If you ask almost anyone if they have heard of Zen, the answer is usually yes, but when you ask them what Zen is,the answer usually varies greatly. The word Zen appears in book titles and books are written about experiences where Zen has allegedly played a part. The idea is popular. But the practice of Zen is not so popular, in the sense that few people acually practice Zen - consciously that is.
The fruit of Zen practice is an awareness, a heightened sense of feeling and sensitivity that one develops in doing what comes naturally.
You can consider Zen both as a discipline, a very strict and demanding discipline,and as an attitude, or outlook or approach to life. Zen has no philisophy of its own: it is simply a method of learning, of observing, and of experiencing what you do every day, anyway.
Zen is a philisophy of will power - one forges an iron will and an indomitable spirit. It is based on self-reliance. Profound honesty is required in Zen practice. There is no result in Zen practice. It is the effort you make to improve yourself that is measured.
As one way of practicing Zen, one sits in a cross-legged position. With your hand relaxed, your arms relaxed, your shoulders relaxed, you begin to breathe in a controlled, rhythmic breathing. The breathing is deep, nourishing you with oxygen; your nostrils flare and your abdomen, perhaps for the first time in your life, breathes for you. Thoughts fly through your head.You are admonished to concentrate on your breathing to measure it, feel it, be aware of it. The thoughts increase: the day's activities, your problems, your fears, a million things fly by. You snap back into where you are, and what you are doing. The more you try to concentrate on one thing, the more it slips away. Later, when you become experienced, you will not try to stop your thinking. You will let it stop by itself. You will let it go. You will realize that nothing outside of you causes you trouble or anguish or guilt or doubt. When a thought occurs to you, and you spend time thinking about it, it is said that your mind has stopped at that point. This ''stopping mind'' is the heart of the problem. When your mind ''stops'' to question or decide or judge - when you are concentrating on that, you lose track of what is still going on.
But the flow does not stop when you do. It just passes you right by. When the mind is stopped for too long, it causes you not only to falter, but maybe to lose days in responding to a problem.
The initial concept with which Zen training breaks open your doors to understanding is ''beginner's mind''. School of Zen tells you to learn as ''plain and naive as an infant''.
The mind of an infant is empty; it is fresh. It has no preconceived ideas; it sees things as they are. It is free from the habits of experience and therefore open to all possibilities. The infant has no thoughts of achievement, and makes no demands. It makes no judgements, no distinctions. The infant lives in the absolute present. Above all, because he does not put one before another, the infant is compassionate.
Zen is a practical discipline. It wants you to act now, to experience this moment right now, directly. The effect of such action is to give you the power to cope. That is important in today's world. Furthermore,the resiliency that is developed in one's practice allows for appropriate responses. Coping appropriately is a key concept.
Zen is understanding without words. It is to apprehend the situation clearly and to see it for what it is, and not what you think it is. Reality must be experienced as it is. Does any word or even any thought accurately describe the feeling of being in love, or the heart-stopping fear of imminent death? It is understood by the Zen mind that the senses cannot grasp reality from one viewpoint. When the light goes on, one says, ''the light is on.'' But are you aware of the absence of darkness? Have you considered all sides of the situation, in your observation of it? Zen prapares you to look at this.
They say - If you want to see, see right at once. When you begin to think, you miss ths point.' To know and to act are one and the same. Be natural. Intellectual understanding is not always sufficient to effectively communicate.
Think of any activity that you perform that you are good at. It can be anything - Banking, cooking, tennis, speechmaking, organising. What is it that makes you good at it? Is it your training, or the tools you use? Or is it the experience you have accumulated in doing it? It is all these things in varying degrees, but the missing element is the crucial one. Your attitude, your approach, the sense of confidence, and purpose (no hesitation) you bring to your activity is what people observe when they say you are '' good at it.''
Zen is a practice for life; in Zen first comes the technique, practiced so many times that it is forgotten. Then you begin to use it. It is when you do not think about it anymore that you do it so well. Zen is no more than that. But it is reaching that state that the training is all about. The tennis pro who flies around the court, making impossible shots, does so not because of any superhuman qualities but because he has practiced and practiced, as the dancer has, until the movements are internalised. There is no longer any conscious direction in the movement. When you marvel at the way someone whips up a dinner for ten on short notice, or the way someone makes an impromptu speech, you are marvelling at the same thing - the approach, the confidence, the naturalness of the behaviour. There was no time to prepare, no time to think, no time to hesitate. there you are. ZEN.
Zen is also a social philisophy. A goal of Zen is to realize your potential as a human being. The 'self' is understood not only as an individual, but as a member of the community of individuals (society).
Zen stresses self-perfection, and in so practising, one tends to be more aware of one's place in the world, not in the sense of dedication or preseverance. If you have ever tried really hard to get something, and accomplished it, you know the feeling. It is a sense of self-satisfaction. You carried out your plans. You accomplished your goal. You felt good! But if you can do that yourself, why Zen?
Zen disciplines you to feel that everyday, in everything you do. You become more observant, more sure, and more confident. The effect of this change is to reduce your ego: the more confident you are, the less likely you are to boast or brag. But if your confidence is in only one activity that you perform, your ego (your personal advertising agency) will boost your confidence for you in other ways. All the cheerleading in the world will not help you win the game. If it is you who you have confidence in and not just your skills, if you are satisfied with yourself, you will be humble and quiet and peaceful. You will not have the desire to show off. When you are confident, truly at peace, you are also benevolent. Your ego does not keep you from reaching out to lend a helping hand, or from being compassionate. Your ego is not there to interfere. You do it because you feel like doing it, and there is nothing to stop the feeling.
When you eat, just eat. When you walk, just walk. When you sit, just sit. Your body knows how to do that already. When you play tennis, just play tennis. Approach the situation for what it is, and nothing more: whether you like it or not is irrelevant.
A Zen story illustrates this: Two monks were travelling in the rain, the mud sloshing under their feet. As they passed a river crossing, they saw a beautiful woman, finely dressed, unable to cross because of the mud. Without a word, the older monk simply picked up the woman and carried her to the other side.
the younger monk, seemingly agitated for the rest of their journey, could not contain himself once they reached their destination. He exploded at the older monk. '' How could you, a monk, even consider holding a woman in your arms, much less a young and beautiful one. It is against our teachings. It is dangerous.''
''i put her down at the roadside, ''said the older monk. ''Are you still carrying her?''
There is so much beauty, so much truth and love around us, but we so rarely slow down enough to notice, to appreciate. Sometimes it takes a tragedy or a great loss to remind us to slow down. The same happened with me after my father went....Life has changed for betterment. It has been elevated to a new level. Don't wait for anything like that to happen to you....SLOW DOWN.