What is Zen?
Zen simply means understanding and knowing oneself. In the world today, people are very busy looking for happiness outside not knowing that the true and lasting happiness comes from the inside by knowing who you really are, what you want and what you are capable of giving.
Normally, we say these words – I want this, I want that, I am like this and I am like that. However, when someone ask you, where did you come from and where will you go when you die? The usual reply would be, I don’t know. This is where Zen comes in. Meditation in Zen simply means keeping the “don’t know” mind when chanting, sitting and bowing Zen – the formal Zen practice.
Eventually, your “don’t know” mind becomes clearer. You can see that the sky is blue and the trees are green. Your mind is as clear as the mirror where red reflects as red and white reflects as white. When you experience such clarity and tranquility you will no longer desire for the goodness of yourself alone but your desire will be for all beings. When that happens, your mind is already enlightened. You have already discovered within yourself the greatest love and compassion.
How to relax by means of Zen?
Zen is a way of life that teaches you how to relax. It is an intuitive understanding of the ultimate truth of living. Zen living means “self-awakening” that will liberate you from the chains of the past memories and potential worries of the future thus; you will naturally know how to relax. Here are some ways on how to relax by means of Zen.
- Don’t make your life a problem and there will be no problem.
- Don’t look backward nor forward. Just focus on the present.
- Don’t let your mind be always in control because when you persist in doing things your own way and rely only in your knowledge, you will bring excessive stress in our life.
- Accomplish things without exerting too much effort.
- Focus on the process of doing things and never feel anxious of the result. Just do it the best way you can.
- Accept and embrace life including the bad experiences. Never think that you can avoid bad experiences because it is inevitable. If you do that, stress will build up along the way.
Zen teaches us the right way to relax and to appreciate the wonderful gift of life and living in the present. Developing a child-like mentality is a way of Zen because children don’t dwell on the past experiences nor worry for the future. They are just happy living in the now and appreciate what they have. Be a child again, that’ how exactly you should relax.
The history behind Zen
Many of us speak about something as being ” Zen”, but do we really understand what this means? Zen Buddhism actually came into existence more recently than the earliest type of Buddhism founded by Siddhartha Gautama, approx. 500 years before the birth of Christ. Siddhartha was born a prince and lived in the Ganges River Valley in the northeastern part of India. It is said that his birth was foretold and that his father was advised that his son would either be a very powerful king, or he would be a great spiritual leader.
Siddhartha was indeed the next in line for his father’s throne. He was given a privileged education, and all that he desired. He was carefully kept away from mingling with the people outside of the palace grounds, because the astrologers felt that should Siddhartha see human suffering, it would inspire him to grow, spiritually. I have read several differing versions of this story, but he somehow found his way outside of the palace. He saw a sick beggar, an old person, a corpse and a holy man.
These encounters had such an affect, that at 29 years of age, Siddhartha Gautama renounced his throne, handed his princely garments to his charioteer and he disappeared into the woods where other ascetics were known to live. He studied with these gurus and lived a life of hardship and denial, and self mortification of the body. After six years, he knew that this was not bringing him closer to his goal of enlightenment.
He began seeking a “middle way”, a way that would help him to study and pray without compromising his physical health, because illness made it very difficult to concentrate on his meditation and prayers. He sat under a Bodhi Tree to meditate. He decided that he would not leave that spot until he had achieved enlightenment. Mara, the evil one, chided him and mocked him as he meditated, and yet he persevered.
He reached a clear understanding of human suffering and the nature of reality. He had achieved the enlightenment he sought. There is a book, written by the notable author and poet Thich Nhat Hahn, himself a Zen Buddhist Monk, called “Old Path, White Clouds”, which tells the story of the Buddha (Enlightened one), and how Buddhism came to be. After Siddhartha’s death, several of his closest followers disagreed on a number of points and Buddhism was divided into two schools- Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism. This divide also paved the way for Zen.
Buddhism spread from India to Sri Lanka, South East Asia, Vietnam, China, Korea, and Japan. Buddhism can be practiced by young and old, rich and poor alike. Buddhists do not worship the Buddha, he is seen as a highly respected teacher, not a God. Siddhartha himself warned his Bikkus that when he pointed to the moon, to show it to them, they must not confuse his pointing finger with the moon! It is not right to revere the Guru or teacher above the important message that they bring.
Because it is a program or way to end suffering and to gain control over your own mind, it can be practiced by those who belong to other faith traditions, without conflict. It is taught in the same way as Hinduism cosmology and psychology because this was the original faith of the Buddha. However, no one is expected to become Hindu in order to study Buddhism.
Buddhists do believe in reincarnation- the journey of each soul through many lifetimes until at last they reach Nirvana , which is freedom, liberation and salvation. The Karma we create for ourselves, both good and bad, determines where and who we will become in future lives.Theravada (Path of the elders) is found through out Southeast Asia, and it relies heavily on Vipassana (to see clearly) meditation.
Zen Buddhism is a school of thought that is seen as “a special transmission out side the scriptures”, which does not require words, because it goes much deeper than our intellect. It does have it’s roots in the original teachings of the Buddha, but it has been influenced by Madhyamaka and Yogacara and the Buddha-nature doctrines, as well as” Koans” (small instructive stories or riddles that require much thought). Zen tradition states that the enlightenment of the Buddha came through direct insight, not conceptualization. However, the understanding of the traditional teachings of the Buddha is key.
In China, during the Tang Dynasty (601-674), Zen (called Chan there) became established as a separate school of Buddhist thought. Yogacara states that external objects are unreal, but holding that in mind is real, and that objects which appear to be external and materials are ideas or states of consciousness. The Madhyamaka states that all phenomena are empty of substance, or inherent existence because they are dependently co-arisen. The emptiness is also empty because it does not have an existence on it’s own, nor does it refer to a transcendental reality beyond or above phenomenal reality.
Zen is one branch of the Mahayana School of Buddhism. This is the larger of the two branches, with followers worldwide. Mahayana refers to the endeavor to seek complete enlightenment , so that all sentient beings may also be helped. This has been called the “Bodhisattva Vehicle” or “Bodhisattvayana”.
A Bodhisattva is a soul who, after completing their karmic obligations, chooses to return to Earth to enlighten others. There are two ways to practice Zen. In China, one is “pen chueh”- The belief that one’s mind has been fully enlightened from birth. The second “shih-chueh”, the belief that with practice, man at some point will pass out of ignorance and delusion and reach the Zen realization of true vision and enlightenment, and that awakening in this life is of primary importance.
In Japan, a separate line of the Chinese Linji school, which was founded during the Tang Dynasty by Linji Yixuan. This line is called “Rinzai”. It emphasizes the importance of “Kensho”, that is, the process of gaining insight into your own true nature through meditation. To deepen your insight, Zazen (sitting meditation, often with a round or square cushion) and studying the instructional Koans is necessary.
Many Koans are paradoxical stories or riddles with no logical solution. Such questions as “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” or “If a tree falls in the wood, with no one around, does it make a sound?” Such queries are important for focus during meditation, plus they exercise the mind of the student and they encourage the students (bikkus) to think “out of the box”. In China, in the Tang Dynasty (600-900), a new style of teaching Chan (Zen) , which was inspired by a text called “Awakening Faith in the Mahayana”, written in Chinese.
This inspired a huge number of students to congregate at a private home, and with the fourth and fifth patriarchs Daoxin and Hongren, a school called “The East Mountain Teaching” was born. Shenxiu (606?-706), an important successor to Hongren, was invited to the Imperial court, and this school was recognized and endorsed by the court. His style was typified by a “loose practice”, that was used to make Zen Buddhism more accessible to a larger crowd. He was known for using short ideas taken from the sutras and using them to”package” what he was teaching.
Zen Buddhism translates into “absorption” or “meditative state”. In our modern times, it is characterized by dhyana, or “meditation”. Practitioners observe their breath during sitting meditation. They typically will sit in the full lotus position or half lotus position, and they may use the dhyana mudra (mudras are hand positions used to further meditation). The practitioner may also visualize putting energy into his chakra or energy center three inches above the navel- the solar plexus, or the pelvic chakra three inches below the navel.
There are three Zen schools that remain in contemporary Japan, today-
Soto- This school is the largest of the three, and they have 2 head temples. They are divided into sub-schools according to the temple
Rinzai- This is the middle school, in terms of size, but it has 14 head temples
Obaku- The smallest of the three, Obaku has 1 head temple.
All of the Buddhist Schools have one thing in common- they all revere and follow the basic traditions of the original Buddha. These are-
The Noble Eight Fold Path-
- Right understanding
- Right thought
- Right speech
- Right action
- Right livelihood
- Right effort
- Right mindfulness
- Right concentration
The Five Precepts-
- To refrain from killing
- To refrain from stealing
- To refrain from sexual misconduct
- To refrain from false,harsh,and idle speech
- To refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind
The Six Wholesome and Unwholesome Roots of Mind-
The Four Noble Truths-
- The existence of suffering
- The origin of suffering
- The cessation of suffering
- The path to cessation of suffering
The Six Sense Doors and Three Feeling Tones-
- Eyes (seeing)
- Ears (hearing)
- Nose (smelling)
- Tongue (tasting)
- Body (touching)
Feeling Tones- 1.
The Five Hindrances- these are the classical hindrances to meditative practices-
Desire, clinging, craving
Aversion, anger, hatred
The Three Kinds of Suffering-
- The suffering of pain
- The suffering of change
- The suffering of conditionality
The Four Brahama-Viharas- these best abodes reflect the mind state of enlightenment-
- Loving kindness
- Sympathetic joy
The Eight Vicissitudes- according to the Buddha, we will experience these vicissitudes throughout our lives, no matter our intentions
- Pleasure and Pain
- Gain and Loss
- Praise and Blame
- Fame and Disrepute
These are but a few of the ideas, concepts and thoughts that comprise Buddhism. It is complex and yet simple, traditional and yet new, strict and yet open-minded. Like the Science of Yoga, Buddhism is an enlightened method to improve one’s mind and actions in our confusing world. It is path to awakening and enlightenment, yes, but it is also a peaceful port in the raging storm we live in. A chance to help all sentient beings upon this earth. Namaste’