Zen also known as Zen Buddhism is a way of life that originated in China around 500 AD, it arose through the fusion of the philosophies and practices within Daoism (based on the writing of Lao Tzu encompassing following of the Dao ‘the way’ of divine energy within) and Mahayana Buddhism (from northern India, Mahayana ‘the great vehicle ‘focuses on liberation and enlightenment for the purpose of being of service). Zen can be considered as more of a way of life or an experiment with consciousness than a religion or dogmatic philosophy. Today, traditional Zen is widely practiced in Japan and has also spread into western culture with slight variations from original tradition. Within this article, we will consider some of the teachings that arise from a Zen way of life and how these can be of great benefit.
The teachings of Zen
Now that we have become familiar with the origins of Zen we can discuss some of the takeaways of practicing Zen and how these approaches can be of immense benefit to our spiritual growth and quality of experience.
The cultivation of living in the present moment as completely as possible is a core practice of Zen. Presence is to be intrinsically focused and tuned in to the now, to the intricate and unique internal and external happening of each moment. Not projecting your thoughts and energy into the past or future but rather being fully engaged with what is. This deliberate presence and mindfulness allows for a state of relaxation, peace and embodiment which can allow us to experience the energy of each individual moment fully.
2. Zazen or Meditation
Zazen is a formal practice within the Zen lifestyle. It simply translates to ‘sitting meditation’ and involves sitting in a comfortable meditative position for an extended period in complete silent still presence. Zazen meditation sometimes includes focus on the breath but the main aim is to focus on experiencing a state of thoughtlessness, as from this state the true infinite energetic nature of being can be felt and known.
A key realization or awakening that comes with a Zen way of life is the experience of interconnection or non-separateness with everything; nature, all beings and even objects. Oneness is not something that can be fully understood through mental conceptualization, it is more of a direct experience that is accessible when living embodied within a higher level of consciousness. The insights and practices of Zen allow us to access open-minded perspectives which cultivate higher consciousness; living embodied knowing we are inextricably connected to everything we perceive.
4. Going with the flow
Gracefully moving with the ebbs and flows of life is an everyday Zen practice. Rooted within the state of presence and oneness ,going with the flow of events and experiences that arise becomes the most natural way of being. Knowing that no matter how much we try and effort there will always be many elements of life that are beyond control. Accepting this reality can allow us to live with more faith and ease as we don’t waste energy on anxiously controlling and stressing, rather we can go with the flow of events and observe and respond accordingly
5. Acceptance of paradox /contradiction and duality
An interesting acknowledgement within Zen is the contemplation and acceptance of the many paradoxes within life and within Zen itself. Through the knowledge that reality is actually infinitely creative and fluid; encompassing both the light and dark, life and death, sacred and profane as part of our natural experience. These paradoxes or contradictions can be highlighted through the use of language and in Zen; these are exposed through Koans which are paradoxical riddles that are meditated upon in order to bypass the rational or ego-mind in order to access a state of intuitive direct experience. An example of a Zen koan is: “When both hands are clapped a sound is produced; listen to the sound of one hand clapping.” Accepting that life is full of paradox and duality can allow us to experience a more playful, less serious relaxed state of living.
6. Sacredness in all daily activities
Another Zen practice is acknowledging the sacred in everything. Sacred activities such as rituals, formal meditation and intentional movement can be explored within a Zen lifestyle but it is equally important to notice that with full presence and mindfulness even seemingly mundane activities such as household chores or necessary activities for survival such as eating can be spiritual experiences. Zen encourages slowing down, intentionally doing one thing at a time and doing what you are focusing on as best as you can and to completion. By using taking this advice and being fully present to the senses as well as having a deeply embodied understanding of oneness all experiences can teach great simple lessons that improve our experience of everyday life.
7. Unconditional love, compassion and wellbeing
Ultimately or rather, presently, living a Zen life allows for the experience and embodiment of unconditional love, compassion and in turn general improved wellbeing. Love and compassion are traits that are consciously welcomed but also arise and resonate naturally as part of the awakening that Zen can bring into your experience. In a more relaxed state of connection and energized by the sacred and playful experience of life you will be more inclined to behave with and experience greater depths of love and compassion.
This article has only scratched the surface of understanding Zen, it is a truly fascinating and beneficial lifestyle to consider and upon learning more about it we realize that even writing much of this and conceptualizing Zen is contradictory to Zen itself. Zen is a most fluid discipline, it is rooted in ancient tradition and it is also exactly what it is in the present, unique in this moment for you. Zen is your direct experience; as philosopher Alan Watts eloquently offers that “The art of living … is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”
__Written by Music Of Wisdom team