What Does It Mean to be Zen?

When you think of the word ‘Zen’, are you reminded of Buddhist monks meditating in silence on the top of mountains? Or maybe a graceful ninja master moving delicately as time stands still?

In modern culture, we refer to being Zen as a way to calm down or relax through chaotic times. This has become an exotic term used to detach from stress, even though this is rarely achieved.

As we evolve as humans, the way we incorporate certain terminology into the language of popular culture can sometimes suppress the true essence and significance. To be Zen carries much more meaning than we have been giving it credit for.

Origins of Zen

Zen is a Japanese word derived from the Sanskrit term dhyana,  meaning “ultimate meditation”. It is a school of Buddhism that focuses on meditation and the core dynamics of nature, heavily influenced by Taoism. 

This aspect of ancient philosophy is where traditional Buddhist practices evolved from reading scriptures, performing religious rituals, devotional practices, and worthy acts into meditation.

The practice of spending time in reflection and silence was introduced as way to overcome suffering and ignorance. This process takes place through the development of self-awareness, insight, and by ultimately unveiling the true nature of reality. This core essence of nature and the experience of reality is where Zen is brought to life.

The Indian scholar Bodhidharma is credited for the transmission of Zen Buddhism philosophy from India to China.

The foundation of Bodhidharma’s teachings is that in order to reach enlightenment as opposed to reading scripture and studying, one needs to break through the boundaries of conventional thought using meditation in to experience the energy of each moment.

Zen is pure balance.

Zen emphasizes rigorous self-control, meditation practice, insight into nature, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others.

China is believed to be the first country to practice Zen religiously. It is said to have originated in the 6th century during the Tang dynasty as Chan Buddhism and was introduced to Japanese and Vietnamese civilization in the 7th century.

Since then, this practice has been echoed throughout Western cultures. In the US, meditation was introduced by Japanese Zen teachers after World War II to help communities and individuals recover from the emotional traumas of conflict.

The Training of Zen

Zen is a knowledge and practice that emphasizes self-discipline and openness to the in-depth teachings of the Zen teachers. Zen is a culture of reverence, meaning anyone who claims to be a Zen teacher without having received teachings from another teacher is considered to have defiled the true meaning and purpose of this noble discipline.

Only after the death of a Zen teacher does someone get to be called a Zen master. It is truly believed in this religion that a person only arrives at a deep understanding of this knowledge and practice of Zen Buddhism through face-to-face teachings.

The training is rigorous and involves sitting through intense sessions of meditation with the purpose of arriving at a place of self-actualization. This takes time and a wealth of commitment.

In our modern culture, this would be extremely difficult because attaining this level of enlightenment requires remaining still with no expectations or goals in mind.

As human beings, we are compelled to always want something in return for our actions, or sometimes even no action at all. It is very difficult to do away with any needs.

In the beginning, learning how to meditate effectively can become strenuous and frustrating, which is why achieving a true state of Zen awareness holds so much power and meaning, but also something that can be accessed with practice and focus, ultimately integrated as a way of life.

There are many layers of worry, fear, distraction, need, expectation, and uncertainty to cut through in order to penetrate the true inner core that is harnessed within the nature of everyone and everything.

This mysterious center of source is the resting place of Zen — a space of stillness, vibrant, fully alive, and silent energy stronger than you could imagine.

In Zen philosophy, transcending the mind into a serene awareness — the height of divine consciousness — is referred to as Samadhi. This is the abundant energy that permeates the exact center of each moment.

What Does It Mean to be Zen?

To be Zen is to embrace simplicity. In each moment, and throughout each event that unfolds throughout the day, there is always an opportunity to practice balance.

Zen meditation is useful in many ways, especially in finding solutions to problems that have difficult answers. Finding your center through still meditation and observation is a wonderful technique that enables you to get to the bottom of predicaments instead of finding temporary or superficial relief.

The importance of practicing Zen in our contemporary society includes: helping us to relieve anxiety and stress by learning to live at the present moment-to-moment portion of our life experience and by refusing to let past thoughts influence our present state of health.

We can also apply Zen practice as a way to seek clarity in things that we find hard to decipher. This can be done by letting the dust settle in your mind, allowing the core essence of each situation to reveal itself.

When useless thoughts are given the space to release in order for clarity and fresh ideas to arise, it becomes very obvious and comforting what the next step will be.

You may be surprised at the power that Zen can produce in your life. Aside from the heavy connotations of ancient context, Zen still does carry much meaning in our current culture.

Zen is balance. To be Zen applies in that, once we allow ourselves to realize our true nature, we are given access to an understanding of the needs and wants of the people that matter most in our lives; we are filled with compassion and appreciation.

In a state of Zen, we are reunited with our deepest desires once again, only without the fears that come along with going after them.

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Kelly Stiles

I love publishing topics on meditation and mindset development. While providing you with the tools and resources to live vibrantly and consciously, Mind Body Vortex is your modern guide to an exhilarating lifestyle of personal growth.


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