What is Zen? Why is it becoming popular? What’s in it for me?
The essential element of Zen Buddhism is found in its name, for zen means “meditation.” Zen teaches that enlightenment is achieved through the profound realization that one is already an enlightened being. This awakening can happen gradually or in a flash of insight (as emphasized by the Sōtō and Rinzai schools, respectively). But in either case, it is the result of one’s own efforts. Deities and scriptures can offer only limited assistance.
Zen traces its origins to India, but it was formalized in China. Chan, as it is known in China, was transmitted to Japan and took root there in the thirteenth century. Chan was enthusiastically received in Japan, especially by the samurai class that wielded political power at this time, and it became the most prominent form of Buddhism between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. [Source]
Zen includes meditation (ZaZen) and mental practices, complemented by design of physical spaces, concepts to organize and declutter the mind. A state of Zen instills a sense of calm, and opens the channel to intuition. There is overlap with the I Ching philosophy originating in China, including the WuWei expressed by Carl Jung’s interpretation of the path to enlightenment. The heart of the matter refers to a sense of peace from which positively influencing energies flow.
Zen, distilled Buddhism conceptually moves us from the mental activity associated with our daily existence, into a quiet, open space where relaxation is induced to get closer to the essence of our soul’s intention. Quiet the chatter, and answers surface. Rather than working hard to find the answers, a conscious state of Zen allows us to set aside white noise to calm our physical bodies, relax our state of consciousness and in so doing, allows us to reach a peaceful state, wherein we accept everything in our existence and move through this peaceful state to allow the answers to issues we’ve perhaps tried to force a solution to, to rise to our conscious level.
Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on simplicity and the importance of the natural world generated a distinctive aesthetic, which is expressed by the terms wabi and sabi. These two amorphous concepts are used to express a sense of rusticity, melancholy, loneliness, naturalness, and age, so that a misshapen, worn peasant’s jar is considered more beautiful than a pristine, carefully crafted dish. While the latter pleases the senses, the former stimulates the mind and emotions to contemplate the essence of reality. This artistic sensibility has had an enormous impact on Japanese culture up to modern times. [Source]
Zen is useful whether we’re wrestling with serious issues, or just looking to maintain balance.
The Buddha, Siddharta Gautama, delivered his first sermon following his enlightenment, in which he shared both the Four Noble Truths and what’s referred to as ‘middle way’ The Eightfold Path between the extremes of asceticism (self-denial) and sensual indulgence.
Siddharta Gautama, was born into royalty, but upon discovering how folks in the village outside his palace lived and suffered, Siddharta cast aside his life of luxury and after sitting in quiet contemplation, released the doctrine of pratitya samutpada. This doctrine examined the interdependence of all living things. Siddharta, The Buddha, was referred to as the ‘enlightened one’ or ‘awakened one’ born in northern India, in the sixth century. His discovery through meditation became the basis for his initial followers, the Buddha accepted anyone interested in his teachings who embodied the intention to assist the Buddha in sharing the Four Noble Truths and to follow the Enlightened Path, intended to end suffering.
The Four Noble Truths are:
The Eightfold Path is characterized,
“…what is noble about the Four Noble Truths is not the truths themselves but those who understand them, what is noble about the Eightfold Noble Path is not the path itself but those who follow it. Accordingly, Astangika-marga [Sanskrit] might be more accurately translated as the “Eightfold Path of the [spiritually] noble…the eight elements of the path are: (1) correct view, an accurate understanding of the nature of things, specifically the Four Noble Truths, (2) correct intention, avoiding thoughts of attachment, hatred, and harmful intent, (3) correct speech, refraining from verbal misdeeds such as lying, divisive speech, harsh speech, and senseless speech, (4) correct action, refraining from physical misdeeds such as killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct, (5) correct livelihood, avoiding trades that directly or indirectly harm others, such as selling slaves, weapons, animals for slaughter, intoxicants, or poisons, (6) correct effort, abandoning negative states of mind that have already arisen, preventing negative states that have yet to arise, and sustaining positive states that have already arisen, (7) correct mindfulness, awareness of body, feelings, thought, and phenomena (the constituents of the existing world), and (8) correct concentration, single-mindedness. [Source]
While we have a long way to go, the Buddha, with peaceful intent, and a love for all things and beings, has amassed many many followers through these centuries. It is quite interesting that through the millennia since, we have not progressed nearly as far along the Enlightened Path as we might have.
The forms that Zen can take in our modern-day lives are many. Zen is a principle embedded in Feng Shui, the artful placement of structures, gardens and interior spaces to energize each area of the Baghua (octagonal chart depicting the 8 areas of attention for balance in one’s life according to the principles of Feng Shui) for growth, calm, love, finances, success in the various areas of an individual’s or family life.
While placement of objects as significant to effect an intended outcome is the primary objective of Feng Shui, Zen proposes to minimalize; leaving only what is necessary, as in a Zen garden or Zen architecture.
Zen works within the physical body, the mind and the heart/soul connection. In meditation, it is in the absence that the true matters surface. That we connect to the energy of the universal collective, within this stillness, one may find inner peace as well as the infinite intelligence of the universal energy.
Zen is a state of bliss.
Considering the current state of affairs worldwide on any given day, week, month or year in the last several, it’s not difficult to discern why as word spreads of simple techniques; to unclutter the mind and restore a sense of calm, would be a welcome antidote to the daily onslaught of activity and information we are exposed to which induce a sense of fright or flight on an almost daily basis. Just trying to process the daily “news” is enough to send someone into a tailspin, as we imagine how each new limit will affect our daily existence. The answer is quite simple actually.
We must decide we want something different. Decisions are the lynchpin to creating change in one’s life, no matter the subject. First, we decide, then we manifest. Getting to the point where we trust ourselves to have the autonomy to change our circumstances is the difficult sticking point, and if we do not, nothing changes in the way we feel about our lives. Basking in meditation is not necessarily a cure-all, per se, however, allowing the mind to quiet is the opening sequence to effecting positive change within each of our own tiny (yet expansive) worlds.
Remember, when the outside light dims, we must shine from within!
I’m not a Zen Buddhist, nor am I insinuating that you should become such, however, being able to induce a state of Zen within our beings, is a very useful, positive tool to have in our bags. Become unflappable. Notice the tiny noticeable things that are the sunlight in our days, let the emphasis be placed on the things that light you up and allow the rest to fall away.
We hold the power to shine from within! No one benefits when we remain small. A connectedness, or Oneness, is an opportunity to share in an energy larger than any one of us alone. Move that needle internally and all kinds of doors open externally.
Zen is sometimes described as not what you add to your life but what you can reduce it to. Simplicity. The direct path. Evolving consciousness. Allowing life’s upsets to move through you but not to consume you. Expecting the positive outcome creates the opportunity for the Universe to step in on your behalf and clear obstacles. Zen represents inner peace. We can each create that space within where we allow our thoughts to drift in and out and maintain a sense of calm, that triggers the pineal gland source of Intuition to do its finest work and offer up solutions the conscious mind has not yet discovered. Reliance on internal energy and intuition will lead toward your soul’s intent, rather than allow you to become caught up in anyone else’s narrative or intention for your life. We are each here for a purpose and uncovering that intention and pursuing it will expose our individual gifts, accompanied by strength, resilience, calm, accessing universal energy at will and moving our unique intention toward fruition.
Zen helps us to address the existential questions that hang in the balance as we move through this human experience. Certainly, many will feel it’s not for them, but why not give it a try.
Get still. Your time will not be wasted. Let your muse be inspired. The purpose of Zen is that through meditation, one discovers that he/she is already enlightened. Let your inner light SHINE!