There are numerous exoteric and esoteric meditation practices in Tendai Buddhism. The prime meditation practice is known as Shikan, which is a composite word.

Shi is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Chih, which can mean to calm or to stop and is used as a translation of the Sanskrit word Śamatha which can mean to rest, to calm or to pacify. Śamatha is a form of cultivation for calming the mind and its formations, done by focusing the mind on a specific task or phenomenon with single pointed concentration.

Kan is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word Kuan, which can mean to see and is the Chinese translation of the Sanskrit word Vipaśyanā, which can mean insight or clearly seeing. By practising Vipaśyanā, one gains insight into the true nature of reality, which is impermanent, unsatisfactory and devoid of self.

We understand Śamatha as the practical prerequisite conducive to Vipaśyanā; a calm mind is better able to penetrate the truth. Although these two practices are initially done in stages, the goal is for this meditation to become one single seamless practice.

There are many forms and approaches to Shikan. Below is a very basic guide based on the Six Dharma Gates by Master Chih-i:

First, one addresses the 25 Expedient Practices in five sections;

  1. Five Conditions; Living by the precepts, eating and drinking only what is sufficient, secluding oneself for practice, putting aside distractions, and surrounding oneself with supportive friends.
  2. Putting aside the Five Desires derived by sight, sounds, smell, taste and touch.
  3. Overcoming the Five Hindrances of desires, anger, drowsiness, restlessness and doubt.
  4. Adjusting and regulating the Five Matters of diet, sleep, body, breath and mind.
  5. Practicing the Five Methods; faith, exertion, mindfulness, meditation, and wisdom.

These are the foundations of meditational practice. Of course, discipline of the body and mind requires constant strife. For beginners, meditative practice starts with the following:

  1. Pick a spot to meditate that is quiet where you’ll not be disturbed or distracted.
  2. Then sit down. This can be in half lotus or full lotus.
  3. Then adjust your clothing. Loosen your belt so as not to impede on deep breathing.
  4. Then adjust your posture. The back should be straight, hips slightly rotated, head back slightly.
  5. Then begin to follow the breath. Don’t force the breath, simply notice its comings and goings.

The fifth step is the beginning of Śamatha (calming) in the following three steps:

  1. Counting. Begin by counting the breath.
  2. Noticing / Following Breaths. As the mind and breath calms, stop counting and just notice your breath.
  3. Regulate the Breath. As you notice your breath it should naturally become subtle and long. Don’t force it.

Once the body, breath, and mind are calm, subtle and at peace, begin Vipaśyanā in the following three steps:

  1. Seeing the Breath. Visualise the breath as light entering your body. Contemplate its emptiness. There is non-duality of breath and body.
  2. Returning the Breath. The breath nourishes the body, despite its emptiness. This is the relativity of breath.
  3. Refining the Breath. Emptiness and relativity are not separate, this is the truth of the Middle.

All meditation should ideally be done under a sound teacher or guide. The above is for information only.