What is Zen?

What is Zen?

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Zen is a method of rediscovering the experience of being alive. It originated in India and China and has come to the West by way of Japan, and although it is a form of Mahayana Buddhism, it is not a religion in the usual sense of the word.

Zen aims to bring about a transformation of consciousness and to awaken us from the dream world of our endless thoughts so that we experience life as it is in the present moment.

Zen cannot be taught, but it can be transmitted through sessions of contemplation or meditation, called zazen, and through dialogues between student and teacher, called sanzen.

“Each one of you is perfect as you are. And you all could use a little bit of improvement.

– Suzuki Roshi

Related: What’s The Difference Between Mindfulness and Compassion?

What is Zen: Zen Meaning or Zen Definition

The practice of Zen is to experience the overall pattern directly and to know one’s self as the essence of the pattern.

Zen is extraordinarily simple as long as one doesn’t try to be cute about it or beat around the bush! Zen is simply the sensation and the clear understanding that, to put it in Zen terms, there are “ten thousand formations; one suchness.” Or you might say, “The ten thousand things that are everything are of one suchness.”

That is to say that there is behind the multiplicity of events and creatures in this universe simply one energy – and it appears like you, and everything is it. The practice of Zen is to understand that one energy to “feel it in your bones.”

Studying Zen will change the way you react to circumstances as they arise. Wait and see how you deal with whatever circumstances come your way because the you that will deal with them will not be simply your conscious intelligence or conscious attention. At that moment it will be all of you, and that is beyond the control of the will because the will is only a fragment having certain limited functions.

“The art of life lies in a constant readjustment to our surroundings.”  Okakura Kakuzo

The Zen Way: Zen Philosophy

Zen represents a simplified way of life. The style and way in which a Zen temple is furnished are completely uncluttered. The rooms of a temple are mostly empty. They are just spaces – but they are gorgeous spaces.

Zen is like a spring coming out of a mountain. It doesn’t flow out to quench the thirst of a traveler, but if the travelers want to help themselves to it, that’s fine. It’s up to you what you do with the water; the spring’s job is just to flow.

“The path of the enlightened ones leaves no track – it is like the path of birds in the sky.” -Buddha

Beliefs of Zen Buddhism: Embracing Groundlessness

This week we’re going to continue doing the habit, which is starting to solidify. This week is a good opportunity to practice consistency with the habit. We’ll also go deeper into the practice of dealing with struggles and groundlessness we touched on in the last two weeks. 

We’ll learn to embrace this groundlessness and to be OK with things not being firm and certain or going as we’d like. This is a great practice for habit change and life in general.

Day 1: Be curious about groundlessness

When we experience groundlessness —  a feeling of not being anchored, not certain, things not going our way, a feeling of loss —  our minds don’t normally like it. Our minds resist or avoid these feelings.

Today I encourage you to be curious about the groundlessness you might feel with your habit or other recent times when you’ve felt the struggle, loss, uncertainty. Stay with the feeling and examine it with an open mind.   Practice becoming more familiar, even intimate with it, all this week.

Day 2: Practice being with uncertainty

Something you’ve likely felt as you’ve done your habit, especially at the beginning, is uncertainty about how you’re doing the habit. Are you doing it right? Is there more you should know? When will it be ingrained as a habit?

These and many more questions pass through our heads as we do a habit or anything that we don’t already know by heart.  We tend not to like the feeling of uncertainty, not only with this habit but in other areas of our life.  

Today, practice just staying with this feeling of uncertainty, seeing what it’s like to not know the path, know the right way, know the answer. See if you can just be uncertain, and be curious about what it is like to be uncertain, and be curious about what this is like.

Day 3: Practice being with discomfort

One reason this type of zen habit is such a difficult habit to form is because of the discomfort it brings. The Childish Mind doesn’t like discomfort any more than it likes uncertainty.

We have to face discomfort when we deal with a tough work task, when we have to write something, in social situations, or when we put ourselves out there in the world.  These are scary, uncomfortable situations. But if we don’t push into discomfort, we severely limit ourselves. 

We limit the kind of work we do, we can make ourselves unhealthy, and we limit our social happiness. So today, consider pushing yourself into discomfort, either with the habit or with something else. Stay with the discomfort, find curiosity about it, see if you can be OK with the uncomfortable feeling without letting your mind run from it.

Day 4: See that this is enough

There’s a part of our minds where we’re always looking for more.   This is true of your current habit   —  you want it to be better in the future, you want your life (or yourself) to be better —  and it’s true of many other things in your life. Are your friends, family, spouse, kids, yourself, your work, your body … enough as they are? Or do you have a Mind Movie about how they should be?

As you do your habit today, notice your mind’s tendency to move to what you need to do today, things coming in the future …  and pause.  Stop and see the energy of the entire current moment, your energy included.   And practice accepting this moment as already enough.  This is a good practice to carry forward through your day and beyond this week.

Day 5: Practice letting go & accepting

One of the most difficult tasks we can give to our   Childish Mind is letting go of what it wants, and accepting life as it is, seeing that it’s already enough.

What is it that you want when it comes to this habit?  Is it possible to become unattached to that desire, to let it go and live without it? Would life be enough?  There will be times when life forces us to live without what we want (the death of a loved one, for example), and we struggle to let go.

Other times, (the death of a loved one, for example), we struggle to let go. Other times, when we aren’t forced to let go, we hold on and it can make us unhealthy.  We’ll be much better prepared for these situations if we practice with our habit today, and other days as well, with letting go of what we want and accepting that the moment in front of us is already enough.

Day 6: Go through to love

What happens when we stay with groundlessness (uncertainty, discomfort, frustration, loss), and don’t run from it? Is there just the discomfort of groundlessness, or is there anything beneath that? According to a famous zen teacher, Zen priest Susan O’Connell of San Francisco Zen Center, the answer is love. When we are frustrated with someone, it’s because we love them.

When we are afraid because of uncertainty, the fear comes from a place of love, underneath it all. I believe there’s truth to this, but I encourage you to stay with your groundlessness, explore it for as long as you can, and see if you can peek beneath it to see what’s there.

Also Read: How Meditation Can Strengthen All Romantic Relationships?

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6 thoughts on “What is Zen?”

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