- 1 Introduction
- 2 What Is Zen Buddhism
- 3 The Four Noble Truths
- 4 Zazen Meditation
- 5 Additional Methods Of Embracing The Zen Buddhism Philosophy In Your Daily Life
- 6 Conclusion
- 7 Sources
- 8 Further Readings
For a plethora of people life is extremely complicated which certainly leads to harmful levels of unnecessary stress. In order to provide relief, some of us turn to alcohol, cigarettes, and even drugs. Others just bottle it all up until they literally and figuratively explode. Although exercise is a great outlet there are many people that do not enjoy working out and even the thought of it causes even more stress. That being said you certainly do not need to worry, all is not lost. The good news is that there is an ancient philosophy that can greatly benefit you in your daily life. In fact, for thousands of years people from all around the globe have been practicing it in order to live a better, more fulfilling lifestyle.
You probably have heard of Zen Buddhism, but may not fully understand exactly what it is and how it can greatly benefit you. When most people hear the word Zen or Buddhism they immediately begin to form a picture in their minds of the historical Buddha. He was actually a real live person that went by name Siddharta Gautama, Shakyamuni, or Gautama Buddha lived approximately 2,500 years ago in India. He was the model for the famous Buddha statue that can be seen in most Chinese food restaurants across the United States. You know the one of the ancient gentleman sitting cross legged with a shaved head, large belly, and smile on his face. When some people hear the word Zen they immediately begin to envision what it would be like to go on a quest for enlightenment.
You do not need to be a serious student of Zen that spends their lifetime training in monasteries in order to practice the Zen way of life. For most of us that would be impossible anyway. We have family and work obligations and are lucky to get a few weeks of vacation per year let alone have the time for a spiritual quest. The most important aspect here is to avoid allowing the constant daily struggles of life to get in the way and block out the harmony that we desperately need in order to find some peace and harmony in this world.
Although the Zen philosophy and the many principals associate with it may appear outdated to non-believers they are absolutely modern in purpose and meaning. The point here is that we could all use a bit more serenity in our lives. Anyone that wishes to take part has the ability in which to do so. It does not take much besides an open mind, concentration, and a little guidance. On that note, and without further ado, here is The Complete Guide To Living A Life Of Zen In The Modern World for your reading pleasure. The intent is to teach you in a fun and easy to learn manner.
What Is Zen Buddhism
In order to use the Zen principals in your daily life it is important to learn a little bit about what Zen Buddhism actual is and its storied history. Do not fret. You will not be bogged down with pages and pages of history. By definition Zen Buddhism is actually a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism that emphasizes the value of both meditation and intuition. Zen Buddhism is by far the most famous and well-known school of Buddhism in the western world. The concepts of Zen Buddhism have held influence on western society since the 1950s. The question you may be asking yourself at this point is how is Zen Buddhism different from the other forms of Buddhism.
Zen is actually a Japanese word that means meditation. The focus of Zen Buddhism is to obtain spiritual enlightenment through the use of meditation, much like the way the most famous Buddha Siddharta Gautama lived his life. The main principal is that all humans have a Buddha like nature to them. Each and every one of us has the potential to attain enlightenment within us, however most of us have been encompassed with ignorance. In order to conquer this ignorance, Zen absolutely rejects the study of devotional practices, religious based rites, and the study of scriptures. In essence we must completely clear our minds by meditating in order to find the awareness of ultimate reality and true insight.
Serious Zen training typically takes place under the guiding hand of a Zen Master, however anyone can practice Zen principals in their daily life as you will learn later on in this guide. There are approximately 9.6 million Zen Buddhists currently living in Japan. Within the last century or so there have been numerous Zen Buddhists groups that have formed in Europe and North America. The philosophy or religion as some call it has become far more popular in the west in recent times. Zen actually began in China during the 6th Century CE. It arrived in Japan as early as the 7th Century , but was not fully developed there until the 12th Century. Since that time Zen has been an important philosophy in Japan.
The Four Noble Truths
In order to understand Zen one must learn about The Four Noble Truths, which are in essence the foundation of Buddhism. They are as follows:
Dukkha, The First Noble Truth teaches us that life is full of suffering. Human nature and the world we live in are certainly imperfect. In life we will all endure hardships such as pain and illness. Eventually we will die and that means we simply cannot keep the things in life that we strive for the most. The happy times are fleeting and so are we as humans.
Samudaya, The Second Noble Truth teaches us that the cause of suffering is our desire to control the things that we cannot control. In addition the attachment to material possessions causes suffering due to the fact that belongings are only temporary and we will eventually lose everything. Suffering is sure to follow loss.
Nirhodha, The Third Noble Truth teaches us that the end to suffering is achieving Nirvana, which is the final release of suffering. When we have reached Nirvana our minds experience the ultimate freedom. In essence it is the freedom from worries. Experiencing Nirvana puts us at peace with the world.
Magga, The Fourth Nobel Truth teaches us how to end suffering by strictly following the Eightfold Path. This is also known as true enlightenment. In essence the Eightfold Path is the way to end suffering through the gradual quest for self-improvement. This may actually occur over many different lifetimes. Ignorance and suffering slowly fade away when you develop yourself further during each lifetime.
1. Right view
2. Right intention
3. Right speech
4. Right action
5. Right livelihood
6. Right effort
7. Right mindfulness
8. Right concentration
Zazen, the practice of Zen meditation is an extremely important aspect of the philosophy of Zen Buddhism. People have been taking part in Zazen, originally called Dhyana in India since it was made popular by Gautama Buddha close to 2,500 years ago. Zazen is an extraordinarily precise yet simple method of meditation that anyone can master or at least practice with a few easy steps. It is of the utmost importance to find a peaceful an quit room prior to beginning the mediation process. Keep in mind that this peaceful place should be in an area that you will not be disturbed. In addition the room should not be too bright or too dark, or too warm or too cold. It needs to be just right, much like Goldy Locks porridge.
Although there are various methods of practicing Zazen, there are two traditional positions called the full lotus position and the half lotus position. The full lotus position is what people associate with most when they think of Zen meditation. When attempting the full lotus position for the first time it is best to start out with both legs in the straight position.
Next bend your right knee while drawing the heel of your right foot into the inner left thigh. Keep the knee joint closed and lift your ankle and knee at the same time by holding your hands under both. Next, gently life the instep of your right foot onto your left hip in order to begin a deeper rotation of your hip joint.
Then bend your left knee along the center-line until your left foot is under your right shin. Bring your left knee out to the side while you are keeping your knee joint closed. Slowly and gently lift your left foot upwards toward your right hip. Do not squeeze your legs, and allow your hips to open up. Take a full breathe. The half lotus position is slightly easier. Place either foot on top of the opposite thigh, and then place the other foot on the floor underneath the other thigh. It is important to remember to push the top of your head to the sky and push the floor with your knees. At first either of these positions will feel completely strange as they do take a bit of getting used to.
Over time both your hips and legs will gain flexibility and the two postures will actually become comfortable. For people that are not fortunate enough to have a flexible body Zen meditation can be performed by either kneeling or even sitting in a chair. Traditionally Zazen is practiced by sitting on a Zafu, which is a thick round cushion that is placed on a thick rectangular mat called a Zabuton. The Zafu elevates the hips so that your knees may be firmly rooted on the floor. The Zabuton is meant to cushion your knees and legs. No matter which position or positions you use it is key that your back and neck are as straight as possible. Pull in your chin and push up to the sky with the top of your head. You need to find balance within each posture, it is a part of the overall Zazen process.
It is also extremely important to keep your mouth closed, and eyes opened and focused. Breathe calmly and quietly through your nose. Focus in on inhaling and exhaling slowly and steadily. Your mindset is equally as important. It all begins when you concentrate on your breathing. You need to keep you mind open and clear. Do not concentrate on any of the thoughts that may pop into your head. The next step is to actually begin Zazen. Take a few deep breaths. Then close your hands into a fist with your thumbs inside of your fingers while the back of your hands are on your knees with the fingers facing up. Slowly begin to balance your body from the left side to the right side. Do this three to four times. Then put your palms against each other like you are praying.
Bend forward for a few seconds as this is a sign of respect for the Buddha. Place your left hand on your right hand with your palms to the sky. Next, make an oval shape by putting the tips of your thumbs lightly together. Your wrists should be resting on your knees with the edge of your hands resting against your stomach. Make sure your shoulders are relaxed. Meditate or fifteen to thirty minutes per day.
Additional Methods Of Embracing The Zen Buddhism Philosophy In Your Daily Life
The following methods will help you to benefit from the Zen lifestyle without having to study under a Zen Master for years on end. If you abide by these principals your life is guaranteed to be more fulfilling and far less stressful overall.
1: Practice Being Mindful
In order to live the Zen life in modern times you must believe that mindfulness is present within everything that you do. In essence you must concentrate on a singular task in order to accomplish it. For example if you have multiple projects to complete at work only focus on one of them at a time until it is finished. If you worry about the other tasks at the same time, nothing positive will end up getting done. Staying focused on the present keeps us in the moment at hand and allows us to shut out everything else. Do not let your thoughts constantly attack you. Once you can achieve mindfulness, you will be far more open to obtaining greater insights regarding creativity.
2: Avoid Rushing Through Life
Rushing through life causes unnecessary stress, and in the end it actually takes longer to accomplish whatever tasks you are trying to finish. This is due to the fact that your mind is typically not thinking clearly when you are in a rush. Think about how many mistakes you actually make when you are in a hurry. People tend to knock things over, lose items, and even have accidents such as tripping and falling. If you are rushing out of the house in order to make it to work on time and you spill your coffee or lose your keys it takes far more time to clean up, or search than if you had acted casual in the first place. The modern world of today moves lightening fast, Zen teaches us to slow down and literally take the time to smell the coffee instead of spilling it.
When humans perform actions it is far better to do them in a deliberate manner as opposed to rushing then in a random way. This most definitely takes practice because we are programmed to finish things as quick as humanly possible. In this case the clock is not our friend, just the opposite. At this point you may be wondering just how you will accomplish the completion of everything you need to do in a day if you actually slow down. The key here is to take a few minutes to relax in between responsibilities. Although may sound like your day will end up being longer the exact opposite is true. By resting your brain between daily tasks it will give you the time needed to mentally and physically recharge your system. When people feel refreshed they tend to perform far better.
3: Daily Rituals Are Powerful
Did you know that Zen Monks have rites or rituals for most of the things they do on a daily basis? This includes everything from waking up in the morning, to bathing to going to bed at night, and everything in between. By creating your own daily rituals it provides yourself with a sense of something far more important then the task at hand. Always keep in mind that when something is worth slowing down for and taking the time to think about, such as a daily ritual it becomes far more valuable to you. Rituals certainly are sacred parts of your day, and need to be treated that way. In addition it is important to perform rituals at the same time each day in order to get into the proper rhythm. For example, Zen monks eat at the same time each day.
In conclusion, Zen Buddhism teaches us many valuable lessons. We can certainly use these ancient principals in order to live a better modern life. As Buddha himself once said “All that we are is the result of what we have thought: it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts. If a man speak or act with an evil thought, suffering follows him as the wheel follows the hoof of the beast that draws the wagon…. If a man speak or act with a good thought, happiness follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.”- Buddha