What Is Zen?

The word ‘Zen’ is everywhere. We have Zen meditation, Zen clothes, Zen cosmetics, Zen diet aids, and then there is the bohemian masterpiece, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The list of ‘Zen’ products and activities goes on forever, but what does ‘Zen’ actually mean?

History of Zen

For that, we can journey back to the first recorded moment of Zen, about 2,500 years ago, when wandering aesthetics gathered on Vulture’s Peak in India to hear the Buddha give a dharma talk. Without uttering a word, the Buddha held out his hand, revealing a lovely flower.

Only one man, Mahakashyapa, understood the Buddha’s silent instruction, and he expressed that understanding with only a simple smile. Thus, Mahakashyapa became the very first Zen master and all Zen Masters since have traced their lineage to him.

A flower and a smile. What could be more mysterious to a mind entangled in complexities? We can think of Zen as simplicity itself, as the fundamental action or essence in each and every thing.

The ‘Zen of you’ is just you, as you actually are, without the accumulated complexities. If we can live from the essence of who we actually are, rather than pretending to be a fabricated and imaginary self, life can become more meaningful and peaceful. True to ourselves, we will be true to all.

Zen and Truth

So, why aren’t we always true to ourselves and to others? Why does our inspiration and will so often fade when challenged by circumstances and conditions? Because as pure and deliberate as our inner intent might be in essence, the substance of our being is quite complex.

The heart may want one thing, but body, mind and emotions may each long for something else. The spirit may strive to be brave, while the mind remains cowardly. The result is an internal confusion about who we are and a resultant lack of focus and resolve.

We think our troubles come from outside, that stuff happens to us, and those happenings weaken us, make us sad and dissatisfied with life. The hard truth is that most of the unhappiness we feel comes from within.

It is manufactured by mental attitudes and emotional tendencies within our personal consciousness. This sounds horrible; but in fact, it’s good news, because it means we can change our fate. As we change ourselves within, the world changes without. Hard to believe, but true and this truth is the intimate and immediate realization of each person who makes a sustained and diligent practice of Zen.

As your skill grows and you begin to penetrate the fog of your previously unfocused consciousness, you get closer to the light within, your self-confidence grows, and the world simultaneously becomes a friendlier place.

By Astika Mason

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