If you have ever walked through a Zen garden, you will know they are created to release tension, develop a sense of well being, improve focus, and as a result, generate happiness.
The water and plants, interspersed with some stones and rocks, altogether create a calming of the mind.
The bridges there symbolises the journey of a person between the planes of existence.
The whole experience is like a retreat, away from the concerns of the world. It never tries to impress or show off. It is about simplicity.
It is more like a beautiful state of meditation and eternal bliss.
Similarly Zen and the art of happiness are based on simple, experiential practices and learnings.
Through these practices and learnings, the goal is to reach a state of no-mindness
Since it is the thoughts that keep coming up in the mind that causes misgivings, unhappy sentiments, and bothers etc., a state of no-mindness would imply the absence of all those thoughts, leading to a space of happiness.
By carefully practicing the techniques daily, the Zen practitioners are able to retain that state of happiness and tranquility.
Identifying themselves as Buddhas, and leading a life of non attachment, is the concept of Zen and the art of happiness.
Zen is a way of life that teaches people how to lead a life of happiness and contentment by appreciating what is present.
Following zen mediation and similar practices at every moment of one’s life, a Zen practitioner rises above the normal “reacting to triggers” kind of a life.
The art of having a happy life is actually not in “leading” it or “following” it, but in being “present” for it.
Wisdom and Love or Compassion are the two pillars of the Zen path.
- To realize that I am not separate from the world is wisdom.
- To live in the way that implies is love or compassion.
The high standards of Zen living takes the mind away from ordinary plights.
Definition Of Zen
The meaning of Zen or what is Zen simply states that Zen is the type of Buddhism that emphasizes on meditation.
This Japanese word “Zen”, derived from “Chan” the Chinese word, a translation from “Dhyana”, the Sanskrit word, meaning “To Meditate”.
Zen spread from China to different parts of the world – to Japan, to Korea and also Vietnam.
Today, Zen is practiced around the world. The popularity of Zen around the world can be attributed to the following parts of Zen philosophy:
- Zen does not talk about God, sin or how the world was created
- Zen does not talk much about karma, rebirth or what happens to us after we die.
- Zen has little emphasis on rights or rituals and no distinction between the sacred and the profane.
- Zen doesn’t theorize. It asks us to let go of our thoughts through meditation.
Zen philosophy is all about non-conceptual, and beyond the word transmission of dharma. It has a very strong notion of lineage since the transmission of teachings happens from a teacher to the student on a one-one basis.
“Zen in its nature is the art of seeing into one’s own nature and it points the way from bondage to freedom.” D. T. Suzuki. This is the essence and path of Zen.
“To study Buddhism, is to study your self. To study your self is to forget your self. To forget your self is to realize your intimacy with all things. “ Dogen .
The point of Zen practices is not to master the Buddhist teachings. It is to realize your own true nature. It is to let go of your self, and in the process find your self.
Zen Buddhism which is a part of the Mahayana sect of Buddhism, is supposed to have transmitted to China from India through the followers of Buddha.
There are two legends associated with the origin of Zen Buddhism.
According to one of them, Zen was brought to China by Mahakasyapa and his followers.
The Buddha raised a flower in front of his group of monastics. Only One of the monastics, Mahakasyapa immediately understood the meaning of this wordless sermon. There was a direct transmission of doctrine or dharma through the holding up of this flower. This transmission was simply mind to mind. Mahakasyapa then took this teaching to China.
In another legend, it was Bodhidharma, who traveled to China and carried with him Zen Buddhism.
Bodhidharma called it the transmission from mind to mind outside the ‘sutras’. Buddhism has at its base, the ‘sutras’. Zen is more about experiential study rather than intellectual study. A lot of time is spent on sitting quietly, going inside the mind, and asking the fundamental question of what am I or who am I.
The two entrances and four practices of Dharma form the basis of the Zen Buddhism.
The two entrances are :
- By Principle: To understand the principle of Buddha nature. To understand that we are all kept in darkness by ignorance. If we can get underneath this ignorance, we can find the luminous nature of the mind.
- By Practice: To follow the practices that help in entering the Zen mode.
There are four practices involved.
- To accept misfortune without anger.
- To accept good fortune without being moved.
- To be without craving: Don’t crave for things to change or remain the same way. Just accept the way things are.
- To practice without practicing: To practice without being involved, without bringing the self in it.
According to Zen Buddhism, awakening is something that happens without conceptualization. It simply arises on its own. It is an immediate result and does not follow the concepts of the world.
The accent is on cleaning the mirror of the mind so it can shine on its own.
All we need to know is that we are all Buddhas from within. There is nothing that can be done or understood. It is about becoming aware of all this through dialogues with Zen masters.
Zen was established in Japan in the 12th century and is one of the popular practices among Japanese Buddhists.
There are two schools of Japanese Zen that resonate well with the rest of the world and is used widely during the meditation practices
- Soto school : Silent illumination – Practice of no practice. It is a passive method. It is about simply sitting and calming the mind so that it can be directly aware of the Buddha nature of our mind.
- Rinzai Zen School or Koan Practice: Viewing The Phrase Practice. It is a more active approach. Breaking the reliance on concepts by providing shocking paradoxical riddles that cannot be solved by normal conceptual ways. These riddles or koans are questions that take us beyond our ordinary minds and break the bond of concepts. It breaks through the barrier of ego-consciousness by driving it to its limit.
The aim here is to reach a state of satori or awakening into a dharmic way of living.
Zen is a highly aesthetic practice. Zen monasteries and temples in Japan are the most visited tourist attractions in the country. They take pride in showcasing their beautiful art and literature.
How To Zen Meditate
How to zen meditate is one of the most frequently asked questions on the internet.
Zen Meditation aims at making us aware of the deeply rooted patterns of thinking and acting. It provokes us to an experience that is precious and rare. It helps us in releasing a sense in which there is no ego sense.
Zen meditation is about getting prepared for receiving the sparks of intuition that can arise in our life at any time. This is done actively by training awareness. It is not about getting access to some other reality. It is to realize the true nature of this reality right here and now. In short, It is a matter of fact.
When a person learns how to zen meditate, the sense of separation with the world evaporates.
“When I look inside and see that I am nothing, that is wisdom. When I look outside and see that I am everything, that is love. And between these two, my life flows.” Nisargadatta
The key is to be grounded in the present. By gathering awareness of our breathing, our bodies or what we are doing, we can lose ourselves in the task at hand. This opens up our senses and gives us a bird’s eyes view of our mind.
The idea is to focus on one point in one moment.
Practically, Zen meditation brings attention to the lower abdomen. On inhalation the belly expands and on the exhalation it falls. It is about watering the energy garden that exists in the lower abdomen area. It is about making that energy center stronger.
The word Buddha means “the awakened one”. Going Zen is a way of life where a person is grounded in the present and the present goals, not forgetting the guiding vision of self development. There is no final goal but a continuous goal of self development.
It’s about relaxing and dwelling peacefully in the present moment. In times of our lives which could lead to anxiety and concern, it is about going back to breathing practices, and trying to be in the moment, and being peaceful so that we can deal with the situation better.
Going Zen is about believing that we are all pure and radiant from within. And, about realising that through compassion towards oneself, once that realization occurs, it is about reliving that every moment of one’s life.
Going Zen is about practices that help us to slow things around so that we can be Present, Aware and Alive right now.
Contributors: Deepa Kadavakat and Kazim Abasali