Zen: Concentration and Meditation

Hi there! This is Zen Master Rama. (Zazen music plays in the background.) For the next 45 minutes, I’ll be talking with you about concentration and meditation—zazen.

There is a wonderful continuity to life, isn’t there? Continuity comes in different forms. There is the continuity of being—a sense of self, awareness of this world, of your life, the elements in your life, things that you think and feel, things that you desire and want to have or to experience, things that you’d like to avoid, unpleasant things—pain, frustration, depression. The continuous awareness of self, a sense of yourself continuing in time and space, is continuity—continuity of awareness.

One of the funny things about awareness, within that framework, is that it never assumes it will end. And in a way it does, and in a way it doesn’t. When we’re alive, we never picture ourselves dying, yet someday each of us dies. Someday in a room somewhere, perhaps a hospital room, in an automobile, perhaps outdoors, you will leave this world. You won’t be here anymore and everything that you’ve known will fade from your view, and it will happen at the darndest time. You will be quite convinced that it couldn’t be happening then, and yet you’ll be powerless to stop it. Then another kind of continuity occurs, and that’s the continuity that is beyond death.

Death is a doorway, but it’s a very small, thin doorway, and only a portion of our being can walk through that doorway. The rest stays behind and is lost or transformed into something else. At the time of death, we walk through a doorway and our spirit, which is very thin, slides through into another world, another existence, another experience.

But for now, we are here. We are in this world. And in this world, there are limitations—and no one likes to be limited. We all want freedom. We all want to be limitless. Limitations exist in the mind. Freedom exists in the mind. Heaven exists in the mind. Hell exists in the mind. There are objective circumstances and situations. You can be in jail. You can be free. You can live in a country with restrictions on travel. You can live in a country where they don’t restrict your travel.

But happiness, awareness, consciousness has little or nothing to do with physical restrictions.

There are ten thousand states of mind, ten thousand planes of awareness. Most people spend their entire lives confined to a few of these states of mind. Let’s imagine them in a scale going from the left to the right. Let’s say that number one is all the way over on the left, and let’s say that number ten thousand is way over on the right. Number one is very dark; it has almost no light in it at all; it’s hard to distinguish it from complete darkness. Number ten thousand is bright light. It is hard to distinguish it from light, yet there’s a subtle difference. And there are gradations in between—9,999 to be exact.

Now naturally, since there are ten thousand, there’s something more, beyond ten thousand. But the ten thousand states of mind are the place, the arena of experience, where you spend your time and your life.

Most human beings only experience a few of these states, and most of them are fairly far down in ranking, down around 100.

Each state of mind is not simply a mood—moods will exist within the state of mind. But it’s a way of seeing life and experiencing it, a way of knowing.

And you are your state of mind. Your state of mind creates your view, or your window, on life.

You may live in Beverly Hills, in a beautiful house with a beautiful car, with a beautiful wife. You may live in a tenement in East Harlem, alone, in poverty. But your house has a window, and it looks out on something. It may look out on your swimming pool with the kids playing in it. It may look out [on] a gang down the street who are selling drugs to passersby.

You have a window, and that window, which is your state of mind, will determine everything that happens to you—because it affords you a view on life.

Opportunities, creative ideas or the lack of them—happiness, frustration, brilliance, talent, success and failure—all of these things are determined by the state of mind that you’re in.

You are the experiencer of states of mind. Yet your state of mind dominates your awareness to such an extent that you can’t conceive of any other state of mind other than the state of mind that you’re in. They’re just mere words.

Concentration and meditation are practices that enable you to alter your state of mind.

Within a state of mind, the state of mind you’re in now, there are different possibilities. There’s a higher end to the state of mind and a lower end. The higher end—let’s call it the right side of that state of mind, which leads or borders the next state of mind that has a better view—has more light in it. The lower end has less light.

If you spend enough time at the lower end of a state of mind and if you lose enough energy, you can drop to the next state of mind down. You might drop from 100 down to 99. If you spend enough time on the right hand side and you accumulate power and energy, you can kick up—maybe to 101.

When you change a state of mind, your whole life changes. Nothing remains the same. Nothing looks the same because you have changed.

You yourself are a continuous awareness, but you don’t really have a formation.

In other words, we grow accustomed to thinking of ourselves as a personality with a history—I’ve been here and there, I’ve done this, I like this, I don’t like that. All of these ideas that we have about self are an accumulation or an aggregate within a state of mind, and they chain us to a state of mind, to these ideas.

Zen is about breaking out of your ideas and experiencing life and not ideas.

For example, when most people see a tree, they don’t see a tree at all. What they see is an idea that they have developed throughout the course of their life of what a tree is. Only when they were very, very young did they see a tree. Only at that time were they at all aware of what a tree looked like, or perhaps it would be more precise to say what the tree felt like. Other than that, they have no idea of what a tree is. As they grow older and they accumulate more ideas and experiences around “tree” through associations with trees, experiences with trees, they no longer see what a tree is, or feel it. Instead, they have a much more limited view of what a tree is. They have an idea. This is true not just of trees, but of squirrels (Rama laughs) that live in trees, people, dogs, cats, jobs, the world, philosophies, everything.

The more ideas you have, the less you feel and see life directly.

Zen—which means meditation, stopping thought—is about going beyond ideas to direct and immediate experiences. Inherent in this is a sense that there’s much more to life. There is much more than the state of mind you’re in. There are 9,999 other states of mind. And beyond that, there’s something entirely different that is impossible to put in words, which we call nirvana —which is just a word to suggest that there’s something else that’s wonderful and amazing and fantastic that lies beyond the ten thousand states of mind.

A person who undertakes the study of Zen and learns concentration and meditation is like a gymnast. Most people can do limited things with their bodies. The gymnast can do a lot more. You become a gymnast of the mind.

Very few people have any idea of what life is about, of what their minds can do, of the forces that affect them throughout the course of their life that cause success, failure, pleasure, pain, and awareness.

In the study of Zen, through the practice of concentration and meditation, you will expand your awareness to gain knowledge and power and illumination.

You may just gain a little more knowledge, power, and illumination if you only practice Zen a little bit.

If you practice Zen deeply, in a very, very in-depth way, then you will discover that you are limitless being, and you may attain what we call enlightenment, which means moving beyond but not excluding the ten thousand states of mind.

Enlightenment is the ability to freely transact within the ten thousand states of mind without a continuous self or awareness, without the limitations that are normally imposed by conceptual mind.

There is no way to explain enlightenment. It’s just a word to indicate something beyond, not just a little bit beyond, but something very, very far beyond the normal human condition—a state of knowledge, quiescent beingness.

Meditation, then, and concentration are practices that enable you to become more conscious and to utilize the moments in your life completely. Concentration and meditation are also taught in other forms of self-discovery, in yoga and in other practices.

Zen differs from many other practices in that its emphasis is almost exclusively on concentration and meditation in two forms.

One is zazen, which is the practice of direct concentration and meditation, where for a period of time you are not active physically, and you sit down to practice concentration and meditation exercises.

[Two is] mindfulness, which is a practice that an individual engages in at all other times, which is an advanced usage of the mind in a variety of different ways—to increase the power of the mind, to develop it fully, and to employ that development in direct physical, mental and psychic ways.

In other words, when you practice mindfulness, you’re able to accomplish basically anything you might like to within the parameters of your capabilities. But you realize those capabilities.

Most people are unhappy—let’s face it.

The reason they’re not happy is not because they’re good or bad, but they’re in states of mind that are limited. In those states of mind, happiness is fleeting. Let’s say there’s a country that’s filled with volcanoes and doesn’t have any grass or pastures. If you’re in that country, all you’re going to experience are the volcanoes. There is just not going to be any grass or pastures. It is not that the country is good or bad—that’s just how it is.

Most human beings are in very limited states of mind. The states of mind they’re in are not good or bad, but they have volcanoes. They are filled with unhappiness, desires, frustrations, jealousies, angers, lack of clarity, lack of awareness overall.

Some people climb a little bit higher up on the scale of consciousness and they seem to know more, feel more and experience more, and perhaps they are more successful. We say that such a person is deeper or more aware, more dynamic, charismatic. There are different formations of this. Sometimes it takes an intellectual tack, sometimes a spiritual tack, sometimes an artistic tack, maybe a physical tack. It depends. It varies. There is no way it has to be.

These individuals have learned something. They may have just stumbled upon it, or they may have studied a type of self-discovery that gave them the knowledge to be more successful and more profoundly aware, to be happier.

Whatever they did, whether it was accidental or intentional, allowed them to stumble upon some higher states of mind. Yet very few of those persons could teach you how to do what they’ve done. They could give you a general prescription, “Well, I bought stock at this price and it rose suddenly to that price, and then I sold it and then I leveraged some real estate.” Or they might say, “Well gosh, I sat down and I meditated for two hours a day every day, and after a while my awareness field changed.” In other words, they could explain what they did in physical terms, but you have to be in the state of mind that they were in to experience what they experienced. You might employ the same prescription, and it might not generate the same results because you’re not in the same state of mind that they were in.

A Zen master is an individual who is an instructor, specifically of the subject of awareness.

And if the Zen master is enlightened, that means that they have the power and the knowledge to teach an individual who wishes it and who’s serious about the study how to range through the ten thousand states of mind. Their ability is not simply to share their own experiences or to give a general prescription, but rather they are experts, not only at experiencing the ten thousand states of mind but also, since they are teachers, they are aware of how to express, or bring about, or transmit, that information to others.

I used to be a university professor. Before that, I was a graduate student and a college student. Naturally, after many years in academia, you learn that a lot of the professors in universities are wonderful scholars. The reason they are professors is because they have Ph.D.’s, and they’ve written great papers and books. But they are terrible teachers. Their talent is scholarship.

Teaching, on the other hand, does not involve necessarily writing papers. It involves transmitting information and sometimes enthusiasm, methods of analysis and so on to another individual. It is a particular talent that an individual has. Such a person should be a teacher. They are good at transmitting something. Then there are people who can learn something and experience it. You might be a great real estate developer, but maybe you couldn’t teach anybody else how to do it. It comes naturally to you.

There is a difference between knowing something and being able to teach it. Of course, there are people who are great teachers. They have that ability to communicate and transmit something. They can understand it and then look into another person’s mind and see what that person needs to do to come to an understanding of the material. But a teacher may not be conversant in very many subjects. In other words, the combination of the ability to teach and scholarship is rare. That’s why great teachers are always few and far between.

On the subject of Zen and meditation, a particular demand is placed upon the teacher. The teacher has to be first and foremost a scholar, in that it’s really impossible to teach Zen, to teach about mind and the ten thousand states of mind and what lies beyond them unless one has directly experienced these things. Naturally, the laboratory is one’s own life and one’s own mind.

An individual who teaches Zen, if they teach the advanced formations as well as the introductory formations of Zen, is someone who must have personally experienced—through years and years of meditation, concentration, practice and engaging in dialectical situations of mind—varying states of awareness. And not just a few—if they’ve experienced a few, they can teach a few, and that may be more than someone they’re teaching knows or has.

But someone we call a Zen master is someone who is conversant, not just with a little bit of mind, a little bit more than most of humanity, but someone who is an expert in mind.

Also, in the study of the ways of mind, powers develop. A true master, a Zen master, a Tibetan lama, an Indian sadhu—if they’re a real teacher and not just someone who’s looking for a following—has developed, in their intensive inner practices and studies, certain powers. These powers, which are sometimes of the miraculous nature [and] sometimes of the nature of transmission of attention, are used strictly to enable the student to progress.

We hear wonderful stories about some masters who can walk on water and do all kinds of great things—do healings, things like that. These are true powers that can come from a person who engages in the study of mind. But the major power that a real teacher has is not the ability to do things like walk on water or heal. Those are interesting talents, and they’re useful sometimes.

But the real power that a teacher of mind develops is the ability to transmit power and knowledge directly to an individual. Because in the teaching of the ten thousand states of mind, particularly as one advances further—not so much in just learning basic concentration and meditation, basic zazen, but after a person has done that and they progress further—the teaching is done through transmission. This is where we differ from teaching algebra or calculus or English. Those things are taught through verbal instruction.

The majority of the ten thousand states of mind cannot be discussed.

It is rather a question of teaching a person to step outside of the conceptual framework they have, showing them how to do a systems analysis continually of more progressive ways of their energy balance, so that more energy is coming into their lives than out of it, and transmitting directly blocks of attention or awareness to an individual psychically. In other words, once you’ve gotten your first-degree black belt as a student, which is just a beginning from the point of view of the master, or maybe the seventh-degree black belt, then at that point the instruction changes. Now it’s not so much basic moves but advanced fighting.

Initially, when I teach a person to concentrate and meditate, I focus upon basic exercises that will cause a person to strengthen their mind terrifically, develop new talents and abilities, become much more successful and independent, overcome a lot of their fears and frustrations and gain control of their time, mind and life. But once a person has done that, if they do that, if they work on it—and it happens if you work on it–it will take varying lengths of time for an individual to accomplish this, according to the intensity of their practice and their own natural inclinations and abilities, the level of mind they start in.

Once a person has reached a certain level of proficiency, then the teaching changes. In the teaching of concentration and meditation, the focus is more upon a transfer of awareness, where you will now give advanced lessons. Those lessons don’t take place here. They take place in advanced states of mind.

So a teacher will alter the balance of power by actually lifting a person into other states of mind, and then, in those states of mind, the teaching will take place in non-verbal ways through direct experience. Again, these are the mysterious ways of knowledge and power and enlightenment that I can only allude to in words. I can’t possibly explain what this process is like. The only way to find out what this process is like is to advance to the stage of mental control that a person obtains after a number of years of practicing the basic disciplines.

The basic disciplines of concentration and meditation bring about immediate and wonderful results. But what I’m suggesting is that there’s something beyond that. And that’s when a person really begins to explore altered attention and awareness. That is when the most profound experiences of mind start.

That teaching process is lengthy because there are many, many states of mind to go through. And in each state of mind, there is a different aggregate of self to explore.

Eventually, after you’ve led a student through all of the ten thousand states of mind, then the trickiest part of the study comes along, and that’s moving from that knowledge and that level of fluidity and awareness to enlightenment itself—which is something very different than the knowledge of the ten thousand states of mind.

That’s an overall glimpse of the study. In other words, we have our elementary school, our high school, our master’s program and our doctoral program. Some people just go on through the college program. They don’t go into the graduate school program, but they become teachers of Zen. And they are able to teach quite a bit. They are not enlightened themselves, but compared to your average human being, they have a tremendous, tremendous degree of knowledge. It is like learning to fight and you’ve been in a couple of fights, but suddenly you’re studying with a third-degree black belt who, with one movement, can have you on your back. But the third-degree black belt is in no way near the level of knowledge of the seventh-degree black belt.

There is a certain point that you reach where the distance between the belts is much further. Some go through graduate school and they become teachers of very advanced states of mind. Some become enlightened. Those are the individuals who can teach individuals how to be enlightened.

Concentration and meditation is a practice in which you learn how to use your mind in ways that are foreign to most human beings.

Most human beings have almost no mental control at all. Concentration and meditation are not taught in schools. In schools, we’re taught subjects—how to read, how to write, things like that. But we’re not taught about mind, states of mind, and how to use mind in a variety of different ways.

The study of mind is the study of life because all of life obviously interacts with mind. We can’t dismiss aspects of our life, our careers, our relationships, our loves, our hates—all of these things are bound into the study of mind. The study of mind is the study of life itself. The study of concentration and meditation is not simply the study of exercises and focusing. It is that, but to truly engage in the study, you engage actively in every aspect of your life. And, of course, a revolution occurs in your being.

The average person who studies martial arts, even after a year or two, becomes amazingly proficient in self-defense. Were they to run into the common neighborhood bully who is capable of beating up most people on the block, they could drop him with one kick—because the bully’s knowledge is simplistic. It may seem impressive, if you’re just a kid on the block, because he’s been in 50 fights, and you’ve only been in one or two. But after a couple years of martial arts, where you have studied the discipline of fighting and learned from an advanced master who learned from an advanced master and so on, you’re studying such a high-tech form of self-defense that the bully, with all of his knowledge and all of his battle experience, will have no idea what you’re doing when suddenly, that foot connects with his head and he’s on the ground—and it’s all over.

In the study of mind, you are engaging in a very high-tech study, the ultimate high-tech study, and that’s the study of being. Even after a year or two of intensive study—let alone five or six years, or a lifetime, many lifetimes—you will possess a knowledge and power of mind that far dwarfs most human beings. Your ability to use mind in whatever way you choose is outrageous. Again, a lot will depend upon how intensely you approach the study and the state of mind in which you begin, and so on.

There are factors that influence progress. There are no guarantees, except that if you do it, your mind gets stronger. The high range powers and high range experiences come later.

Oh, if you study with an enlightened Zen master, then it is possible to have high range experiences from the beginning, not because of your ability or your state of mind, but because the master is capable of generating, even in the novice, very powerful experiences through the transmission of awareness and mind. In other words, his power is sufficient to boost you up and give you experiences that you would not have yet on your own. The purpose of these experiences is to rapidly progress you through the states of mind and encourage you to work harder. It is another window. You are afforded a window.

You visit a wealthy person’s home and look out the window and you see what it’s like there, and that might inspire you to work harder—if you want a window like that of your own. Whereas if you’ve never seen such a thing, you don’t know it exists, you might not try.

That is why some teachers perform miracles. “Unless they’ve seen, they will not believe,” they say in one book. The idea is that some people need proof.

I once went to a demonstration. This guy was opening a karate school. He had all kinds of medals and pictures of himself fighting and things like that. He was trying to get some students because he wanted to teach them the art. What he did, the way he was trying to get the point across was, he simply took a few concrete blocks and split them with his hand. Everybody quickly got the idea that there was something to all this karate stuff. In the same sense, sometimes the Zen master, or a teacher from another tradition, will perform miracles. Not just to delight and amuse people, but specifically to raise their awareness as a way of grabbing their attention and showing them that this miraculous occurrence—which is not the point—indicates that there is something more.

The study of mind generates a variety of different experiences, most of which are beyond the perceptual range of the average human being. Things that are impossible, that skeptics say are impossible, are everyday experiences when you live in advanced states of mind. You live in a world of constant miraculous awareness, only because you’ve learned to use your mind. The skeptics who say it can’t be done are simply in extremely limited states of mind, in which they can’t even perceive the possibility of anybody doing anything that they can’t do.

The real miracle is mind itself. Your mind. And your mind is capable of incredible things. But it is through the practice of concentration and meditation–zazen—and mindfulness, that you are able to accomplish so much, to succeed at what you would choose to succeed at, to be what you would like to be—to become aware that there are things that you can be that you’re not even conscious of yet.

In short, the practice of Zen enables you to use your mind in an extremely effective and precise way. It allows you to succeed at whatever you would like to—within the parameters of possible success, owing to circumstance, and whether it’s material success or psychic or spiritual success, or whatever. You can do it when you have mind at your disposal.

So, how do you meditate?

Well, the best way to really learn how to meditate is to go and study with a teacher. If you see a teacher on a regular basis, the same way you would see a martial arts teacher on a regular basis or a teacher of computer science or philosophy or English, or whatever it is—if you attend class on a regular basis and you practice what the teacher shows you, you’ll learn, naturally.

But for starting on your own, I have a simple program that I would suggest you follow. I would like to outline it for you in the next five or so minutes, maybe ten minutes. If you practice this program, if you don’t have a teacher, it will enable you to make very steady progress in meditation and concentration.

Then, someday, perhaps you’ll meet a teacher for more advanced instruction—not simply someone who can repeat the things that I’m telling you, but someone who has the ability to transmit experiences and awareness, a master of mind.

The following are my suggestions for the practice. These are not to be taken in an absolute form as the only way to concentrate and meditate. This is just a simple approach. It will produce powerful results when properly employed. But this is not to be construed as a complete course in how to meditate. I can’t teach that over a tape. That is something that I do in person, which is why I do seminars.

There are other methods of meditation, and you shouldn’t be afraid to try them. In this business, it’s not that there is a best way—it’s whatever way works best for you. This is a simple program, but you should feel free to alter it in any way that you choose that you find beneficial. You don’t have to be stuck with it, but it works very well.

If you are new to meditation, I would suggest that you meditate, to begin with, once a day for 15 minutes, then, eventually twice a day for 15 minutes. Once you’re comfortable with that, I would increase your time to half an hour twice a day, then 45 minutes twice a day, then an hour twice a day. Once you have reached an hour twice a day, it’s not really necessary at that point to add more time to the practice of concentration and meditation. Rather, at that point, you should increase the proficiency of the two hours a day. You should spend your two hours a day, an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening, with less and less thought. Don’t increase the time at that point—increase the power of the two hours.

If you’re a beginner, perhaps for the first few weeks or a month or two, practice 15 minutes once a day. After a month or two, add a second session. After another month or two, maybe after around four months or six months—or you may just find that you want to do it sooner—increase your time to half an hour twice a day. Then, after perhaps nine months or a year, increase the time to 45 minutes twice a day, and after about two years, increase the time to an hour twice a day. The time is not the key element. The key element is what you do during the time.

I wouldn’t jump to an hour twice a day to start with, because you’ll be wasting your time—because you will not be able to sustain high levels of awareness for that period of time.

It is better to meditate for a short period of time intensely and go do something else with that extra time, than to sit there and space out and just think you’re meditating and concentrating. Very few people are capable of an intensive level of concentration and meditation for very long periods of time. You develop that ability the same way that you develop muscles, by working out. In the beginning, you can only do a few push-ups, maybe one or two, then five, then ten, then 50, then 100. So your mental agility and power will develop through practice. That’s a simple training schedule for you.

Of course, the next question is what to do when you’re sitting there practicing concentration and meditation.

A few general suggestions—wear comfortable clothing, nothing that restricts you or makes you feel uncomfortable. Try to always be physically clean. If you can, take a shower beforehand—it helps—or wash your hands and face. If that’s not possible, you can still do a fine meditation, but these things are helpful.

Most people find it helpful, if they meditate at home, to find an area of the house where they meditate on a regular basis—maybe a room, an area of the bedroom, perhaps outside on a porch on a nice day or on the lawn. You find a few areas that just feel right—they have a good energy. You sit there and meditate, and you build up a vibration and a force there that makes it easier to meditate. Sometimes it’s fun just to meditate in a different place to break up your routine. Don’t feel limited.

There are two practices—concentration and meditation.

For the first year or two, you probably will be almost exclusively practicing concentration. You will try meditating, but it won’t come until later. So I’ll address mostly the practice of concentration.

When you concentrate, you’re focusing on something.

When you meditate, you’re letting go and dissolving. You’re losing awareness of anything in particular at all, even the awareness of awareness. In meditation, you are seeking to stop all thought. It is very hard just to stop your thoughts. Try it. Not to have one thought, image, idea, or associative feeling in the mind is difficult for most people.

Rather than just trying to stop your thoughts, which is hard and frustrating, it’s easier to concentrate and focus on something. As you focus completely on something, all other thoughts will be forced out of the mind because your attention will be dominated by the object of concentration. This develops your mental power exquisitely.

Let’s take a simple session as an example. You’re going to sit down. You’re an absolute beginner, and you’re going to meditate, let us say, for 15 minutes. If you’re an absolute beginner, I suggest that you meditate with a watch or a clock, and what you’re going to do is make sure that you sit there for a full 15 minutes.

In the beginning, it’s good to spend most of your time concentrating with your eyes open.

You need to sit up straight. If you want to sit in a chair, that’s fine, or in a cross-legged position on the floor—whatever suits you, but the back should be straight. You may be bothered by this initially. It may not be comfortable for you; that’s because the muscles in your back are weak.

It is desirable to sit in a cross-legged position, but it’s possible that’s uncomfortable for you. If you’d like to be able to do this, I would suggest that you take some yoga lessons, where you will learn stretching exercises that will loosen up the leg muscles so that you can sit in a comfortable, cross-legged position. This is a well-balanced position whereby you can sit for protracted periods of time with ease and with balance.

The main thing is to sit down, keep your back straight, relax and have an object on which to concentrate.

You might use a candle flame; a brightly colored rock; a yantra, which is a geometrical design specifically for the practice of concentration and meditation; or something else.

Place an object within your view, hopefully at about eye level. You might have to look down a little bit.

Some people have a meditation table on which they put an object of concentration—a candle, yantra, something like that—so they don’t have to stare down at the ground where they have an object, which might be uncomfortable and would put your head in too much of a downward position.

Now you’re going to concentrate. It’s a good idea, in my opinion, to use a mantra before you begin a session. It’s not necessary, but I think it helps.

A mantra is a powerful sound which, when focused upon, clears the mind and helps bring you into a higher level of awareness. The most powerful of all mantras is “Aum” spelled A U M. You have probably heard it. If you repeat that sound several times with your eyes closed before you start the session, while you’re sitting there, it will help clear your mind. It has a vibratory energy that helps eliminate thought. But you don’t simply repeat the sound. You focus on it.

You chant the word, “Aum”. (Rama demonstrates) A U M. When you chant that sound three or four times, or you could even do it silently within the mind—but it’s easier for most people to focus when it’s done out loud—that’s a good beginning.

Then, open your eyes and focus on the object of concentration. Now, for the next ten or 15 minutes if you’re a beginner, let’s say for two-thirds of the time you’ve allowed for the practice of zazen, you are going to simply look at the object, blink whenever your eyes become uncomfortable, and focus on it.

As thoughts come in and out of your mind, ignore them. Simply continue to concentrate. Then, about two-thirds of the way through, close your eyes.

I would like you to spend the remainder of the time focusing your attention on a chakra.

A chakra is an energy center that exists within the subtle physical body. Our physical bodies are surrounded by a body of energy, which is not perceptible for most individuals. But as you develop your psychic facilities through the practice of zazen, you will be able to see and feel this body of energy around you.

The subtle body has certain junctures or points of intersection that we call chakras. They are like windows that look into other dimensions. There are three that are useful for concentration practice.

Choose one of these three points and hold your attention there, just as you held your attention on the object. Let’s say you were looking at a candle flame. You focused on a candle flame for ten minutes. Thoughts come in and out of your mind, but you just focus more and more intensely.

Then, after about ten minutes, if you are a beginner, close your eyes and focus on your navel center. The first time you do it, or the first few times, you might even want to touch that spot for a minute or two.

Hold your fingers very lightly against your navel, or in the center of your chest around the area of the heart, or between the eyebrows and a little bit above. As you press very gently there, it will be easier for you to focus. These are not random spots. There are windows here, windows that lead into other levels of mind. Each will generate a different type of experience.

The chakra around the navel area is the power chakra, and as you focus on this center you will develop tremendous will power.

The heart center—which is in the center of the chest—develops the psychic centers, the psychic abilities, sensitivities, and also brings about a tremendous stillness within the mind and extraordinarily develops one’s ability to experience love and beauty. It also develops your ESP and many other things.

The third eye, which is between the eyebrows and slightly above—focusing in this area develops your intuitive wisdom, your knowledge, your higher mind, and gives you visions into other planes of reality.

Let’s say that the bottom center is connected with power, the middle center is connected with feeling—feeling love, feeling awareness—and the top center has to do with knowledge. The combination of knowledge, power, and feeling creates a balanced individual. That is why I suggest that at different times you focus on each of these chakras.

Initially, it may not seem like you’re doing anything and you are just thinking a lot. But you are doing something, as long as you’re trying. It is like doing push-ups. You can be doing push-ups and all the time thinking it’s not doing anything, but obviously, as long as you’re trying and doing them, you’re getting stronger. After you’ve practiced doing your push-ups for a while, after two or three sessions, you won’t necessarily see huge muscles like Arnold Schwarzenegger has, but you will begin to see and feel a difference. It is the same with the practice of concentration.

Initially, it won’t seem like anything is happening, but something is. Inwardly, your mind is becoming stronger and you’re gaining personal power. After a while, that power will begin to manifest in your life. You will find it’s easier to study. It’s easier to do your job. Your mind is sharp, clear and defined. You are more aware.

And a feeling will come after a while. You will just feel better. You are more in touch with everything in your life. Then knowledge and power will come to you, later, through these practices.

So for five minutes or so, focus on one of those three areas. Hold your attention there, and after your 15 minutes are up, chant the mantra again. Chant “Aum,” or another favorite mantra, several times.

Then, at the end of a session, we always bow down to the ground. That is our way of giving the meditation to eternity, of letting go of it, of letting go of our self.

If you practice this way, you will develop your mind. Practice 15 minutes once, twice a day, then a half-an-hour, then 45 minutes, then an hour. After you’ve practiced for a while, you might want to try meditating. This is all concentration, which is the most important to start with.

But let’s say you’ve been doing this for a year or so, or six months, or whatever—then you might want to begin to try something a little bit different. Perhaps you should spend half the time initially, instead of two-thirds, focusing on something outside—a candle flame, yantra, colored rock, whatever it is. Then take a little more time, maybe 25 percent of the time, and focus on one of the three chakras. Then take the last 25 percent of your time and don’t focus at all, simply let go.

Now, this is not something that I recommend you do too much of because most people will sit there and space out. Their letting go won’t have power. This is meditation. In other words, during the letting go phase, you want to strive to have no thought whatsoever in the mind. If you’re just sitting there and zillions of thoughts are whipping around, it’s not accomplishing anything. It is better, if that’s the case, to focus. You will gain more from that than sitting there in a quasi-meditation, in which there are just a lot of thoughts kicking around.

I would suggest that you only do it for a limited period of time, after you’ve become fairly accomplished at concentrating. Once you’ve become accomplished at concentrating, you will discover that you can sit there for those periods of time without thought or with reduced thought. Eventually, after some years, you may find that you’ll sit for half the period of time without any particular focus at all, and you’re able to stop thought.

Eventually, you may be able to sit for two hours without one thought. At that point, it’s no longer necessary to practice concentration. When you can stop all thought, it is no longer necessary to concentrate, although it’s still kind of fun, to tell you the truth.

If you follow this program, you will find a tremendous increase in your mental awareness—if you practice it faithfully. Again, it’s a personal matter. There is no way to measure it. All I can tell you is that most people who do this see dramatic increases in their level of personal power and success. Of course, you will accrue more power, and higher levels of mind will start to open for you. Once you’re doing this on a regular basis and you’re seeing progress in your life, then it’s time to seek out a teacher, someone who can show you the next steps. Also, there are many other matters that enable you to meditate better. These are matters that I discuss on other tapes and in books, and that other teachers talk about. This is just the hard-core practice.

It is necessary to learn how to do a systems analysis of your life, to learn about the effects of places, people, jobs. There are millions of things that go into the study of meditation. This is the daily practice. Mindfulness and what you do with your attention the rest of the time, what you do when you’re dreaming at night and so on, in order to enlarge the awareness field that you have, is a very vast subject. And that’s not our discussion at this point.

So that’s how to concentrate and how to meditate. If you practice these things—simplistic though they may seem—they will enable you to develop a great power in your life. Again, it doesn’t seem very complicated when the guy just lifts weights all the time. There is not much to it—a bar, some weights, and he lifts them. But if he keeps doing it, he can quadruple his strength. It is the same [with concentration and meditation].

This is like working out. It is working out—working out with your mind. Most people don’t do it at all. The only concentration they have is on the television set. That isn’t very powerful or profound. If you do these exercises on a regular basis and you become consistent, then you will become a gymnast of the mind. And once you learn to concentrate and focus for extended periods of time, and then to stop thought, you’ll be ready for more advanced lessons.

(Zazen music begins.) So I would encourage you to concentrate and meditate.

There are thousands of worlds, thousands of dimensions. The beauty of life is incredible beyond belief. A clear and solid mind—let alone enlightenment, enlightened awareness—is the best thing. Life can be extremely wonderful. It is—when you’re in a state of mind to see it.

Practice, and new worlds and new vistas and new horizons will open to you.

So this is Zen Master Rama, wishing you well in your practice.