There are three stages in Zen practice, in this order:
- Adjusting the body — Lotus posture and half-lotus posture are both acceptable in Zen.
- Adjusting the breathing — Zen’s breathing exercise is called “observation of breath count” (sūsokukan) and is similar to post-canonical methods of preparation for meditation in the Theravada tradition. First, breathe in throught he nostrils and out through the mouth a few times. Then we start counting breaths, but this time, we breathe in and out through the nostrils. Simply count an incoming breath and then an outgoing breath. This breathing should be a form of abdominal breathing and expels negative energy from your system. While doing this, observe the breath entering and leaving the nostrils. You will be beset by all sorts of wandering thoughts, but abdominal breathing will gradually make these obstacles vanish. This will also help you learn to control your emotions more effectively.
- Adjusting the mind — At this point, you enter a state of meditation, and it is the combination of your immobile body posture and abdominal breathing that will assist you in this. This stage itself has three substages: “gross” breathing in which you can hear the incoming and outgoing breaths, then the second stage at which point you can feel the pathway of incoming and outgoing breaths, and then finally, the third stage, at which you no longer detect the sensation of incoming and outgoing breaths. The deeper into meditation you enter, the fewer the breaths you take, the deeper the inhalation and exhalation, and the greater the intervals between inhalation and exhalation. Eventually you will come face to face with your true, inner self. Simply observe whatever thoughts or feelings emerge without involving yourself with them.
There are also three distinct stages in the deepening of meditation:
- Concentration — Concentrate on the lower abdomen, which provisionally embraces dualistic ego-consciousness. This dualism will vanish as you segue into deeper meditation.
- Meditation — Ego-consciousness begins to vanish.
- Absorption — Ego consciousness does vanish. At this point, you enter into a stage of ego-less consciousness known as “no-mind,” in which discursive and analytic thinking vanishes.