Read an Excerpt
Zen is everywhere these days. We go to the bookstore and see books such as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Zen Golf, and hordes of others. Reading is a wonderful way to introduce yourself to any subject, but Zen is something that must be experienced to be understood. Read about it and familiarize yourself with the concepts of Zen practice, but then start to practice Zen yourself. This book is about applying your Zen practice to your life. No matter what you are doing, Zen can change the way you do it, and change the way you view what you are doing. In fact, Zen practice will change your entire life.
What Is Zen?
Zen traces its way back to the Buddha, who lived 2,500 years ago on the border of northern India and southern Nepal. In order to fully understand the beginnings of Zen, we will start by taking a look at the Buddha's life and his teachings in the next two chapters. Buddhism started with the enlightenment of the Buddha as he sat under the bodhi tree so many years ago. Zen is a branch of Buddhism. When Buddha became enlightened he decided to spend his life teaching others what he had realized-he had discovered the true nature of reality and he spent the next 40 years sharing his understanding with all who would listen.
Another word for enlightenment is nirvana.
The purpose of Zen practice is to realize enlightenment as the Buddha realized it. Zen practice is an effort to awaken to the absolute truth of reality-to achieve self-realization. In other words, it is an effort to understand the way things really are, not the way we interpret things through the filters of our egos, our fears, and our notions. In Zen practice we strive to awaken to our true self-our buddhanature. Zen is the present moment, the here and now. This moment. This moment just as it happens, just as it is. Zen is something you experience intuitively. It is not about engaging your rational, thinking mind; it is not about your thoughts at all. In fact, any intellectualizing-any thinking you do-will be obstructive to your Zen practice. Now that you've spent your life trying to hone your logical, rational mind you will try to still that mind through your Zen practice. So when your friends told you that you think too much, they were actually right!
Nirvana is not a place. Nirvana is not outside or us; it is not separate from us-it lies within each of us. It is the very still center at the core of our being. Zen is actually a Japanese word that derives from the Chinese word Ch'an, which in turn derives from the Sanskrit word dhyana, which means meditation. So, in essence, Zen means meditation. Meditation is an important aspect of all forms of Buddhism as it is considered a path to enlightenment, and it is highly emphasized in Zen practice. In fact, Dogen, founder of the Soto lineage of Zen Buddhism in Japan, taught a way of meditating called shikantaza, which we will discuss in more detail later on.Shikantaza means that sitting (meditating) is enlightened mind. So, contrary to popular belief, the purpose of meditating isn't to become enlightened, you meditate to enjoy your enlightened mind.