When life gets overwhelming, you have a couple of choices. You can stress and worry about it in the tradition of the Western world. Or, you could turn to the East, and allow yourself to be guided by the ancient (and infinitely wiser) insight of zen principles.
What is Zen Philosophy?
Zen philosophy comes from the ancient Mahayana Buddhist teachings that are thought to have begun in China in the 5th Century. From there, these teachings spread throughout the East. The word “zen” comes from the Sanskrit word dhyana, meaning “meditation.”
Though Zen Buddhism is considered a religion by many, its philosophies transcend religion because these zen teachings have always placed importance on moral principles over the sutras (scriptures). The belief is that you can become the best person you can be by investigating yourself.
The Bodhidharma, who’s credited with starting Zen Buddhism, explains:1
“A special transmission outside the scriptures, not relying on words or letters; pointing directly to the human mind, seeing true nature is becoming a Buddha.”
Zen Philosophy In Layman’s Terms
Ultimately, Zen philosophy is attempting to understand the meaning of life through your own meditative ”awakening,” without being misled by that chatty, anxious human brain. Here are a few other ways to understand zen. Zen is:
Zen means you’re more concerned with what is, rather than how you think or feel about it. You are concerned with things as they are – without trying to interpret them. In this way, zen seeks to free the mind from words and logic.2
Three Zen Principles For a Happier Life
Now, the good news is that zen principles aren’t as complex as they may sound, and you can easily incorporate them into your own life for increased happiness. Here are three ways to include zen principles:
1. Mushin: The Free Mind
Mushin means “mind without mind.” This means that the mind isn’t occupied by thoughts or emotions but is in harmony with the universe, free of anger, fear, and judgment.3
On an average day, how often do you rush to these emotions? Whether at work, home, or school, everyone faces daily situations that flood us with emotion. Many of them are tiny, inconsequential moments in a long day, yet they get us so worked up.
Rather than rushing into a familiar emotion when something goes wrong, what if you took a breath and chose not to attach any emotion to the event or experience? What if you just let it pass? Then, you’ll be able to act with a clear, calm intention.
Happiness Factor: A clear, calm mind makes smart decisions and stays calm in chaos, keeping stress levels to a minimum. Stress is one of the greatest catalysts of illness in our modern world.4 It also breeds fear, anger, and a sense of hopelessness.
2. Zanshin: Mindfulness
Now that you’ve cleared the clutter from your mind, you can embrace Zanshin – a state where your mind is fully aware of its surroundings and everything happening within it. There is no attachment, so the mind can just be “present.” This state is also known as mindfulness.5
So, when you’re eating a meal, only eat. Really taste that food on your taste buds. When you’re speaking to someone, be present for them. Stop and smell those roses, don’t rush past. Don’t let yourself be distracted by other things. Don’t multitask.
You might’ve been led to believe that multitasking makes you more efficient. If anything, it makes you more scattered. You can’t give anything, or anyone, your full attention. Zenshin is about focusing fully on just the task at hand – which will help quiet that silly chatter in your head.
Happiness Factor: A scattered mind becomes confused, stressed, and tired. It no longer finds enjoyment in the simple things in life. And joy lingers in those tiny, everyday moments. Mindfulness, not multitasking, has also been shown in clinical studies to actually increase productivity and well-being.6
3. Satori: Enlightenment
Satori is defined as “enlightenment.” And enlightenment, in simple terms, is an experience of complete harmony between the body and mind. The idea is that human beings have lost their way from this original state, and in order to find true inner peace, they must achieve Satori again.7
Now, zen principles stress that Satori shouldn’t be chased like a goal. You should simply
incorporate daily meditation into your life, and let go of everything that’s not useful. Be like a child – have a curious and open state of mind.
Happiness Factor: Science agrees that meditation actually works. Meditation has been shown to reduce stress and anxiety, and it may even help strengthen the immune system.8,9 It can increase the body’s “feel good” chemicals and decrease the stress hormone cortisol.10,11
Learning to Mediate: An Easy Sitting Meditation in Four Steps
One of the most popular ways to learn to meditate is through mindfulness meditation, which incorporates the three principles of zen: Mushu (clearing the mind), Zenshin (mindfulness), and Satori (meditation). Mindfulness meditation involves paying attention to whatever arises in the present moment, acknowledging it, and then letting it go.
1. Find a comfortable seat. Make sure that it feels calm and quiet. You may sit in a chair with your feet flat on the ground, or cross-legged on a cushion.
2. Set a timer. Start small. Five minutes is a great goal.
3. Focus on your breath. Close your eyes and focus on the feeling of your breath as it goes in and out. Just keep your attention on your breath.
4. Notice when your mind wanders. Take note when your mind has wandered off to a random thought. Then, without judgment, gently bring your attention back to your breath.
And that’s it. Over time, you can increase your meditation time or extend your practice to several times a day.
Mind’s Eye Meditation
If you’d prefer to focus on something other than your breath, you might also enjoy mind’s eye meditation, which focuses on your “third eye.” Your third eye is the gate that leads to your higher consciousness. It often symbolizes a state of enlightenment.
Here’s how a mind’s eye meditation works:
- Sit in a lotus pose (cross legged) or in a chair with your feet flat on the ground.
- Close your eyes, and inhale and exhale deeply for a few minutes.
- Now, start to concentrate on the middle of your forehead, above the middle of your eyes.
- With your eyes closed, draw both of your eyes towards this third eye. It’s like you’re looking upwards with your eyes closed.
- Now, slowly start to count from 100 down to one, keeping your eyes centered towards the third eye.
Zen Principles To Live By
Zen principles and teachings can be a great way to get out of your head and really see what’s happening in front of you – while also helping decrease stress and anxiety levels. And we could all do with some of that!
Zen philosophy may also be a great way to take your productivity to a new level (and it’s less expensive than buying a ton of productivity apps).
Why not start a zen philosophy meditation practice today? Remember: Start small, and commit the experience daily. You’ll be a Zen master in no time!