“Zen” is a broadly used word, and means different things to different people. For some, Zen connotes relaxation or tranquillity. For others, it is a way of being fully conscious in the moment. The word may evoke associations with Japanese priests, tea ceremonies, martial arts, and other cultural manifestations of the Zen spirit.
Zen has its roots in Buddhist history and teaching. In its outward appearances, Zen practice may look like religion; however, it has no doctrine. Nor does it view the Buddha as a deity. There are many different traditions and teachers of Zen. When they came to the United States or Europe, teachers such as Thich Nhat Hahn (Vietnam) and Seung Sahn (Korea) brought an Asian sensibility and perspective into a Western cultural framework. In practice centers like those of the Golden Wind Zen Order, Zen is remaining true to its Asian heritage even as it encounters and embraces the openness and pluralism of American attitudes and culture.
Many of us come to a point in our lives when we experience significant questions about who we are and where we’re going. After years of living with unexamined assumptions, we find ourselves face-to-face with some of one life’s great questions. “Who am I?” and “What am I am doing?” are the kinds of questions we ask ourselves while searching for meaning and purpose in our lives.
Over 2,500 years ago, these kinds of questions caused the Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama, later known as the Buddha, to begin a personal quest for discovery. Through open-hearted meditation practice, he found that each of us has the capacity to discover our true nature.
The Buddha and all of the teachers that followed him have invited us to sincerely investigate these questions, so that we can become intimate with the suffering that is part of of human experience. We can discover the source of our unease, and perceive the role of cause and effect in our lives. Zen meditation gives us a way of nurturing these questions and, as we do so, our attachments, ideas, opinions, and prejudices begin to fall away. The true meaning of our life becomes clearer, and we can begin to live our lives in a way that is helpful to ourselves and those around us.
There are many books and teachings about Zen and Buddhism, and one could spend an entire lifetime studying them. However, Zen teachers say that the experience is not to be found in words and concepts. Rather, Zen is rooted in “practice.” This means that Zen is something that we do. At the Golden Wind Zen Center, we practice meditation and mindfulness, and aspire to a right and true way of living, both as individuals and within community with one another. To experience any hoped-for benefits from Zen, we have to practice. In the words of Zen Master Seung Sahn, we need to “Just do it!”