What Is Zen?
The Zen philosophy and Zen can be confusing for some because it’s not necessarily just something we practice. It’s something we are. It’s not just a belief system that a person can convert to; instead it’s a state of being. It’s a disciplined practice of being in our true nature and find joy in just being. It is a way of living and expressing our true selves moment by moment. It’s our birthright. It’s the subtle nature of all life. It is the absolutely. It is the ultimate reality. It is our direct experiences both ordinary and extraordinary.
Origins of Zen
The actual word “Zen” comes from the Chinese word “Ch’an” which means meditation. Zen is the Japanese pronunciation of “Ch’an”. There are many types of Zen. Some come from peppered with flavors of Chinese poetry, Taoism or Confucianism while other types don’t really pay attention to scriptures or doctrinal refinements and instead focus on personal experiences and intimate training that passes from generation to generation from master to student. Most of traditional Buddhist Zen teachings aren’t so much based on Buddha himself but more on great masters legendary stories and anecdotes.
One of the most quoted Zen dicta’s that ‘s attributed to Zen’s founder Bodhidharma is as follows and sums up the spirit of Zen:
A special transmission outside the scriptures.
No dependency on words and letters.
Pointing directly to the human mind.
Seeing into one’s nature and attaining Buddhahood.
The Practice of Zen Meditation
The practice of Zen mediation and mindfulness is important to realize the interconnectedness of all life. It’s subtle. It’s vibrant. It’s real. It’s a path that started over 2,500 years ago and has been followed for all people who want to be enlightened and realize the true nature of reality. We can all awaken and become our own versions of Buddha, which literally means the “awakened one”. Every person on the planet that wants to be awakened is a Buddha regardless of race, nationality, religion or culture. It’s easy to see why Buddhism spread and was embraced all over Asia and eventually the rest of the globe.
It may take consistent practice and dedicated action but eventually we can all come to see that we are One with everything around us. When we hit a certain level of enlightenment we are overcome with a peaceful intuition, wisdom and compassion. We realize that black is white, white is black, relative and absolute are the same and that we are all in this together. When Zen, we can appropriately and compassionately respond to whatever life may throw at us.
Most people completely over-think Zen and try to put a specific definition on something that can’t totally be defined. Zen is much deeper and profound than any thing the rational mind can comprehend. It’s an innate awareness of everything around you. It’s the sweet surrender of not holding onto anything and allowing it to just be, with no expectation, no implied control but a full appreciation of it, and accepting what is, with no expectation that it be anything else besides what it is. You can take a breath. You can deeply inhale and exhale and you can appreciate the moment of breathing and feel the breath as it enters and leaves your body. You can breathe in with gratitude and breath out with love, because that truly is the basis of everything-love. When you start to do something as simple as breathing with a conscious awareness and you continue to practice this conscious awareness that is when Zen happens. This is the practice that brings us into alignment of who we really are. It gives us freedom from our past and freedom from having to worry about the future. It also gives us freedom from the belief that we are all separate and the whole “survival of the fittest” idea. We are not separate, we are not in competition, instead we are one.
Practicing Zen Buddhism Meditation
Practicing Zen meditation and mindfulness teaches us that everything we may think we are, actually aren’t fixed traits. Our traits and views are all conditioned and all part of our ego which is not our true self. We come to realize that we are actually all connected and every choice and action has consequences. We start to be mindful of our surroundings and we vow to help others and life their burdens. We become authentic versions of our selves that live with integrity, purpose and deep intention and attention. We become unshackled from the limiting beliefs that kept us stuck for so long and we become confident, open and loving human beings.
There is a pretty easy way to start incorporating Zen mindfulness and meditation in your life. Take note of what you are doing when you are doing it. If you are bathing, just bathe. If you are running, just run. If you are breathing, then just breathe. Start practicing the mediation of seeing things just as they are with no expectation that they become anything else or do anything or be anything else. You will notice a serious shift in your being. You will stop trying to figure out all of life’s lessons and just appreciate and feel gratitude for life itself and the lesson that exists. You will find yourself more peaceful and less cognitively fractured, pulled between fighting thoughts and feelings. We aren’t suggesting that you won’t still have challenges or trials in your life, because you will. We all have them. But they way to react to them will be different. You may even find yourself more emotional than you were before but it’s not a negative thing. Instead of fearing the emotions we try to hold at bay, you will find yourself welcoming the emotion and seeing it for the gift that it is. Even if it’s a strong emotion like sadness, grief or pain – you will find yourself welcoming the emotions and the lessons that come with it.
This life is meant to be lived, felt, and appreciated. When death comes, whenever that is, it will be sweet. You will move from one state of consciousness to another and your journey will continue on. Buddhist Zen meditation will show you another way. A better way. A way that will fill you with peace and allow you to be a beacon of light to those around you. This is the way of Japanese Zen. This is the way to freedom and enlightenment.