The benefits of meditation
Zazen is the simplest form of action, and when we are practicing meditation we do not intentionally think about anything or concentrate on our feelings and perceptions.
We sit in a simple non discriminating state where our body-and-mind are balanced and undivided.
We can describe four aspects in the practice of meditation :
The state in Zazen is without intention and is different from thinking.
This statement sounds strange as we normally believe that we are always thinking. We avoid intentionally following a train of thought during Zazen by concentrating on maintaining the posture. Of course spontaneous thoughts and images arise in our consciousness during Zazen, but they are not important. When we notice that we are thinking about something, we should simply stop. If we correct our posture, the thought or perception will disappear and our consciousness will slowly become clear and we will feel peaceful. In this peaceful and balanced state, we are in the state that is “different from thinking.”
However, if we intentionally try to attain the state that is different from thinking, we can never do so. When our consciousness is full of thoughts and feelings during Zazen, we should leave our state as it is. Our worries will bubble to the surface and evaporate into the universe!
In this way, by concentrating on the posture and the point of contact between the two inch, we will return naturally to our original state during our practice.
In Zazen we sit on a cushion on the floor with both legs crossed, and with our lower spine, upper spine, and head held straight vertically. Keeping the spine straight has a direct and immediate effect on the autonomic nervous system that controls many of our body’s functions. Its effects include control of heart rate and force of contraction, constriction and dilatation of blood vessels, contraction and relaxation of smooth muscle in various organs, the ability to focus the eyes and the size of the pupils, and the secretion of hormones from various glands directly into the blood stream.
The autonomic nervous system is composed of the sympathetic and the parasympathetic nervous systems
When the sympathetic nervous system is stimulated, our heart rate increases, arteries and veins constrict, the lungs relax, and our pupils dilate; in short, we become tense and alert. When the parasympathetic nervous system is stimulated, the opposite happens; our heart rate decreases, arteries and veins dilate, the lungs contract, and the pupils constrict. You can see that the two systems prepare the body for an active or passive response-sometimes known as the “fight or flight” syndrome. When the effect of the two systems on the organs is in balance, we are neither ready to fight, nor ready to run away; we are in a normal state.
The parasympathetic nerves emerge from the spinal chord at the base of the spine (the second, third and fourth sacral vertebrae) and through the cranial vertebrae in the neck, whereas the sympathetic nerves emerge from the spinal chord through the middle vertebrae in the back (the D1 to L2 vertebrae). Keeping the spine normally upright, with the head sitting squarely on the top of the vertebral column minimizes the compression of the nerves of these two systems at the points where the nerves emerge through the vertebrae, and ensures an uninterrupted supply of blood, allowing them to function normally. When the parasympathetic and sympathetic systems are both working normally, they function in opposition to give us a state of balance of body-and-mind; not too tense, and not too relaxed, not overly optimistic or pessimistic; not too aggressive and not too passive.
In addition to this, sitting in the upright posture, where the force of gravity acts down through the spine onto the pelvis, is a position in which our body’s reflexes can work efficiently to integrate the functioning of the whole body.
Zazen also helps to balance the activity of the two hemispheres of the brain.
It is this physical state of balance in the autonomic nervous system that give rise to what we call a balanced body-and-mind.
Usually we think there is something that is called “mind” and something else called “body” and that the two are separate, although they have a great effect on each other. In Buddhism we believe that body and mind are two sides of one entity, which we call “myself,” but that we actually cannot fully grasp. We believe that every mental phenomenon has a physical side, and every physical phenomenon has a mental side. We do not believe in the independent existence of something called “mind” that is separate from the physical body, brain, nervous system, and so on.
When our mind is in the ordinary state and our autonomic nervous system is balanced, we are in the “balanced state of body-and-mind.”
When we sit in Zazen, because we do not concentrate on thoughts, or perceptions, our body-and-mind exist undivided in the present moment.
When we are practicing Zazen, not only can we say that body-and-mind are one; we are also sitting in the state where there is no distinction between ourselves and the external circumstances-the world around us. Most people have at some time experienced this simple feeling of oneness with everything, and in Zazen we can notice that it is not just a feeling, but the actual state of things in the present moment. We call the state “ineffable,” or “dharma,” or “truth,” or “reality.”
When we are sitting in Zazen we are one with the Universe, and the state includes all things and phenomena. In that sense, although we are experiencing the state, we cannot grasp it intellectually. We cannot describe it completely.
(source : www.dogensangha.org )