Zen and the art of Shockwave

Meditation and the World Wide Web may seem as unlikely a pairing as a royal family and mud wrestling, but it is possible to find some sanctuary from the bells, whistles, animations, 'eye-popping' colors and overall hype common to so many websites - without even having to tear your mouse from your clenched fist. Zen (the result of a surprising partnership of the Kodaiji Buddhist Temple of Kyoto with Japan's Dentsu advertising and Tohokushinsha Film Corp) offers frazzled surfers around the world a brief introduction to the practice and benefits of meditation - anytime, anywhere.

In a perfectly appropriate contrast to most websites, Zen is deliberately minimalist in its layout, though not lacking in impact. (While the age of this circa 2000 production is evident, the elemental nature of the presentation prevents its vintage from becoming an obstacle.) The content is also seasoned with a gentle humor, letting surfers know that it is not necessary to approach the subject with overly solemn deliberation.

Accessing the home page immediately opens a new window and a directive for visitors to "concentrate your mind," after which novices are presented with the image of a meditating monk to provide motivation, and with a test of a buzzing fly that they are destined to fail. After a momentary, humorous scolding, new pupils are invited to improve their knowledge of concentration and meditation skills by following a JavaScripted and Shockwaved path into the world of Zen.

Visitors are first given an introduction to the Zazen posture -a yoga-like seating position- and then taught to concentrate on the rhythm of their own breathing by synchronizing inhalation and exhalation with the movement of an animated candle flame. (Those with older processors or modems may not wish to adhere absolutely to these instructions, as an especially slow-running animation might result in feeling a bit light-headed.)

Having brought its guests to a preliminary state of peace (though the exercise does end rather abruptly if you're in the moment), Zen goes on to explain that a relaxed attitude may open practitioners to experiencing such sensations as the sounds that are normally ignored in daily life. This point is illustrated with audio clips of wind, birds, and a babbling brook. The sound clips are not of the highest quality, and the loops are too short and too badly stitched for these samples to actually be used as meditation aids - but they are adequate to make the website's point.

And for those who may feel that a Buddhist temple is required for a proper meditative atmosphere, Zen provides a small sample of the wide variety of places in which meditation can take place. (Fortunately, the Zazen position is not strictly required, as it would be dangerous in at least one of the suggested venues.)

Finally, there is a simple lesson with a simple (sand and rock) garden. Upon completion of their basic instruction, departing students are given the option of moving on to Living Zero - a more recent addition to the site which provides a more immersive and sustained exercise in both Shockwave and meditation.

There isn't a great deal to this site, which is much of its charm - and while there's nothing fundamentally wrong with the hyper-activity of many online productions, constant exposure can be draining. You can almost feel your neurons recharging at Zen, as its spartan layout and simple content -even the slow fades from one page to the next- virtually compel your thoughts to slow down for at least a few minutes.

It would have been nice to have seen a links list to more information though. The lessons taught here are elementary -and deliberately so- but suggested sites from such qualified personnel would have been helpful for those wanting to 'follow the path' a bit further. For the curious, the Wikipediaentry on Zen would be a good place to start.

But in the meantime, for an initial initiation into on-demand relaxation, Zen can be found at http://www.do-not-zzz.com/.

(Judging by the URL, the monks don't want you to get too relaxed while meditating.)

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