What is Zen?
Zen is a technique for quieting both body and mind so that we can see things as they really are and appreciate life as it is.
For Christians, it is borrowing a Buddhist practice in order to find a way back to the contemplative roots of our own spiritual tradition – not so different from the practice of the Desert Fathers and the Mediaeval Mystics, and practised by growing numbers of Christians, especially since the mid-twentieth-century.
For Buddhists, meditation was essential to the Buddha and is an expected everyday practice.
It is something believers of all kinds, and people of no religious faith, can do together in pursuit of the truth, sitting together and supporting each other.
What we do
We sit still and give ourselves to quietening our minds. It is OK to use a chair, a kneeling stool or a mat and cushion, though the closer we are to the floor the easier it is to maintain a straight back, to feel grounded and connected to our surroundings, and to concentrate on emptying the mind.
We sit for exactly 25 minutes, then go into walking mediation together for another five, moving together and maintaining our concentration as a group. In our weekly sessions, we have three 25-minute periods. For all-day sits there are rest periods between the ninety-minute sessions.
Occasionally we read together from Buddhist or Christian texts, as for most of us both these streams of tradition feed our practice.
As to externals: We use a Japanese gong to time our sessions; we bow often, to express our respect for the practice and each other, and we burn a candle and sometimes use a little incense. None of this matters very much, though we find it helps to keep us focussed.
Experiences and by-products
Mystics of all traditions and none report enduring experiences of oneness with the universe, and flashes of this kind of experience come to all sorts of people. Zen practice helps us to cultivate this awareness, to cherish it and to integrate it in our lives.
Practitioners tend to find an increase in calm, contentment, concern for others, ability to concentrate and tolerance of discomfort in their lives as their practice develops over the years.
Like to try it out?
Best to come on a Thursday evening session first – come ten minutes early at 6.20 for some help finding a good posture and to ask any questions you may have.
Ends at 8, with a cup of tea and opportunity for chat after.
We have quarterly Zen Saturdays. On these days we sit for a total of 6 hours. The day is in silence except at gathering and closing.
We have at least two residential retreats each year. If you’d like to be added to the mailing list, email [email protected]
URC Minister at the London Inter Faith Centre
Convenor of the Zen group
Note: We are a group of friends practising together; we belong to no particular ‘lineage’ and encourage people to attend retreats led by a variety of Zen practitioners.