To define zen (禅) is like trying to make a neat conceptual package that only gives part of the picture. Zen is a practice that needs to be experienced rather than intellectualized or understood with the mind. Tentatively defined as “a practice that helps man to unleash his true self through cross-legged sitting (zazen) and to vitalize his/her self in daily life.”
So…what is zen?
At the heart of the Japanese culture lies zen, which is a a school of Mahayana Buddhism. The word zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word 禪 (Chan) which traces its roots to the Indian practice of Dhyana which means “to think” or “to meditate”. Human beings are thinkers and the basic problem that all humans face is to return to the self.
The practice of zen mediation or zazen (座禅 – za meaning sitting, and zen meaning meditation in Japanese), is the core of Zen Buddhism. It is a way of self-discovery and living from moment to moment, which is practiced while sitting on a meditation cushion. Zazen is an attitude of spiritual awakening, which when practiced, can become the source from which all the actions of daily life flow – eating, sleeping, breathing, walking, working, and so on.
Zen Buddhism is not a theory, an idea, a piece of knowledge, a belief, a dogma, a moral teaching or religion. It does not require one to believe in anything, but rather, it is a practical experience. Zen shows people what not to think and how to focus the mind on what to think. In a way, zen is a form of exercise for your mind.
Zen is very simple…so simple, in fact, that it’s very difficult to intellectually grasp. That is one reason why it is called a practice. It is not something to be mastered, but rather you can continually improve in it.
To understand zen, is by the silence of the dojo or a temple, quietly sit down, stop moving, and let your thoughts go. Focus on your zazen posture and your breathing. Keep your back straight. Let your ego and your unconscious mind melt away and merge with the universe…
This is zen.