Meditation Instruction

I’d like to give some basic zen instruction
How to sit and where to place you hands
And most important, how to still the mind.

Mostly people sit on the padded cushions
Placed directly on the Dharma room floor.
Legs are folded, with one upon the other,
Or just in front, which is a little looser.
But its also fine to sit on a chair
If your knees or back refuse to bend
What’s important is the angle at which
Your pelvis rests—it should be tilted forward
Rather than sinking back, which curves your spine.
Your head should be balanced above your shoulders
Rather than hanging tensely out in front.
The chin is slightly tucked, the neck is loose.

We hold our hands in a special position
Called a ‘mudra.’  Left fingers over right,
Thumbs meeting tip to tip, just lightly touching.
In our tradition, eyes are always open
Lightly gazing down on the floor in front
Just about a foot away from the mat.

Also, its important to let your breath
Relax and deepen down into your belly
This means not expanding the chest as much
As you can, and forcing air in your lungs,
Rather, when you exhale, make sure to drain
The old air out, with pressure in your diaphragm.

Before you start the formal meditation,
Take at least a couple minutes to breathe
Let the breath flow slowly, deeply, relaxed.
It helps to count the breaths, from one to ten.
Counting on the exhale, to yourself.
If you find you’ve lost your count, that’s no problem.
Gently guide your focus back to your breath.

Watching the breath is really ideal training
For bringing your attention back to the body.
This is where the mind does all its work.
After mind and body are firmly linked,
Then you’re ready to start the formal practice.
How do know when you should make this shift?
When your time for sitting in zen is over.

– Asher Walden

Great Question

Great Question
by Asher Walden

What is unique about our style of practice?
Kwan Um is a kind of fusion we get
From a Korean teacher named Seung Sahn
Who really tried to market his tradition
To Western students who were less concerned
With ancient sutras, dogmas, or sectarian feuds.
Instead he mainly taught us how to practice
A certain style of sitting meditation.
There are really a number of techniques
That students in our school will tend to use.
Watching the breath, counting, or using mantras,
But the technique that Soen Sa Nim liked best,
The one that he would talk about most often
Was hwa-tou practice, also called great question.

The Question takes on many different forms,
Often raised by challenging life events
Such as the death of someone close to us.
Or it may be something more prosaic
Uncertainty about your job, or partner
Anxiety about the bills, or children.
A sense of something more, or something less,
Than our expectations for our life.
These kinds of things are often cited as
The motivation for some kind of practice.
The kernal of the teaching of Dae Soensanim
What he often called a ‘don’t-know mind’
Was to channel this rather vague sensation
Into a way to focus your awareness.

Here’s how it works. Pretend the question were this:
What is the thing you always, everywhere, do?
When you’re walking, sitting, eating, or sleeping,
Whether you are aware of it or not,
There’s something else you always do as well.
Can you guess the answer? That’s right, it’s breathing.

Change the question to something somewhat harder:
What is the thing that you are always conscious of?
Whatever else you might be thinking about
No matter if you’re thinking of some dream,
Sensation or a memory, or plan,
Some burden or a thought that brings you peace,
Your posture or a pain inside your knee—
Along with all these other mental events
There’s something else that’s present in your mind,
Or maybe rather something your mind just does
Whenever you are conscious whatsoever.
What is that thing that never goes away?

This is not a riddle that has an answer
That could be said in ordinary language.
That doesn’t mean its something so mysterious.
Neither could you describe a certain color
Or what its like to smell to someone who
Had never had that sense impression themselves.
The questions ‘what am I?’ and ‘what is this?’
Are meant to point to just this aspect of
Your own awareness, in its normal conduct.

Meditation on Great Question means,
Turning your awareness toward itself
So that even as you strengthen and shine
Attention on some object, be that within
Or be it in immediate surroundings,
You are searching, at least at first, for something
That was always there, but was never noticed.

And once you find that aspect of your mind
There’s no doubt that that’s what the question meant.
Then the sense of the question changes in practice
Instead of asking what is being referred to
The question ‘what is this’ is more like asking
About a thing you actually have in hand,
What is this thing, (which is, of course myself).
Asking the question is no longer seeking
For a hidden object in a picture
Its rather scrutinizing this unique
Phenomenon of mind, this consciousness.

Dae Soen Sa Nim refers to this as Don’t-Know
A term that may connote some kind blankness
Or even ignorance, but that’s not it.
It’s just a name he gives to this strange practice
Of focusing awareness on itself
In that moment in between the asking
And the searching for a final result,
For answer that would put to an end,
To the seeking which is the heart of practice.
This phrase ‘don’t know’ is meant to circumvent
That habit where the mind attempts to grasp,
Attach itself to some eternal truth.

This is one respect in which the practice
Of hwa-tou differs from the use of Kong-ans.
Kong-ans are also used to raise the question.
But kong-ans have an answer that you can say.
(Or at least can demonstrate in some way.)

Hwa-tou is in one respect like a question
But in a sense it’s also like an answer.
But more than either it’s a practice of looking,
Of cultivating certain dispositions
Of focused meditation on awareness.

New Meetup group

Hi All,

We’re going to be merging our Meetup with our sponsoring Zen center, the Providence Zen Center.  This will let us save the money that we pay to Meetup and redirect it into paying for our space with the Quakers.

Please join the Providence Zen Center Meetup

and RSVP to our next Meetup

Also, could you please send your name and email address to so that we can let you know of any weather cancellations and send you our monthly newsletter.


Scott & Asher

Heart Sutra

We’ve been having some questions about one of our chants, The Heart Sutra.

Here are a couple of interesting articles about the Heart Sutra:

An Introduction to the Heart Sutra

The Heart Sutra Will Change You Forever

Here is the chant with links to explanations about each part…enjoy

The Heart Sutra – (English)
Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva
when practicing deeply the Prajna Paramita
perceives that all five skandhas are empty
and is saved from all suffering and distress.
The same is true of feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.
Therefore, in emptiness no form, no feelings,
perceptions, impulses, consciousness.
No eyes, no ears, no nose, no tongue, no body, no mind;
no color, no sound, no smell, no taste, no touch,
no object of mind;
no realm of eyes
and so forth until no realm of mind consciousness.

No ignorance and also no extinction of it,
and so forth until no old age and death
and also no extinction of them.
No suffering, no origination,
no stopping, no path, no cognition,
also no attainment with nothing to attain.
The Bodhisattva depends on Prajna Paramita
and the mind is no hindrance;
without any hindrance no fears exist.
Far apart from every perverted view one dwells in Nirvana.
In the three worlds (Past, present, future)
all Buddhas depend on Prajna Paramita
and attain Anuttara Samyak Sambodhi.
Therefore, know that Prajna Paramita
is the great transcendent mantra
is the great bright mantra,
is the utmost mantra,
is the supreme mantra,
which is able to relieve all suffering
and is true, not false.
So proclaim the Prajna Paramita mantra,
proclaim the mantra which says:
gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha
gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha
gate, gate, paragate, parasamgate, bodhi svaha.

March Newsletter


1 – Here is our upcoming schedule for the next few weeks…

Monday March 18th and 25th – Regular schedule
Monday April 1st – Special Guest, Senior Dharma Teacher and Plymouth Zen Group abbot Craig Richards will be giving a Dharma talk.
6:30 meditation instruction, 7:00 Practice (chanting, sitting, and walking meditation), 7:30 Dharma talk, 8:00 Tea
Monday April 8th, 15th, 22nd, 29th – Regular schedule

2 – Here are some of the upcoming events at the Providence Zen Center (our parent group)…

Saturday, March 16 to Sunday, March 17 – 2 day retreat – led by Hye Tong Sunim, JDPS
Saturday, March 23 – Christian-Buddhist retreat – led by Father Kevin Hunt OCSO and Jose Ramirez, JDPSN
Friday April 5 through Sunday April 7th – Buddha’s Birthday celebration

3 – Here is a short teaching video by one of our guiding teachers – Zen Master Bon Haeng on Happiness

Hope to see you soon!