Zen is a method of mind training and often used to describe meditation, mindfulness, and awareness. These terms are not only meant to be understood intellectually, but to be experientially applied in one’s daily life. Zen is the art of being present moment by moment regardless of the activity. Zen can be described as both the methods used to cultivate the mind and the mind’s awareness itself. This cultivation will enhance one’s life tremendously, and thus it is not surprising why Zen so nicely compliments other psychotherapy and consulting methods.
Is Zen religious? No. However, if one is religious in the Western sense, practicing Zen will compliment and enhance one’s religious and spiritual practice.
Is Zen Japanese? Yes and No. The word Zen itself is Japanese, but Zen originated in India where it is known as Dhyana. Later, Zen traveled to China by way of an Indian monk named Bodhidharma and is known as Chan. Eventually, Zen spread to Japan where it became popularized and then finally spread throughout the world. Dhyana, Chan, and Zen all mean meditation or mindfulness, and can be viewed as a universal human birthright, not unlike our ability to concentrate or be aware.
Is Zen Buddhist? Yes and No. If Zen is used to describe Zen Buddhism, then obviously Zen is Buddhist. However, Zen by itself is not religious or Buddhist. Zen, here, refers to meditation for a wide range of purposes. To practice Zen, one can start by increasing their awareness of themselves and their internal and external environment. For instance, reading this line and knowing that you are reading this line and its meaning without an intrusive and wandering mind is a form of Zen practice. Often misunderstood, countless people have practiced Zen without knowing they were practicing Zen and without any affiliation to a formal Zen practice or organization. Examples include:
A man in deep reflection; an athlete in the “zone” while surfing, snowboarding, playing golf, tennis or any other sport; a musician playing in harmony with his band; an artist at one with her creation; the husband who is intently listening to his spouse; a mother who is engaged in play with her daughter; and the child who is laughing on the play ground.
A hallmark of Zen is to be simple, direct, and effective in all endeavors, and particularly applicable with one’s thoughts, speech, and actions. Finally, the best way to practice Zen is by learning and then practicing meditation. By practicing meditation, one trains and increases their level of concentration to be fully present and aware moment by moment, which then creates opportunities to live mindfully throughout the day.
A brief note on Chi Kung, one of the best vehicles in cultivating mindfulness.
CHI KUNG (Qigong)
Chi Kung (spelled Qigong in Romanized Chinese; pronounced Chee Gung) is the art of developing vital energy. Chi translates to energy, and Kung refers to both an art and training. Hence, Chi Kung is literally an art of training energy and is considered an umbrella term having various aims or purposes such as health, martial arts, mind training or expansion, and spiritual cultivation.
Regarding health, Chi Kung is based on Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) concepts. According to TCM, health exists and illness is prevented because an abundance of chi flow is harmoniously circulating and cleansed throughout the body. In contrast, illness (medical, psychological and/or spiritual) occurs when there is energy blockage(s) or depleted energy.
Hence, Chi Kung is designed to both create harmonious chi flow to overcome blockage(s), and to enhance and restore chi. There are many ways to achieve harmonious chi flow such as physical exercise, diet, herbs, massage, acupressure, acupuncture, etcetera. However, the simplest, most direct, and effective way to generate harmonious chi flow is to practice Chi Kung. Of note, in TCM, promoting health and preventing disease is regarded as superior to treating illness, and thus one primary goal in practicing Chi Kung is to enhance harmonious chi flow in order to promote health, vitality, and longevity.
To train energy (chi), one has to enter what is called a “chi kung state of mind”, also referred to as “entering Zen”. In a Zen state of mind, not unlike what athletes refer to as the “Zone”, energy can be enhanced and allowed to flow wherever chi is depleted or blocked. Hence, to practice Chi Kung, one is simultaneously practicing Zen. Without Zen, Chi Kung becomes a low-level art of physical exercise without the benefits of mind and energy training.
Generally, Chi Kung practice consists of roughly 5 minutes of chi kung form (a particular pattern chosen by either teacher or student), followed by 5 minutes of chi flow where the practitioner learns to let their internal energy flow harmoniously, and concluded with 5 minutes of standing meditation. Of note, at the onset of the practice, one enters Zen prior to performing a pattern, followed by practicing the form mindfully, then being aware of effortless and spontaneous chi flow, and concluded with standing meditation. Hence, in essence, the entire Chi Kung practice is Zen practice.
Unfortunately, many people today are only practicing “Chi Kung form”, leaving out the essence of energy and mind training. In this regard, the practitioner is not practicing Chi Kung, but only the Chi Kung form that promotes physical flexibility at most, but would be missing at least 90% of the art. This is also true for many martial artists today where roughly 90% of focus is on form or set practice only, with little emphasis on developing and training energy and mind, Chi Kung and Zen respectively.
Is Chi Kung a martial art? No. Although Chi Kung is found in most martial arts, generally, Kung Fu and Tai Chi Chuan, Chi Kung by itself has no martial arts applications. Alternatively, when genuine Kung Fu and genuine Tai Chi Chuan are practiced properly they are a complete system of Chi Kung.
I sometimes offer, although more infrequently these days secondary to time constraints most weeks. But, if in therapy or consultation with me, sometimes learning and then regularly practicing Chi Kung forms can prove useful to certain conditions.
Courses generally look like the following:
The famous Shaolin Chi Kung set, 18 Lohan Hands, is taught over three separate classes. Each class will meet for 90 minutes once a week for seven weeks. Classes 1-3 can be taken in any order.
Regardless of your situation, this course will prove to be a simple and cost-effective approach to maintaining health, increasing vitality, and preventing illness. Students can and often do range from being physically and psychologically healthy to having an illness of some kind. Of note, this course is not considered psychotherapy, but therapeutic nonetheless.
In each course, students will learn how to practice the dynamic patterns (simple physical movements) correctly, how to breathe properly, and how to “enter zen” or be relaxed physically and mentally. Most importantly, students will learn how to generate internal chi flow which is the fundamental purpose of Chi Kung.
Students will learn the first 6 patterns of the Shaolin 18 Lohan Hands set.
Students will learn patterns 7-12 of the Shaolin18 Lohan Hands set.
Students will learn the last 6 patterns of the Shaolin 18 Lohan Hands set.