Understanding Zen Meditation

Understanding Zen Meditation – Effortless Effort in Zen Teachings

Effort in Zen Meditation Practice

Zen Teachings of Effortless Effort

Zen Meditation is without a doubt one of the greatest tools for enlightenment and Self-realization.  This meditation technique is simple in it’s design, watch your breath being it’s core requirement, but fully appreciating Zen Meditation and Zen teachings requires a vast and open mind.

One aspect of Zen meditation or Zen teachings that often lead to confusion is the idea of effortless effort, or the role of effort in one’s spiritual practice and meditation practice.  In the Zen bible , Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, master Shunryu Suzuki explains how one should approach effort within the context of Zen Meditation.  Here is that excerpt…

Understanding Zen Meditation

Zen Master Suzuki on Effort in Zen Meditation

Book:     Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind

Author:   Shunryu Suzuki

Chapter: Mind Weeks (Pg 37)

Strictly speaking, any effort we make is not good for our practice because it creates waves in our mind.  It is impossible, however, to attain absolute calmness of our mind without any effort.  We must make some effort, but we must forget ourselves in the effort we make.  In this realm there is no subjectivity or objectivity.  Our mind is just calm, without even any awareness.  In this unawareness, every effort and every idea and thought will vanish.  So it is necessary for us to encourage ourselves and to make an effort up to the last moment, when all effort disappears.  You should keep your mind on your breathing until you are not aware of your breathing.

We should try to continue our effort forever, but we should not expect to reach some stage when we will forget all about it.  We should just try to keep our mind on our breathing.  That is our actual practice.  That effort will be refined more and more while you are sitting.  At first the effort you make is quite rough and impure, but by the power of practice the effort will become purer and purer.  When your effort becomes pure, your body and mind become pure.  This is the way we practice Zen.  Once you understand our innate power to purify ourselves and our surroundings, you can act properly, and you will learn from those around you, and you will become friendly with others.  This is the merit of Zen practice.  But the way of practice is just to be concentrated on your breathing with the right posture and with great, pure effort.  This is how we practice Zen.

Analysis of Effort in Zen Meditation & Zen Teachings:

There are some very nice points that master Suzuki makes above and I would just like to highlight those for you.

1. Zen Meditation Technique:

Zen meditation requires you to simply remain concentrated on your breathing with right posture and right attitude.  Simple to do, with life transforming results.  For more details on this technique, you can refer to my article Zen Meditation Technique.

2. Zen Meditation Works Over Time:

One important aspect of Zen meditation, which is also a challenge for the impatient, is that this technique works on you slowly over time.  In fact the changes are almost imperceptible, although if you stick to it long enough, they are absolutely profound.  The end result of Zen meditation is that it transforms you into a purified, joyous, compassionate and wise being.

3. Effort to End all Efforts:

This is how I like to view effort in the context of meditation and spiritual growth.  Collect all your energies, all your desires and put them together to make one big, great, pure effort.  With this effort then immerse yourself passionately into meditation and spiritual practice.  This one great effort will then lead you to the place of effortless living.  Call this place nirvana, enlightenment, tao, heaven, moksha, satori, whatever. 

The bottom line is just find a way to meditate, then let meditation take care of the rest.

If you are new to meditation you may wish to sign up the the Free Online Beginner’s Meditation Class, which incorporates Zen Meditation in it.

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4 replies
  1. Andrew
    Andrew says:

    Hello Anmol!
    But if i`m do not want to stop everything? I`m love one girl, from the school, we learned together, and i want to say to her that i love her, she is girl of my life, i want to say this to her very soon… And here is the stop come? But i love her, i want to unlock my heart charka and activate it, for some reason i`ve waited for this chance to come almost 2-3 years, as you call that way – bhakti yoga, path of love. I`m now in love and sence that this feeling finally fulfilling me! I`ve nnever experienced this ever before and was unhappy, wearing the smile as answer to all difficulties of the life. I`ve felt that i`ll be very unhappy if i`ll be without her, i can live and spiritually advance, i think love is not a problem! I feel myself so good when i love her, the sence that i`m finally complete follow me and i`m ready to say to her what i want – i love her with all my heart…


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  1. What is Meditation Actually? - one man and his shed says:

    […] When we practice technique, we need to do so without striving, without forcefully willing the meditative state into being. This is one of the enigmas of meditation. That its arising requires the application of what Zen practitioners describe as effortless effort. […]

  2. Zen or Zazen Meditation says:

    […] Understanding Zen Meditation – Effortless Effort in Zen Teachings […]

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