Zen Basics

Zen is a practice of mindful meditation and action designed to free us to live compassionate, healthy and energized lives.

The word “Zen” simply means meditation. The practice of meditation can bring many benefits: greater attention and awareness, the settling down of our emotional life, a growing sense of goodwill and kindness, and a desire to be of help in this world. The latest brain-imaging technology is showing what meditators have sensed for millennia—that the brain circuitry associated with relationships, compassion, attentiveness, peace and joy is all amplified in long-term meditators.

Meditation practice can also help resolve our most deep-seated existential questions. Who am I? What is this world? What is life, what is death? Why am I here? What should I do? Traditionally, Zen offers a way to investigate these matters, and ultimately to resolve “the great matter of life and death.”

Zen’s way is very simple: sit down and be quiet. It asks us to believe nothing. A good approach is simply to try out a meditation practice for a while and see for ourselves if it helps. This practice is compatible with any religious faith, as well as with none, or indeed atheism. In fact, our training may involve letting go of deeply held beliefs we may not even be aware of.

In Zen we don’t try to cultivate special states of mind. Rather, we are discovering what a remarkable thing it is to be functioning in our everyday lives at all. As one Zen master said in the eighth century: “my miracle is drawing water and carrying wood.” In other words, Zen helps us to discover the everyday miracle of each moment of our lives. It teaches us to appreciate and cherish all that we come in contact with.

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