What Is Zen?

Who are we really? What is really the meaning of Life? How can we attain lasting happiness in the face of our seemingly endless troubles? These questions are basic to our lives, and it is from these questions that the practice of Zen has its birth.

Zen can be the compassionate scalpel that removes the layers of accrued opinions, beliefs, and frozen expectations that stand between us and true experience. Zen shows us that what we mistakenly call ourselves, our personal identity, is really no more than a mask over our true selves and natures. Beliefs, opinions, prejudices, educational and cultural training, our family backgrounds: All these are merely accidental factors, if you will. They are necessary tools for survival and integration into the larger society, but they are not really who you are.

Without falling back on convenient definitions of job, religion, sex and so on, who and what are we? If you lose your job, will you lose yourself? If you convert to another religion, do you substantially change? It may seem so if you are overly attached to these limiting definitions.

Despite all these changes, however, something remains the same. What and where is the thing upon which we can stand firm? If the outside is so unstable and prone to change, then it would make sense to look within—to ourselves. But what are we on the inside? What in the world are we?

Zen can help us answer these questions, although Zen itself is not an answer. Zen is, if anything, the biggest question of all. It is the question that becomes a wedge in the cracked shell of our true self, prying us open to a meaning and truth that will have relevance to ourselves alone. It is a dance and a tug-of-war with ourselves. It demands no belief in anything, and instead insists on a great doubt concerning everything we had heretofore taken for granted. While belief is not a requirement, faith most certainly is.

Faith is the unspoken, nameless and formless yearning for completion and wholeness. Alone and unaided, it can pull us to union with our God or true self like a great free-floating balloon. Belief is the anchor that keeps our faith from ever ascending and testing its limits. Belief is the limiting and inhibiting of faith. Zen points out to us the area of our lives where our faith in our selves has been silenced by the rigidity of belief. Once pointed out, we are freed to ride our faith to heights unimagined and certainly not permitted by the jealous jailer called belief.

In Zen practice, the process of identifying and reducing our attachments to our own beliefs, ideas and opinions is sometimes called "putting them down." Just as we would put down a load that has gotten too heavy for us, so too can we put down our heavy load of self, which we identify with our personal situations, ideas and beliefs.

Zen is simply nothing more than paying attention to your life as it unfolds in this moment and in this world. The mindful, nonjudgmental perception of this process is the action of your true, original self, which exists before thinking, opinions, and beliefs arise and seek to name and divide experience. By becoming mindful of our original nature, we are able to lessen the grip of the denial that separates us from true experience. As we become more spontaneous and intuitive in our relationships with ourselves, others and the world, the world and our deepest selves start to act as one, and we come to realize that there's never been a problem except in our thinking.

Zen is the ultimate and original recovery program. It exposes our denial of true self and shows us how we've suffered because of our diseases of attachment, judgment and division. It suggests a program for recovering our original nature and teaches steps we can take immediately. It shows us how all our other diseases and discontents flow from our fundamental denial of unity with each other and the universe. Zen is there when you swerve out of the way of a speeding car without thinking. It is there when you cry at a movie, feeling deeply the suffering of another. It is there in the unconscious grace of your walk, the elegant flow of your thoughts, and the automatic breathing that keeps you alive. No, Zen never forgets about you. It is you who have forgotten about Zen. It is you who takes this moment for granted and believes that you are separate from all you survey, alone and unique in your suffering. It is you who search high and low for meaning, contentment, satisfaction or deliverance. To try to fill your emptiness with meaning from outside yourself is like pouring water into the ocean to make it wet.

The practice of Zen is the alarm clock that wakes us up to our lives and enables us to stop sleepwalking through reality. It is the friendly map that says: "Right here is the place. You have always been here. Where else is there?" It is the calendar that says: "Right now is the time. Who could want another?" Zen practice identifies the liars and thieves in the temples of our hearts and casts them out so that we may live as we are meant to live: whole, fearless, and rejoined with that for which we so desperately long.


The Zen of Recovery by Mel Ash.  Reprinted with permission from the book:

The Zen of Recovery
by Mel Ash. 

©1993. Published by Jeremy P. Tarcher, 5858 Wilshire Blvd., #200, Los Angeles 90036.

For More Info or to Order The Book


Mel Ash

About the Author

Mel Ash is a certified Zen (dharma) teacher from Zen Master Seung Sahn, and an active member of the First Unitarian Church of Providence. Mel is also an artist, author and spiritual revolutionary. He is the author of: Zen of Recover, Shaving the Inside of Your Skull, and Beat Spirit. Visit his website at www.MelAsh.com.

Books by this author.


 

You May Also Like

InnerSelf celebrates 30 years!

 

Support InnerSelf by
using this Amazon link

 

follow InnerSelf on

google-plus-iconfacebook-icontwitter-iconrss-icon

 Get The Latest By Email

{emailcloak=off}

MOST READ

Do Sex And Violence Actually Sell?
Do Sex And Violence Actually Sell?
by Robert Lull, University of Pennsylvania and Brad Bushman, The Ohio State University
Is Yoga The Missing Link To Stroke Survivors' Rehabilitation?
Is Yoga The Missing Link To Stroke Survivors' Rehabilitation?
by Maarten Immink, University of South Australia
Why Has America Done So Little To Stop Gun Violence?
Why Has America Done So Little To Stop Gun Violence?
by Peter Squires, University of Brighton
Why Do Patients Want Treatment That Doesn’t Work?
Why Do Patients Want Treatment That Doesn’t Work?
by Clark Hobson, University of Birmingham

DID YOU KNOW?

Are You Eating Frankenfood?
in Food & Nutrition by InnerSelf Staff
Genetically altered food is being quietly slipped into our markets and supermarkets…
How to Restore Sexual Performance
in Sexuality by Staff
There are several ways to restore most of one's sexual performance including a high tone…
Environmental Hygiene
in Environmental Health by Henry B. Lin
We are living in a world where environmental pollution has become part of life. Civilized…
Wisdom and Mastery Practices Available To You
in Self-Help by Jamie S. Walters
What follows are some activities from which I draw for my personal faith and mindset…
Astrology Can Improve Parent-Child Relationships
in Astrology by Gretchen Lawlor
No child comes into this world with an empty slate. Each has its unique journey, gifts,…
Goose Bumps: Holistic & Spiritual Messengers
in Healing Disciplines by Floco Tausin
That prickly feeling with the body hair standing on end and the skin looking like “goose…
Age of Aquarius: A New Age Dawning
in Astrology by Ed Perrone
Mankind stands today on the threshold of a new World Age. Nevertheless, few people…
A Culture of Peace
in Hostilities by Mahnaz Afkhami
The promotion of a culture of peace requires more than an absence of war. Clearly, any…

LIVING IN HARMONY

Latest Articles & Videos

PERSONAL DEVELOPMENT

Latest Articles & Videos

SOCIAL & POLITICAL

Latest Articles & Videos

Do Sex And Violence Actually Sell?

Do Sex And Violence Actually Sell?

Robert Lull, University of Pennsylvania and Brad Bushman, The Ohio State University
in Economy