Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism and originated in China during the 6th century CE as Chán. From China, Zen spread south to Vietnam, to Korea and east to Japan.
The word Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word Dzyen (Modern Mandarin: Chán), which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyāna, which can be approximately translated as “absorption” or “meditative state”.
Zen emphasizes the attainment of enlightenment and the personal expression of direct insight in the Buddhist teachings. As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine, and favors direct understanding through zazen and interaction with an accomplished teacher.
The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahāyāna thought, especially Yogācāra, the Tathāgatagarbha Sutras and Huayan. The Prajñāpāramitā literature and, to a lesser extent, Madhyamaka have also been influential.
What is Zen?
Zen is the fine art of paying attention. It is mindfulness. It is being as opposed to doing. It means fully inhabiting ones self in the present moment. It is bringing your full attention and presence to whatever you’re doing.
Zen is a way of living. Anyone can practice Zen. It is not a religion.
Living in a Zen way means when you eat, eat. When you work, work. It means being fully present and showing up for your life. In the words of Ram Dass, “Be here now.”
Most of us live mindlessly. We go about our liveswith anendless to do list running in our heads. We are either in the future focused on what we are going to do next, or playing out old scenarios from the past. Rarely are we ever fully in the moment.
Zen is about becoming still. Zen requires that you slowdown enough to center yourself in the moment. Life becomes your meditation.
When you live your life mindfully, each moment becomes it’s own reward. Life takes on an incredible richness. This richness cannot compare to even the most decadent of desserts. With mindfulness, life becomes the dessert! When you live from the center of your being, you begin to flow with the river of life. When you are in the flow of life, you can hear your life speak to you. You begin to experience your unique rhythms, and your being begins to dance in harmony to the rhythm of life. Life unfolds the way it i smeant to be. It ceases to be a struggle.
Most of us are in the river of life desperately trying to swim upstream! We are over booked, frantic, and living inoverdrive.
With mindfulness, you can learn to discern when you are hungry for food and when you are hungry for emotional sustenance. When you eat mindfully, you learn to truly savor food and eat until your body register’s that you are satieted and no longer hungry. Eating then becomes the true act of nourishment it was meant to be.
When you become mindful, you can tune into your body’s inner wisdom. The body never lies. Mindfulness helps you develop a solid connection with what you are feeling and what you are doing. It develops your inner ear – your intuition. You soul speaks in whispers. You have to be still enough to hear it.
When you practice mindfulness, you will be able to instinctively know what you really want and need. It might be guacamoleor it could be a hug. The wisdom of Zen allows you to make the choice.
Zen philosophy asserts that inner peace and enlightenment can be attained through self-contemplation and meditation rather than devotion, faith and belief.
Zen is short for Zen Buddhism. It is sometimes called a religion and sometimes called a philosophy.
Zen Buddhism developed from the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, better known as the Buddha. About 500 B.C. as a prince of what is now India, he became so deeply disturbed by the misery he witnessed in his homeland, that he gave up his fortunate life to seek understanding. He found that suffering and unhappiness are the result of attachment to circumstances and things which are temporary. By elimination of these attachments, including affection to the artificial notion of self (“I” or “me”), one can be free of pain. After 6 years of hardship he achieved Enlightenment at age 35
The Buddha’s teachings have been passed down from teacher to student to this day. Sometime around 475 A.D. one of the Buddha’s students traveled from India to China and introduced the teachings of the Buddha there. In China Buddhism merged with the native Taoism.
The result of this mingling spread from China to Japan, where it later formed into what is now known as (at least in translation) Zen Buddhism.
Buddhism and it’s cousin Taoism have gained significant popularity in the United States and Europe, to the point that it have become somewhat of a movement. Many true practitioners are hoping it isn’t just a fad, but rather the beginning of a global consciousness.
The Wisdom of Zen
Zen getsu, a Chinese master of the T’ang dynasty, wrote the following advice for his pupils:
Living in the world yet not forming attachments to the dust of the world is the way of a true Zen student.
When witnessing the good action of another encourage yourself to follow his example. Hearing of the mistaken action of another, advise yourself not to emulate it.
Even though alone in a dark room, be as if you were facing a noble guest. Express your feelings, but become no more expressive than your true nature.
Poverty is your treasure. Never exchange it for an easy life.
A person may appear a fool and yet not be one. He may only be guarding his wisdom carefully.
Virtues are the fruit of self-discipline and do not drop from heaven of themselves as does rain or snow.
Modesty is the foundation of all virtues. Let your neighbors discover you before you make yourself known to them.
A noble heart never forces itself forward. Its words are as rare gems, seldom displayed and of great value.
To a sincere student, every day is a fortunate day. Time passes but he never lags behind. Neither glory nor shame can move him.
Censure yourself, never another. Do not discuss right and wrong.
Some things, though right, were considered wrong for generations. Since the value of righteousness may be recognized after centuries, there is no need to crave immediate appreciation.
Live with cause and leave results to the great law of the universe. Pass each day in peaceful contemplation.
“Our true nature is happiness.” -Sri Swami Satchidananda
“Do not believe in anything simply because you have heard it. Do not believe simply because it has been handed down for many generations. Do not believe in anything simply because it is spoken and rumored by many. Do not believe in anything simply because it is written in Holy Scriptures. Do not believe in anything merely on the authority of teachers, elders, or wise men. Believe only after careful observation and analysis, when you find that it agrees with reason, and is conducive to the good and benefit of one and all. Then accept it and live up to it.” -Buddha
“Our theories of the eternal are as valuable as are those that a chick which has not broken its way through its shell might form of the outside world.” -Buddha
“The no-mind not-thinks no-thoughts about no-things.” -Buddha
“Before enlightenment I chopped wood and carried water; after enlightenment, I chopped wood and carried water.” -Zen saying
“A good martial artist does not become tense, but ready… ready for whatever may come. When my opponent expands, I contract; and when he contracts, I expand; and when there is an opportunity… I do not hit. It hits all by itself.” -Bruce Lee
“When running up a hill, it is all right to give up as many times as you wish — as long as your feet keep moving.” -Shoma Morita, M.D
The Zen master Nan-in received a western university professor who called to inquire about Zen. Nan-in served tea.
He poured his visitor’s cup full, then kept on pouring. The professor watched the overflow until he could no longer restrain himself.
“It is overfull! No more will go in,” he cried.
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
-from the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, By Paul Reps
Tanzan and Ekido, two Zen monks, were once travelling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.
Coming around a bend, they encountered a young and lovely girl in a silk kimono, unable to cross the intersection. “Come on girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her across the mud.
Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he could no longer restrain himself. “We monks don’t go near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It’s dangerous. Why did you do that?”
“I left that girl back at the road,” said Tanzan, “are you still carrying her?”
-from the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, By Paul Reps
A man travelling across a field encountered a tiger. He fled, the tiger after him. Coming to a precipice, he caught hold of the root of a wild vine and swung himself down over the edge. The tiger sniffed at him from above. Trembling, the man looked down to where, far below, another tiger was waiting to eat him. Only the vine sustained him.
Two mice, one white and one black, little by little started to gnaw away the vine. The man saw a luscious strawberry near him. Grasping the vine with one hand, he plucked the strawberry with the other.
How sweet it tasted! -from the book Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, By Paul Reps