Meditation—above all, seated meditation—has always been one of the foundational practices of Buddhism. Shakyamuni Buddha realized supreme enlightenment while seated in meditation beneath the bodhi tree. When he set out to establish the teachings and convey this enlightenment to others, he organized the Buddhist path according to the three basic disciplines of purity in the observation of precepts, or moral restraints (sila), meditative concentration or samadhi, and wisdom or prajna. The two factors of concentration and wisdom are developed primarily through formal meditation practice, with moral restraint as a preparatory basis. (Excerpted from Hoofprint of the Ox by Master Sheng Yen).

As one sets about cultivating a new, or deepening an existing, meditation practice, one should consider the positions, settings, methods, and attitudes through which practice occurs. On this page, we will offer brief exploration of these four aspects of practice.
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    Attitudes Towards Practice

    You know you want to benefit from daily practice, but you don’t know how to go about doing it. First, you should have a proper mental attitude towards practice. Second, you should use a method. Before you practice, it is important to relax your body and mind. But be careful not to try too hard – you might become tense; or relax too much – you might fall asleep. Both extremes are wrong. That’s why a proper, balanced mental attitude is important.

    Excerpt from Zen Wisdom Master Sheng Yen


    In practicing meditation, it is important that body and mind be relaxed. If one is physically or mentally tense, trying to meditate can be counter-productive. Sometimes certain feelings or phenomena arise while meditating. If you are relaxed, you will not be affected by whatever arises. It can be pain, soreness, itchiness, warmth or coolness; these are all natural reactions from meditation. But in the context of tenseness, these same symptoms may become obstacles.

    Joy for Practice

    Tell yourself that the time you practice is the best part of the day. The little time we do spend sitting is precious. If you have this attitude, you will not feel tense or sleepy. If meditation seems burdensome, it will be hard to persist in practice. Before you sit, remind yourself to feel happy about what you’re about to do. Think of sitting as if it is your final break of the day, the time when you leave work, or are about to go out for the evening. It is a time of release, relaxation, and enjoyment. There are no worries – you let everything go.

    Faith in Yourself

    If you lack faith, you will doubt the method you are using. On the other hand, if your confidence is too strong, then you will be expecting something out of the practice. Neither extreme is beneficial. To come to a retreat merely out of curiosity shows a lack of faith in yourself and in the practice; it would be impossible for you to get good results. From the very beginning you are denying yourself the possibility of doing well on retreat.

    Dedication to a Method

    As stated above, when you meditate you should have a method of practice. The method provides you a focal point for your awareness, without it meditation may be aimless or you could follow an unhelpful path. A description of some Chan methods, including counting the breath, following the breath, silent illumination, and huatou are provided below. A method may be assigned to you by a teacher or you may choose one yourself.

    Practice with an equal mind and don’t distinguish between good and bad. Do not compare your condition before and after the retreat, or judge whether the method you are using is right or wrong. If you find you cannot use the method, you may change it, but first understand why you cannot use the method. You should not let curiosity dictate your practice, playing with one method today and another tomorrow, or switching methods from one sitting to the next. You should see that there are no real differences between the various methods. Hold on to one method and go into it as deeply as possible.


    When you first set out to practice you will definitely have a goal in mind. You may be frustrated with your present condition and aim either to change yourself or to improve your circumstances. Certainly there is something you hope to achieve by practicing. You cannot just practice aimlessly. So practice itself implies some intention or desire. To fulfill your original intentions, you must constantly keep your mind on the method of practice. But as you focus on the method you should not be thinking of what you want to accomplish, what level you want to reach, or what problems you want to get rid of. Instead, your mind should be exclusively applied to the method itself, free from all other motives.

    Postures for Meditation

    When a practitioner is walking, they are aware, ‘I am walking.’ When they are standing, they are aware, ‘I am standing.’ When they are sitting, they are aware, ‘I am sitting.’ When they are lying down, they are aware, ‘I am lying down.’

    Excerpt from the Sattipatthana Sutra (Sutra on The Foundations of Mindfulness)

    Sitting Meditation

    Sitting meditation, or Zuo Chan in Mandarin, has been practiced in China since long before the appearance of Chan Buddhism. Dedicated time to still and regulate body, mind, and breath is an invaluable piece of Chan practice. For this reason, periods of sitting meditation comprise a large part of intensive retreats at our center. To find the benefits of sitting meditation, it is important to have a correct posture, attitude, and a dedicated method of focusing the mind.

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    Seven Point Posture for Sitting
    The foundation of sitting meditation is a stable and comfortable posture. When beginning a period of seated meditation, ensure that you check your posture against Dharma Drum’s Seven Points of Sitting .

    Walking Meditation

    In the Dharma Drum tradition, we practice walking at various paces: slow, normal, and fast. Through these practices we become more skilled at harmonizing body and mind in every moment of our lives. Walking meditation is especially useful for a change of pace when engaged in prolonged sitting, such as on personal or group retreats. Periods of walking can be taken between sittings.

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    Eight Form Moving Meditation

    Dharma Drum’s Eight-Form Moving Meditation was developed by Master Sheng Yen as a means of allowing people living stressful and busy lifestyles to enjoy some of the benefits of Chan meditation. The system, based on many years of practice and personal experience, has incorporated the essence of Chan meditation into a series of simple physical exercises. In addition to physical exercise, practice of the eight forms helps you relax your body and mind, so that you can develop a healthy body and a balanced mind.

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    Chan Practice in Daily Life

    The Chan school often says that everyday activity—eating, cleaning, defecating, carrying water, chopping wood—is itself Chan. This point is quite profound and not something easily understood by persons who are new to practice. If supplemented with a regular routine of seated and walking meditation, in time the ability to find meditative power in these activities will deepen. Thus, it should be understood that everyday activity itself becomes increasingly subtle as the practice matures. As wisdom and compassion manifest, you may find more ease in responding appropriately to the demands of daily life.

    Settings for Practice

    Practice can occur in various settings: individual practice, group practice, short-term practice, long-term practice, daily practice, and intensive, periodic practice.

    Excerpt from Zen Wisdom by Master Sheng Yen

    Daily Practice

    As a practitioner, you should have a method, and you should understand the goal of your practice. You should set aside a period of time each day to practice. For beginners, if the mind is burdened with outside concerns, it may be better to relieve some of these burdens before sitting. For this reason, it is best to sit early in the morning, before dealing with the problems of the day. Sitting times may be increased with experience. But people who meditate for extended periods may become so engrossed in their effort that they may not recognize their tensions, because their minds are preoccupied with getting results. So to work hard on meditation means to just put your mind on meditation itself, not on any results. If you can do that, tension will not arise. On the contrary, deeper relaxation, and calming of the body and mind should result.

    Group Practice

    Group practice can be better than solo practice because the schedule is more regular. On your own, it is easy to get lazy and miss a sitting here or there; but in a group, you will feel obligated to attend sittings and practice well. Seeing other people practicing usually sparks your own desire to practice

    Practice with a Teacher

    Whether alone or with a group, it is better to practice under a qualified master. Practice without the guidance of a master will probably not be too fruitful. Practicing with a master can save you time. A master’s understanding and experience can help you firmly grasp the essentials of practice and cultivate a correct view of Buddhadharma. This enables you to more quickly free yourself from the vexations of body and mind. With a master, time otherwise spent studying sutras and worrying about following the right path, can be devoted single-mindedly to practice.

    Intensive Practice on Retreat

    In addition to daily sittings, every so often you should devote a longer period of time exclusively to practice: one full day per week, one entire weekend per month, et cetera.

    Upcoming Retreats

    Methods of Practice

    Place your mind directly on the method itself; concern yourself with nothing else.

    Excerpt from Faith in Mind: A Commentary on Seng Ts’an’s Classic by Master Sheng Yen

    Although the methods of meditation given below are simple and straightforward, it is best to practice them under the guidance of a teacher. Without a teacher, a meditator will not be able to correct beginner’s mistakes, which if uncorrected, could lead to problems or lack of useful results.

    Relaxing the Body

    Close your eyes, lean back in your chair, and relax your muscles. Completely relax your eyes. It is very important that your eyelids be relaxed. There should be no tension around your eyeballs. Do not apply any force or tension anywhere. Relax your facial muscles, shoulders, and arms. Relax your abdomen and put your hands in your lap. If you feel the weight of your body, bring that sensation down to your seat. Do not think of anything. If thoughts come, recognize them for what they are and bring your attention to the inhaling and exhaling of your breath through your nostrils. Ignore everything. Just concentrate on your practice. Forget about your body and relax. Do not entertain doubts about whether what you are doing is useful.

    The principles of this method are to relax, to be natural, and to be clear. Keep each session short, but practice frequently; each session should be no longer than three to ten minutes. If you do it longer, you will probably feel restless or fall asleep. You can use this method a few times a day; it will refresh your body and mind and eliminate some of the confusion in your daily life. Gradually you will gain the stability of body and mind that makes it possible to, eventually, enter the gate of Chan.

    Counting the Breath

    Breathe naturally, do not try to control your breathing. The breath is used as a way to focus, to concentrate the mind. In other words, we bring the two things together – regulating the breathing and regulating the mind.

    Regulating the mind means to stabilize and concentrate the mind. The basic method of regulating the mind is to count one’s breath in a repeating cycle of ten breaths. Starting with one, mentally (not vocally) count each exhalation until you reach ten, keeping the attention on the counting. After reaching ten, start the cycle over again, starting with one. Do not count during the inhalation, but just keep the mind on the intake of air through the nose. If wandering thoughts occur while counting, just ignore them and continue counting. If wandering thoughts cause you to lose count, or go beyond ten, as soon as you become aware of it, start all over again at one.

    If you have so many wandering thoughts that keeping count is difficult or impossible, you can vary the method, such as counting backwards from ten to one, or counting by twos from two to twenty. By giving yourself the additional effort, you can increase your concentration on the method, and reduce wandering thoughts.

    Following the Breath

    This method is more difficult than counting the breath, requiring more skill in concentration before it can be practiced effectively. Place your awareness on the tip of the nose, and be aware of the sensations of the breath coming in and going out through the nostrils. As with counting the breath, do not control the breath–allow it to flow naturally and merely observe it. When distractions arise, do not follow them and merely return to the sensations of the breath.

    Silent Illumination

    The method of silent illumination focuses on the development of such qualities as total relaxation coupled with open awareness, perfect stillness coupled with luminous clarity. By gently settling the churning mind of deluded thinking, it seeks to allow the perfect quiescence and luminosity of the enlightened mind to naturally emerge.

    To practice silent illumination, just drop all busywork and discriminating thoughts and be serenely aware, accepting all things fully, just as they are. After relaxing the body, become aware of your body sitting. The mind is aware of the body sitting, rooted firmly to the ground. The mind attends to the body and its sensations—to the whole of the body engaged in the act of sitting, nothing more. If specific sensations draw your attention elsewhere, merely return to experiencing yourself sitting in the present moment.


    There are countless recorded stories of interactions between Chan masters and their students—a student may ask a question ( and a teacher may respond with a surprising verbal or physical response. “Does a dog have Buddha nature?” “Wu!” (translated as no or empty). These are known in Chinese as gong’an (or koan in Japanese), which translates to Public Case. While a lawyer may use logical analysis to review a specific case to better understand the law, the confounding nature of Chan gong’an means that they avoid intellectual answers.

    What then is a practitioner to do? These stories often contain a critical phrase, or huatou. To practice, one begins by reciting the huatou in their mind. If distractions arise, drop them return to the huatou. If intellectual answers come to mind, drop them and return the huatou. The method serves to concentrate the mind from distraction to unification, and eventually may give rise to a sense
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