There is no formal practice or set routine that people must practice to achieve the enlightenment that Zen aims for. Zen Buddhists and practitioners focus on breaking through the boundaries of traditional thought and behavior to witness the world as it truly is.
The moment of this “breakthrough” is called satori, and references when the veil of our conceived reality is stripped away, and enlightenment is achieved.
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It's essentially a state of being at peace with your own thoughts, and being self-aware of your place within the universe, inconsequential (and simultaneously essential).
The word Zen is both the acceptance of everything and nothing, the realization that Zen encompasses and is encompassed by everything. It also centers on a relationship with your own mind, and a higher, undefined entity outside of yourself.
The most common ways are sitting meditation (Zazen) and walking meditation (Kinhin), where direct noninteractive observation of breath and mind is practiced. The ideal scenario is to clear your mind and allow thoughts to organically rise and fall, without interacting or affecting them in any way.
There are also group sessions of intense meditation, often taking up to a week of silent, disciplined focus, interrupted only by short periods of sleep. Other forms of practice include the use of koans (stories practitioners meditate on), and Zen chanting (repetition of sutras followed by silent meditation on them).
Due to the wide variety of practice methods, and the westernization of the term Zen, thanks to popular fiction and cultural figures, many people aren’t quite sure what Zen means.
Nonetheless, the continual evolution of Zen, as well as its practice and impact, is due to the vague and personal nature of the concept itself. However you choose to involve Zen teachings and beliefs in your life, the end goal is the same – enlightenment and a more self-aware existence.
Zen is not a moral teaching, and as it is without dogma, it does not require one to believe in anything. A true spiritual path does not tell people what to believe in; rather it shows them how to think; or, in the case of Zen - what not to think.
Zen Buddhism, like a taste or a smell, is a practice that needs to be experienced, not a concept to understand.
“We teach ourselves; Zen merely points the way.” — D. T. Suzuki
“The basic idea of Zen is to come in touch with the inner workings of our being, and to do so in the most direct way possible, without resorting to anything external.” — D. T. Suzuki
“Emotionally we have many problems, but these problems are not actual problems; they are something created; they are problems pointed out by our self-centered ideas or views.” — Shunryu Suzuki
Sometimes things don’t turn out as you want them to. What you need to do is to come to terms with this, and enjoy the road.
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