and contemplation and serves as the very core of the Zen meditation.  This technique involves a sitting posture, as the Buddha himself sat in rumination in his journey to enlightenment. Zazen meditation is over two thousand years old, and its tenets are known to the Chinese and Japanese, though it originally came from India. 

Despite its long, turbulent history, Japan has a softer face that complements its warlike past.  Meditation, to the Japanese, has long been a tradition of Japan's large population of Buddhists.   This peaceful act, with its emphasis on deep contemplation and deliberation, focused and cleared the mind. An admirable trait for a soldier or a warrior.

Buddhism and meditation came to Japan in the Nara period, in 552 AD.  The religion traveled from India to Japan with the opening of the famous Silk Road, the interconnected trading routes that stretched across Asia to Europe.  By the Heian period some 300 years later, Buddhism spread to the lower classes and meditation became a more commonly known practice

The Mahyana schools of Buddhism in Japan, tended to be highly ritualistic, creating beautiful ceremonies involving candles, flowers and incense.  One of the Mahayana schools of Buddhism was called Zen, a term referring to a specific type of meditation.  Zen, with its complicated theories and emphasis on meticulous daily ritual made it popular with the military during the Heian period.  According to Zen, enlightenment can be reached through discipline and the deliberation found in meditation.

In Zazen meditation, body, breath and mind come together in one unit that flows and functions, at peace with itself.  The position for zazen derives from the images of the Buddha himself.  Start by sitting on the floor, legs crossed in front of you with your buttocks slightly raised, allowing your knees to touch the ground.  Keep your back straight to allow your body to breathe to flow freely.  Close your eyes and keep your back straight, though your body should be loose and soft. 

Rest the back of your less dominant hand in the palm of your dominant hand, and let your thumbs meet over them, forming an oval.  Begin to breathe, deeply and slowly, picturing your breath as a circle that comes in through your nose and out through your mouth.  Let your mind empty, but if you find yourself facing stray thoughts, feel free to examine them and consciously let them go.  Consideration of your day to day life is occasionally inevitable, but it becomes possible to weed these thoughts out, allowing a more thorough comprehension of the space around you to exist. 

People from all walks of life are enjoying the many benefits of various types of Japanese meditation.

By Claire Faregreen

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