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Zen Training and its Results: A Study

This information is from an article in Psychologia, and slightly amplified for clarifications.


Akira Kasamatsu and Miio Hirai at the University of Tokyo writes in "An Electroencephalographic Study on the Zen Meditation (Zazen)" that in Japan there are two Zen schools named Soto and Rinzai. Both schools regard Zazen as their most important training method for reaching enlightenment of mind.

Zazen: Zen sitting is performed in two basic meditation forms: A full cross-legged sitting and a half cross-legged sitting. During the Zen sitting, the trainees' eyes must be open and look downward about one meter ahead and his hands generally join. In a quiet room the trainee sits on a round cushion and practises the meditation for about 30 minutes.

Sesshin: Sometimes the intensive Zen training is performed 8 to 10 times a day for about one week. This is called Sesshin in Zen Buddhism. During it, the trainees do not engage in daily activities, but live a much regulated life by following a strict schedule.

"By practising Zen meditation it is said that man can become emancipated from the dualistic bondage of subjectivity and objectivity, of mind and body and of birth and death. And he can be free from lust and self-consciousness, and be awakened to his pure, serene and true selfhood. This mental state (Satori or enlightenment) will often be misunderstood as trance or hypnosis. However, it is said that Satori is not an abnormal mental state but one's everyday mind in the Zen sense." (Kasamatsu and Hirai 1969, 205n)

Erich Fromm describes the satori state:

If we should try to express enlightenment in psychological terms, I would say that it is a state in which the person is completely tuned to the reality outside and inside of him, a state in which he is fully aware of it and fully grasps it. He is aware of it - that is, not his brain, nor any other part of his organism, but he, the whole man. He is aware of it; not as of an object over there which he grasps with his thought, but it, the flower, the dog, the man, in its or his full reality. He who awakes is open and responsive to the world, and he can be open and responsive because he as given up holding on to himself as a thing, and thus has become empty and ready to receive. To be enlightened means "the full awakening of the total personality to reality" and "to have attained a fully "productive orientation." (Fromm 1986, 72, 73; also in Kasamatsu and Hirai 1969, 205-6n)

"If one asks what this state of mind is concerned in psychotherapy, it may be said that Zen meditation is the method through which we can communicate with the unconscious. In this context, however, the unconscious does not mean Freud's "unconsciousness". Rather, "the unconscious" in Zen is closely related tot he unconscious which is stated by Jung, C.G. (Suzuki), or Fromm, E. (1996) In regard to this problem Dr. Daisetsu Suzuki states the meaning of it as "the Cosmic unconscious"." (Ib. 206n]

At any rate the Zen meditation influences not only the mind but also the body as a whole organism. Training of Zen produces changes not only in the mind but also in the body - electrographic changes of brain patterns are among them. (Ib. 205-6n)

By studying the electrical activities of the brain during Zazen, and comparing it to the general impressions that Zen teachers had of their own and their students's attainments in contemplation, it showed up that there was a good deal of correspondence between these impressions and significant brain wave patterns attained to during contemplation. Also, the amount of years of Zen training went into these estimates too. There was a neat correspondence between the general impressions, years of training, and the EEG measurement results. ([See Kasamatsu and Hirai 1969, 213-14)

Specific changes of EEG patterns indicate corresponding changes of consciousness. [See Zasc 224]

The degrees of EEG [electroencephalographic] changes during Zen meditation are parallel with the trainee's proficiency in sitting Zen (ie. zazen). (Kasamatsu and Hirai 1969, 214)


Zen study at Tokyo University by Akira Kasamatsu and Tomio Hirai, Dogen on doing Zen, Zen Buddhism, Literature  

Fromm, Erich: Psychoanalysis and Zen Buddhism. Unwin. London, 1986.

Kasamatsu, Akira and Hirai, Tomio. "An Electroencephalographic Study on the Zen Meditation." Psychologia, vol 12, 1969, p 205-25. Kyoto, Japan. An earlier printing of the article is in Folia Psychiatrica et Neurologica Japonica. 20 (4): 315336. [◦in PDF format]

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