Although there are many views about its lineage, Buddhism and its derivation from the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama (who later came to be known as Gautama Buddha) deal with the application of Zen philosophy and its use to attain enlightenment―moksha or nirvana. In fact, the very name 'Buddha', means 'The Enlightened One'.
The emergence of Zen as a distinct sect of Buddhism has been traced back to China, around 7th Century BCE. Meditation has long been associated with spiritual enlightenment. Zen meditation techniques are expounded to teach the uninitiated means and methods to be able to free the mind of worldly thoughts and burdens.
It is believed that when Lord Buddha attained enlightenment, He was seated in the lotus position, that is, He was sitting cross-legged, with each foot resting on the opposite thigh, spine erect, and hands resting on the knees, or intertwined in the lap. This is the basic pose used for Buddhist meditation, not only because it was used by Lord Buddha, but also because it keeps the body in balance, allowing the mind to become calm.
The first principle to follow is to seat yourself correctly. Although the lotus position described above is the most beneficial one, it can be difficult for a beginner, and physical discomfort will be counterproductive to meditation. If you are unable to attain the lotus position initially, try sitting cross-legged with both feet on the floor. This is known as the Burmese sitting position.
Slowly acquaint yourself with the half lotus position―with one foot resting on the opposite thigh, and one foot on the floor. Work your way up to the lotus position, but take it easy and do it at your own pace. The important part is to keep your body stable and at ease, to enable the mind to empty itself.
The basic aim of meditation is to empty the mind completely―and for the spiritually evolved, to attain the higher state of mind that entails enlightenment. The human mind is constantly working, and to empty it of thought is difficult. It requires a great deal of self-discipline. One of the ways to attain focus is breathing exercises. For beginners, counting each breath lets you encourage your mind to concentrate on the process of breathing, instead of getting distracted.
Begin with an exhalation, counted as one and continue with a deep breathing pattern to the count of 10. If you lose count, simply start from one again. Practice this for about 15 minutes, once or twice daily. Once you can concentrate on the counts without the interruption of other thoughts, let go of the counting, and simply focus on each breath. Since you do not have the counts to aid you to focus, your mind needs higher discipline to be able to avoid distraction. Increase the time you do this to 30 minutes. As you practice, you will find yourself better able to empty your mind of thought, stress and worry. There's no concept of failure in meditation, only you are the judge of yourself. Even people practicing advanced techniques may find themselves slipping at times. The important thing is to practice. With discipline, you will be able to slowly empty your mind at will.
Since meditation demands freeing the mind from external stimuli, it is recommended that you practice it in a quiet place. However, some people feel that silence hinders the process of emptying the mind. Relaxation music is helpful in simulating an atmosphere that is conducive to the process. Music can also be the sounds heard in nature, like the sound of waves breaking on a seashore. Since these sounds are continuous and rhythmic, they can help calm the mind in a way that silence can't.
Meditation has many benefits. It is calming, soothing, and great for stress relief. Zen techniques have been practiced for hundreds of years in India, Tibet, Japan, and other parts of Asia. They are now widely recognized world over, and are considered extremely beneficial for both mental and physical well-being. Try making it a part of your daily life, and you will be surprised at how much better you're able to deal with everyday stress.