“All that we are is a result of what we have thought. Think love, be love.” - #Buddha


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What is Zen?

Zen is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism closely identified with Japan although it is practiced all over the world. Zen stresses personal attainment of enlightenment and does not rely upon the ancient texts. Zen was heavily influenced by Chinese Taoism and reflects the minimalist Japanese aesthetic. Zen is reductionist in the sense that it sees enlightenment not as something to be gained but something to be regained having been lost. So, Zen is about removing preconceptions more than adding knowledge.

Zen meditation is called “zazen”. In zazen one is seated upon a mat or a cushion usually in the half lotus position and one focuses on the breath or the energy place just below the navel. One does not so much “quiet” thought or stop thought as one is aware of the stream of thought and allowing them to rise and then pass through.

Here is a manual on Zen Buddhism written for western students:

Manual of Zen Buddhism by D. T. Suzuki


How much beauty goes unnoticed as we hurry from place to place during the course of our busy days?  How many flowers and trees do we go by without noticing their colors or their marvelous complexity or their scents?  How many rainbows go unseen by how many people because we close ourselves up indoors when it rains to “protect” ourselves from the elements?  How many snowfalls go unenjoyed because it’s too cold outside or we don’t want to bother to put on our gloves and coats and boots and hats to keep us warm and dry?
—  Tom Walsh
Suffering is not just feeling bad

Emotion is determined in large part by thinking. Thinking causes the release of certain chemicals in the brain. There is always a slight lag between a change in thinking and a change in feeling.  This is because it takes time for the balance of these chemicals to change in a degree significant enough to alter our mood. The good news about this lag is that it gives us time to change our pattern of thinking before the negative emotion sets in. In a sense this is how modern antidepressants work.  They change the rate of resorption of some of these chemicals. We always want to “feel better right now”.  Well, give it time.  

One other thing, people need to stop equating feeling “happy” with enlightenment.  Dukkha, suffering, does not equate to “I feel bad”.  It is far more complex than that.  Our emotions serve a purpose. They tell us where we stand in relation to the external world and if we need to change something. They spur us to action and keep us out of harm’s way.  Just as the burning feeling you feel when you stick your finger in a candle flame tells you to remove that finger or you will be damaged.  Some discomfort and even some fear or sadness are necessary for our daily existence.  This said, meditation, just in and of itself, does add to our happiness and decrease fear and sadness.

I suggest that those who have not already done so, spend some time learning the meaning of the Four Noble Truths.  Understanding dukkha on an intellectual level at first may prove useful for the beginning student