Zen (quotes)


Zen is a form of Buddhism

  • Zen: A Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism emphasizing the value of meditation and intuition rather than ritual worship or study of scriptures. Oxford Dictionary
  • Zen: A form of Buddhism, originally developed in Japan, that emphasizes that religious knowledge is achieved through emptying the mind of thoughts and giving attention to only one thing, rather than by reading religious writings.  Cambridge Dictionary
  • Zen stories

Zen is freedom from conditioning and suffering


Zen is about liberation from suffering

  • Zen is a way of liberation from suffering-both the suffering we experience ourselves and the suffering we cause others. Kim Boykin, Gerald G. May, Gerald G. May
  • SufferingFreedom

Zen is about breaking free of habitual, conditioned responses   

  • There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man standing alongside the road, shouts, “Where are you going?” and the first man replies, “I don’t know! Ask the horse!” This is also our story. We are riding a horse, and we don’t know where we are going and we can’t stop. The horse is our habit energy pulling us along, and we are powerless. Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Habit

Zen is being present and aware


Zen is about focusing on the present moment   

  • Why are you more concerned with where you’re going than where you are, the Zen master might just as well have asked? Why are you more concerned with what you’re going to do than what you’re doing? Why aren’t you paying attention to how you live your life right this very moment? Why are you wasting this moment? Why, indeed, are you wasting your life? Colin Beavan
  • The whole essence of Zen consists in walking along the razor’s edge of Now – to be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence, can survive in you. In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve. Suffering needs time; it cannot survive in the Now. E. Tolle
  • To practice Zen means to realize one’s existence in the beauty and clarity of this present moment, rather than letting life unravel in useless daydreaming of the past and future. John Daishin Buksbazen
  • In zen, it is a cardinal sin to waste time. To waste time is to squander the here and now, which, if you think about it, is all that we have. Philip T. Sudo
  • What makes human life–which is inseparable from this moment–so precious is its fleeting nature. And not that it doesn’t last but that it never returns again. Steve Hagen
  • Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we can’t be in touch with life. Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Live in the present

Zen is about mindful awareness in everyday activities, being totally present in what you do   

  • The practice of Zen is to eat, breathe, cook, carry water, and scrub the toilet — to infuse every act of body, speech, and mind — with mindfulness, to illuminate every leaf and pebble, every heap of garbage, every path that leads to our mind’s return home. Thich Nhat Hanh
  • When we put our keys down, we should be conscious of putting them down. When we pick them up, we should be conscious of picking them up. That’s all there is to zen. Philip T. Sudo
  • A student once asked his teacher: “Master, what is enlightenment?” The master replied: “When hungry, eat. When tired, sleep.”  Zen Story
  • Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.  Alan Watts
  • Where you are right now is where you are. Zen Proverb
  • Think of Zen, of the Void, of Good and Evil and you are bound hand and foot. Think only and entirely and completely of what you are doing at the moment and you are free as a bird. H. Blyth
  • There are some people who eat an orange but don’t really eat it. They eat their sorrow, fear, anger, past, and future. Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Zen insight is not our awareness, but Being’s awareness of itself in us. Thomas Merton
  • MindfulnessPresence

Zen is about paying attention   

  • I have abandoned all particular forms of devotion, all prayer techniques. My only prayer practice is attention. I carry on a habitual, silent, and secret conversation with God that fills me with overwhelming joy. Brother Lawrence
  • Attention

Zen is about just focusing on the step you take right now, not the whole journey ahead   

  • …it’s like this. Sometimes, when you’ve a very long street ahead of you, you think how terribly long it is and feel sure you’ll never get it swept. And then you start to hurry. You work faster and faster and every time you look up there seems to be just as much left to sweep as before, and you try even harder, and you panic, and in the end you’re out of breath and have to stop–and still the street stretches away in front of you. That’s not the way to do it. You must never think of the whole street at once, understand? You must only concentrate on the next step, the next breath, the next stroke of the broom, and the next, and the next. Nothing else.  That way you enjoy your work, which is important, because then you make a good job of it. And that’s how it ought to be. And all at once, before you know it, you find you’ve swept the whole street clean, bit by bit. what’s more, you aren’t out of breath. That’s important, too…   Michael Ende
  • Life is a journey

Zen is about gratitude for the past, service to the present and responsibility to the future   

  • What is Zen? Simple, simple, so simple. Infinite gratitude toward all things past; infinite service to all things present; infinite responsibility to all things future. Huston Smith
  • Zen Buddhists define their task as ‘infinite gratitude for the past. Infinite service to the present. Infinite responsibility to the future.’ Stewart Brand
  • GratitudeServiceResponsibility

Zen is inner calmness


Zen is about attaining deep inner peace   

  • Zen professes itself to be the spirit of Buddhism, but in fact it is the spirit of all religions and philosophies. When Zen is thoroughly understood, absolute peace of mind is attained, and a man lives as he ought to live. What more may we hope? T. Suzuki
  • The Zen of Organizing philosophy refers to the creation of a calm, peace-filled, and joyous environment. Regina Leeds
  • The only Zen you find on tops of mountains is the Zen you bring there. Robert M. Pirsig
  • Inner peace

Zen is about calmness and conscious relaxation   

  • Everything will resolve itself in time – this is the way of the world. This is also the way of Zen. Walk through life without stress or strain, and everything will return to its place. Daniel Levin
  • Drinking tea, eating rice, I pass my time as it comes, looking down at the stream, looking up at the mountain, how serene and relaxed I feel indeed! Pao-tzu Wen-ch’I
  • CalmnessRelaxation

Zen is about practicing equanimity by allowing emotions to pass through   

  • The Zen meditative approach has a simple, unstated premise: moods and attitudes shape—determine—what we think and perceive. If we feel happy, we tend to develop certain trains of thought. If we feel sad or angry, still others. But suppose, with training, we become nonattached to distractions and learn to dampen these wild, emotional swings on either side of equanimity. Then we can enter that serene awareness which is the natural soil for positive, spontaneous personal growth, often called spiritual growth. James H. Austin
  • This is what Zen means by being detached—not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling is not sticky or blocked, and through whom the experiences of the world pass like the reflections of birds flying over water.  Alan W. Watts
  • To cry and not be carried away by tears, to laugh and not be carried away by laughter, is the way.
  • EquanimityReleasing emotions through mindfulness

Zen is inner stillness


In Zen, the truth is found through stillness, not through mind conceptualisation   

  • Zen training is designed to teach that truth cannot be described verbally, but can exist only in silence. Roger J. Davies, Osamu Ikeno
  • TruthStillness

Zen is about stilling your mind through meditation …   

  • You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day – unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.Old Zen adage
  • When you are free of form and not confused, you are focused. To be free of form externally is ‘Zen.’ Not to be confused internally is ‘meditation.’ External Zen and internal meditation, this is what we mean by ‘Zen meditation.’ Bill Porter
  • We cannot see our reflection in running water. It is only in still water that we can see. Zen saying
  • Zen meditation is plain and simple. There are no goals, no magic, no transcendental bullshit experiences, no spiritual meaning-strictly speaking. For when you look for any of these things, you are missing the entire point of your practice: to let go. Allis
  • Zen asserts that the universal nature of inherent wisdom is nothing other than the nature of the mind itself. In simple terms, God comes from within, and enlightenment is attained through meditation. Meditation is concentration, and concentration is the active rejection of all distracting information.  Mixerman
  • Meditation cleanses the mirror that the mind may see the teaching.
  • Meditation

… letting go of incessant thinking …   

  • Not till your thoughts cease all their branching here and there, not till you abandon all thoughts of seeking for something, not till your mind is motionless as wood or stone, will you be on the right road to the Gate. Huang Po
  • Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen. Bodhidharma
  • Incessant thinking

… and carrying that stillness into everyday life   

  • Someone once inquired of a Far Eastern Zen master, who had a great serenity and peace about him no matter what pressures he faced, “How do you maintain that serenity and peace?” He replied, “I never leave my place of meditation.” He meditated early in the morning and for the rest of the day, he carried the peace of those moments with him in his mind and heart. Stephen Covey

Zen is acceptance of what is


Zen is about accepting and welcoming the moment as it is   

  • The Zen proverb, ‘In summer we sweat; in winter we shiver,’ is meant to illustrate the importance of not trying to escape or avoid our present situation. Rebecca Otowa
  • Zen practice is the practice of liking what you get. We usually have a thin margin of acceptance; we like very little of what we get. We want something else. Maybe we want what we think we deserve or what we think everyone else has. Daniel Doen Silberberg
  • Accepting this moment as it is

Zen is about seeing things as they are and letting them be as they are   

  • The true purpose (of Zen) is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes. Shunryu Suzuki
  • The whole point of Zen is to suspend the rules we have superimposed on things and to see the world as it is. Alan Watts
  • The whole point of Zen is to suspend the rules we have superimposed on things and to see the world as it is — as all of a piece. Alan Watts
  • You deal with your shit in Zen by sitting with it. By breathing right into it. You don’t try and ignore it with pleasant thoughts or lofty ideas, and you don’t try and bury it with solutions. You deal with it, you work with it, one breath at a time. You hold it right there, in your breath. You don’t try and breathe it out; you don’t try and breathe it in. You keep it suspended in your diaphragm like a burning hot coin. Your problems won’t change; only you can change. That’s the point. Steve Krieger

Zen is about embracing change as part of life   

  • Life is change Life is change, change is stability. Zen saying
  • All is as it should be. Make your mantra the words of an old Zen saying: Life is change, change is stability. Selina Maitreya
  • Change

Zen is direct experience through practice


Zen is about direct personal experience and practice, not theoretical knowledge  

  • Personal experience, therefore, is everything in Zen. No ideas are intelligible to those who have no backing of experience. T. Suzuki
  • Zen provides a structure that supports our exploring the practice and the teachings for ourselves. Jean Smith
  • Zen culture invites us to experience reality without the intervening distractions of intellect, categories, analysis. Thomas Hoover
  • Zen values the simple, concrete, living facts of everyday direct personal experience. James H. Austin
  • Reading texts is no substitute for meditation and practicing Zen. If you read a book about a place, and you want to go there, you don’t keep reading the book. You have to travel. That’s what practice is about. Traveling. Walking the path. Bill Porter
  • Thousands of repetitions and out of one’s true self perfection emerges.
  • ExperienceKnowledge

Zen is celebrating the ordinary


In Zen, there is no true enlightenment outside of ordinary life   

  • ‘The ultimate purpose of Zen,’ I remembered the roshi telling me, ‘is not in the going away from the world but in the coming back. Zen is not just a matter of gaining enlightenment; it’s a matter of acting in a world of love and compassion.’ Pico Iyer
  • Zen approaches it from the practical side of life – that is, to work out Enlightenment in life itself. T. Suzuki
  • Before enlightenment – chopping wood, carrying water. After enlightenment – chopping wood, carrying water. Zen proverb
  • There is no enlightenment outside of daily life. Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Even after enlightenment, you still have to do the laundry. A Zen Master
  • Enlightenment

Zen is about celebrating the ordinary as sacred   

  • Zen is not bothered about anything superhuman; its whole concern is how to make ordinary life a blessing. Osho
  • When an ordinary man attains knowledge, he is a sage; when a sage attains understanding, he is an ordinary man. Zen saying
  • Zen practice is about not getting high on anything and in so doing getting high on absolutely everything. We then find that everything we encounter — bliss or nonbliss — possesses a tremendous depth and beauty that we usually miss. Brad Warner
  • Even after enlightenment, you still have to do the laundry.  a zen master
  • In Zen even the most mundane objects are things of wonder, and the fact that we are alive is the biggest wonder of all. Fontana
  • Zen is not some fancy, special art of living. Our teaching is just to live, always in reality, in its exact sense. To make our effort, moment after moment, is our way. Shunryu Suzuki
  • Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine. Shunryu Suzuki
  • The great lesson from the true mystics, from the Zen monks, and now also from the Humanistic and Transpersonal psychologists – that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s back yard … To be looking elsewhere for miracles is to me a sure sign of ignorance that everything is sacred.  Abraham Maslow
  • AppreciationLife is in the little things

Zen is about making your daily life into your spiritual practice   

  • There is no such thing as Zen practice outside of who we are and what we do. There is no such thing as work separate from your life. Work is not something you do to earn money or make a living. Everything you do is your life, your path. Your work is your path. Relationships are your path. Uncovering your innate clarity and wisdom is your path, wherever you go and whatever you do. Marc Lesser
  • Your life is your practice. Your spiritual practice does not occur someplace other than in your life right now, and your life is nowhere other than where you are. You are looking for answers, insight, and wisdom that you already possess. Live the life in front of you, be the life you are, and see what you find out for yourself. Karen Maezen Miller
  • Every place is a place to practice. Every time is a time to practice. Zen is concerned with the thought we have this moment rather than with rituals or rules of behavior. Bill Porter
  • Zen values the simple, concrete, living facts of everyday direct personal experience. James H. Austin
  • Put spiritual principles into daily practice

Zen makes no distinction between work and play   

  • A person who is a master in the art of living makes little distinction between their work and their play, their labor and their leisure, their mind and their body, their education and their recreation, their love and their religion. They hardly know which is which and simply pursue their vision of excellence and grace, whatever they do, leaving others to decide whether they are working or playing. To them they are always doing both. Zen poet
  • WorkPlay

Zen is mastering the mind


Zen is about mastering your mind   

  • The idea is not to reduce the human mind to a moronic vacuity, but to bring into play its innate and spontaneous intelligence by using it without forcing it. Alan W. Watts
  • Be master of mind rather than mastered by mind. Zen saying
  • MasterySelf-control

Zen is about focusing on the breath   

  • In the Zen Way we focus upon each breath, each day, each moment and experience it totally. One complete breath brings the next. Brenda Shoshanna
  • Breathing

Zen is about watching thoughts with detachment   

  • Our minds are forever visited by chaotic and confusing thoughts, so in Zen we treat these thoughts like hotel guests that come and go without prolonging their stay. If you give them no service but simply watch them without adding any energy to the situation, in time all the guests will depart and you will arrive at samadhi. William Bodri
  • Let the mind be like the lake that reflects all of the clouds passing over it without any sticking to it. Zen Proverb
  • Thoughts are like birds in flight. We may not have much control over them flying over our head, but we can keep them from nesting in our hair. Zen Master
  • Thinking,   Non-attachment

Zen is not about eliminating thoughts but illuminating them   

  • Zen meditation is often misunderstood as a practice of stopping thoughts or having no thoughts, but it’s actually a practice of noticing thoughts. Zen is not about eliminating thoughts but illuminating them.  Gerald G. May

Zen is going within


Zen is about finding truth and fulfilment inside, not outside   

  • In other words, don’t seek externally for fulfillment; rather turn the searchlight inward. ‘Hey, what are you gawking at? Don’t you see, it’s all about you!’ the twentieth-century Zen master Sawaki Roshi once said. It’s a fact: You’re not going to find truth outside yourself. Not through lovers or mates, not with friends, not with family, and certainly not via material success. The only place you are going to be able to find your truth is in your genuine spiritual center. Truth is found by living truly—in your own authentic way. Lama Surya Das
  • The basic idea of Zen is to come in touch with the inner workings of our being, and to do this in the most direct way possible, without resorting to anything external or superadded. Therefore, anything that has the semblance of an external authority is rejected by Zen. Absolute faith is placed in a man’s own inner being. For whatever authority there is in Zen, all comes from within. T. Suzuki
  • But people of the deepest understanding look within, distracted by nothing. Since a clear mind is the Buddha, they attain the understanding of a Buddha without using the mind. Bodhidharma
  • If I am asked, then, what Zen teaches, I would answer, Zen teaches nothing. Whatever teachings there are in Zen, they come out of one’s own mind. We teach ourselves; Zen merely points the way. T. Suzuki
  • If you cannot find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it? Dogen
  • Our whole life consists of this little subject looking outside itself for an object. But if you take something that is limited, like body and mind, and look for something outside it, that something becomes an object and must be limited too. So you have something limited looking for something limited and you just end up with more of the same folly that has made you miserable.  Charlotte Joko Beck
  • Sometimes, simply by sitting, the soul collects wisdom.
  • Truth,  Fulfilment

Zen is discovering one’s true nature


Zen is about waking up to your true nature   

  • Zen purposes to discipline the mind itself, to make it its own master, through an insight into its proper nature. This getting into the real nature of one’s own mind or soul is the fundamental object of Zen Buddhism. Zen, therefore, is more than meditation and Dhyana in its ordinary sense. The discipline of Zen consists in opening the mental eye in order to look into the very reason of existence. T. Suzuki
  • In Zen the word for this opening is kensho, ‘seeing our true nature’ or ‘our true self.’ What we see is our oneness with the world. Kurt Spellmeyer
  • The entrance into Zen is the grasping of one’s essential nature. It is absolutely impossible, however, to come to a clear understanding of our essential nature by any intellectual or philosophical method. It is accomplished only by the experience of self-realization through zazen. Koun Yamada
  • Awaken to who you really are

Zen is about connecting with your inherent goodness and purity of spirit   

  • Zen is the spirit of a man. Zen believes in his inner purity and goodness. Whatever is superadded or violently torn away, injures the wholesomeness of the spirit. Zen, therefore, is emphatically against all religious conventionalism. T. Suzuki
  • Goodness

Zen is not about becoming, but finding out who you are

  • Zen practice asks you not to worry about who you ‘should’ become. Find out who you are right now. Brenda Shoshanna
  • Who we are now is all that really matters. Amy Joy
  • Self-knowledge

Zen is effortless doing


Zen is about going with the flow   

  • Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate. Zhuangzi
  • Go with the flow

Zen is about immersing yourself in your activities to create flow   

  • Zen teaches you to pay attention to every detail, immersing yourself in your activity to such a degree that you become the activity. Gary R.
  • When I speak of energy, I’m talking about focused awareness—that Zen state where nothing else seems to matter, the almost spiritual power that comes from doing something you enjoy. Topher Morrison
  • Flow is said to lift experience from the ordinary to the optimal, to a Zen-like state, and it’s in precisely those moments that we feel truly alive and in tune with what we are doing. Mark de Rond
  • THE SECRET O’ LIFE. You just do it, that’s how. Its pure Zen Buddhism: Don’t try to do, just do. Do what you love and love what you do. That’s the basic rule of life. If you live this life without trying, it’s good. If you try too hard, it won’t be any good. It just has to be done, period — like an explosion. Todd Aaron Jensen
  • Immerse yourself in what you do

Zen is about right action  

  • In Zen, you can’t really make a ‘wrong’ decision. But you can’t make a ‘right’ decision, either. You can only respond moment to moment in a way that feels the least harmful and deluded, the most compassionate and true. Colleen Morton Busch
  • Perfection means not perfect actions in a perfect world, but appropriate actions in an imperfect one. H. Blytf
  • In Zen Buddhism an action is considered good when it brings happiness and well-being to oneself and others, evil when it brings suffering and harm to oneself and others. Thich Thien-An
  • Right action

Zen is about enlightened doing   

  • The Zen of doing anything is doing it with a particular concentration of mind, a calmness and simplicity of mind, that brings the experience of enlightenment and, through that experience, happiness. Chris Prentiss
  • When mind and action are separate, zen is lost. We keep the two in sync by paying attention. Philip T. Sudo
  • Each project we do in life succeeds in direct proportion to the respect we give the process. An old Zen proverb says it all: ‘How you do anything is how you do everything.’ Regina Leeds
  • There is an old Zen saying that it’s better to be doing nothing than to be busy doing nothing. Charles Goyette
  • In Zen, actions speak louder than words. Doing is more important than knowing, and knowledge which cannot be translated into action is of little worth. Thich Thien-An

Zen is about right effort   

  • Zen, which means meditation, is all about training the mind to succeed in right effort. Larry Shapiro
  • Zen is not effort. Effort is tension, effort is work, effort is to achieve something. Zen is not something to achieve. You are already that. Just relax, relax so deeply that you become a revelation to yourself. Osho
  • Look at the stream, there are rocks in its way. Does it slam into them out of frustration? It simply flows over and around them and moves on! Be like the water and you will know what harmony is. Zen Story
  • EffortEffortlessness

Zen is about realising there is nothing to seek and nothing to find   

  • There is nothing to seek and nothing to find. You’re already enlightened, and all the words in the world won’t give you what you already have. The wise seeker, therefore, is concerned with one thing only: to become aware of what he already is, of the True Self within. Zen maxim

Zen is emptiness


Zen is about emptying your cup …   

  • A university professor went to visit a famous Zen master. While the master quietly served tea, the professor talked about Zen. The master poured the visitor’s cup to the brim, and then kept pouring. The professor watched the overflowing cup until he could no longer restrain himself. “It’s overfull! No more will go in!” the professor blurted. “You are like this cup,” the master replied, “How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup.”
  • We must be, as the eloquent Zen tradition tells us, ’empty cups,’ ready to be filled, without preconceived notions of what awaits us. M.A. Frank MacEowen
  • Heed the advice of the Zen master: Empty your cup. Empty your mind of all your thoughts so that you can fill it instead with those of the questioner. Concentrate. Jerry Weissman

… in order to adopt a beginner’s mind   

  • In the mind of the beginner, all things are possible, But in the mind of the expert, only a few. Zen Master Suzuki- Roshi Zen Mind
  • The practice of Zen mind is beginner’s mind. The innocence of the first inquiry—what am I?—is needed throughout Zen practice. The mind of the beginner is empty, free of the habits of the expert, ready to accept, to doubt, and open to all the possibilities. It is the kind of mind which can see things as they are, which step by step and in a flash can realize the original nature of everything. Shunryu Suzuki
  • Children are natural Zen masters; their world is brand new in each and every moment. John Bradshaw
  • Begin to see what is in front of you, rather than what you learned is there. Stephen C. Paul
  • Beginner’s mind

Zen is about embracing emptiness rather than doctrines, theology and dogma   

  • Emptiness is that which frees us from religiosity and leads us to true spirituality. Brother Lawrence, Zen teachers
  • Zen has nothing to teach us in the way of intellectual analysis; nor has it any set doctrines which are imposed on its followers for acceptance. T. Suzuki
  • Zen is less the study of doctrine than a set of tools for discovering what can be known when the world is looked at with open eyes. Jane Hirshfield
  • The lack of doctrines is one of the features of Zen that makes it possible to practice Zen as a Christian-   or as a Jew, an atheist, a Buddhist, or whatever. There is nothing in Zen to conflict with whatever beliefs you may have about God and the nature of reality.  Kim Boykin, Gerald G. May, Gerald G. May
  • The claim of the Zen followers that they are transmitting the essence of Buddhism is based on their belief that Zen takes hold of the enlivening spirit of the Buddha, stripped of all its historical and doctrinal garments. D. T. Suzuki
  • Most assuredly Zen is a religion, but it is a religion without scripture, without doctrine or dogma and without sin. Howard Fast
  • Zen is unique among religions in that it is virtually devoid of theology, scripture, or ritual. There are no gods or devils, there is no heaven or hell. Sukhraj S. Dhillon
  • Zen is a special transmission outside the scriptures, with no reliance on words and letters.A direct pointing to the human mind, and the realization of enlightenment. John Daido Loori
  • When you’ve understood this scripture, throw it away. If you can’t understand this scripture, throw it away. I insist on your freedom. Jack Kerouac
  • I discovered that it is necessary, absolutely necessary, to believe in nothing. That is, we have to believe in something which has no form and no color–something which exists before all forms and colors appear… No matter what god or doctrine you believe in, if you become attached to it, your belief will be based more or less on a self- centered idea. Shunryu Suzuki
  • When you are deluded and full of doubt, even a thousand books of scripture are not enough. When you have realized understanding, even one word is too much. Fen-Yang
  • When you have realized understanding, even one word is too much.
  • You should stop pursuing words and letters, and learn to withdraw and reflect on yourself. When you do so, your body and mind will fall away naturally and your original Buddha-nature will appear. Dogen
  • Dogma

Zen is letting go


Zen is about letting go   

  • Letting go is the lesson. Letting go is always the lesson. Have you ever noticed how much of our agony is all tied up with craving and loss? Susan Gordon Lydon
  • Learning to let go should be learned before learning to get. Life should be touched, not strangled. You’ve got to relax, let it happen at times, and at others move forward with it.  Ray Bradbury
  • Letting go

… especially of the ego and attachment   

  • Zen asks us to let go of our focus on the ego, to empty ourselves of our selfish attachments, to destroy our mental constructs, and simply be present to the light. Zen teacher
  • In traditional Zen training that’s what is meant by breaking through the first barrier. We break out of the limited perspective, where we see the self as the center of the universe. Dennis Genpo Merzel
  • Give your flesh back to your mother and your bones back to your father and then show me your original face. Zen saying
  • Consider the trees which allow the birds to perch and fly away without either inviting them to stay or desiring them never to depart. If your heart can be like this, you will be near to the Way. Zen saying
  • The real goal of Zen is to find a way of life that’s easy and undramatic. Strong attachments lead to upset and drama. Brad Warner
  • Transcending the egoNon-attachment

Zen is about letting go of the constant tendency to discriminate, prefer and judge   

  • The great way is not difficult for those who have no preferences. When love and hate are both absent, everything becomes clear and undisguised. Make the smallest distinction, however, and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.  Seng-t’san
  • When you forget the good and the non-good, the worldly life and the religious life, and all other dharmas, and permit no thoughts relating to them to arise, and you abandon body and mind—then there is complete freedom. When the mind is like wood or stone, there is nothing to be discriminated. Pai-chang Huai-hai  
  • The struggle between good and evil is the primal disease of the mind,’ wrote the sixth-century Zen master Seng- ts’an. Stephen Mitchell
  • In the scenery of spring there is nothing superior, nothing inferior. Flowering branches are by nature some short some long.  Zen Proverb

Zen is about letting go of desire   

  • The Zen philosophy posits that ‘human beings suffer’ and ‘the cause of suffering is desire.’ The way to put an end to suffering is to stop wanting everything, all the time. Karl Albrecht
  • If bliss is to scratch an itch, what greater bliss, no itch at all? So too, the worldly, desirous, find some bliss, But greatest is the bliss with no desire. Nagarjuna
  • Zen, it has been said, aims to compress human physical needs to the barest minimum and to direct the human spirit to a higher sphere of activity. Kaoru Nonomura, Juliet Winters Carpenter
  • The embrace desires but I am not bound by them, I’m not attached to them. I can have a desire, and drop the desire if it’s not fulfilled… I don’t get stuck anywhere. Zen Master Genpo Roshi
  • Desire

Zen is about letting go of negative emotional states to develop loving- kindness  

  • To practice Zen Buddhism is to train oneself to eliminate hatred, anger and selfishness and to develop loving-kindness towards all. Thich Thien-An
  • Zen, which means meditation, is all about training the mind to succeed in right effort—to succeed in tossing out negative and harmful emotional states and replacing them with positive feelings and thoughts. Larry Shapiro
  • The tighter you squeeze, the less you have. Zen saying
  • EmotionsLoveKindness

Zen is not knowing and yet All Knowing


Zen is about embracing uncertainty and not knowing   

  • In Zen, ‘don’t-know mind’ is the only kind of mind that is true. When you practice don’t-know mind, you let go of the need for knowing and acknowledge how little you can ever actually know. Colleen Morton Busch
  • A time of uncertainty, of not knowing exactly where we’re headed, or what kind of choice to make is a Zen moment.  Brenda Shoshanna
  • Letting go of the need for certaintyMysteryLetting go of the need to know

Zen embraces doubt   

  • In Zen Buddhism, the greater your doubt, the greater will be your enlightenment. That is why doubt can be a good thing. If you are too sure, if you always have conviction, then you may be caught in your wrong perception for a long time. Thich Nhat Hanh
  • There’s a Zen adage: ‘Great doubt, great enlightenment. Little doubt, little enlightenment. No doubt, no enlightenment.’ Doubt reinvigorates the question that keeps the mystery alive. Brian Mountford
  • Doubt

Zen celebrates intuition rather than analysis, logic and reasoning   

  • Zen is based on the recognition of two incompatible types of thought: rational and intuitive. Thomas Hoover
  • Zen wants us to acquire an entirely new point of view whereby to look into the mysteries of life and the secrets of nature. This is because Zen has come to the definite conclusion that the ordinary logical process of reasoning is powerless to give final satisfaction to our deepest spiritual needs. T. Suzuki
  • Zen is the enemy of analysis, the friend of intuition. The Zen artist understands the ends of his art intuitively, and the last thing he would do is create categories; the avowed purpose of Zen is to eliminate categories! The true Zen-man holds to the old Taoist proverb, Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.  Thomas Hoover
  • Intuition

Zen is impermanence


Zen embraces impermanence   

  • As Zen Master Shunryu Suzuki said about impermanence, ‘Renunciation is not giving up the things of this world, but accepting that they go away’ James H. Austin
  • Impermanence

Zen is about recognising the fleetingness of life   

  • Zen teaches that once we can open up to the inevitability of our demise, we can begin to transform that situation and lighten up about it. Allen Klein  
  • Recognizing that one of Zen’s greatest lessons is to live as if you’ll live forever, but also to live each day as if it were your last. Mark Richardson
  • Let go over a cliff, die completely, and then come back to life – after that you cannot be deceived. Zen Proverb
  • What makes human life–which is inseparable from this moment–so precious is its fleeting nature. And not that it doesn’t last but that it never returns again. Steve Hagen
  • The fleetingness of life

Zen is freedom from dogma


In Zen, teachings are seen as a signpost to the truth and are not to be mistaken for the truth itself   

  • As the old Zen saying reminds us, the finger pointing at the moon is not the moon. Helen Palmer
  • Although all spiritual teachings originate from the same Source, once they become verbalized and written down they are obviously no more than collections of words – and a word is nothing but a signpost. Eckhart Tolle
  • The intricacies of spiritual philosophy and theologies are just a thought within Emptiness. Adyashanti
  • Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth. Thich Nhat Hanh
  • Thoughts can at best point to the truth, but it never is the truth. That’s why the Buddhist say: The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon. Eckhart Tolle
  • TruthSpiritual narratives

Zen is free of conventions, especially religious ones   

  • To be free from convention is not to spurn it but not to be deceived by it. It is to be able to use it as an instrument instead of being used by it. Alan W. Watts
  • Zen is the spirit of a man. Zen believes in his inner purity and goodness. Whatever is superadded or violently torn away, injures the wholesomeness of the spirit. Zen, therefore, is emphatically against all religious conventionalism. T. Suzuki

Zen is about affirming, not explaining   

  • Zen abhors repetition or imitation of any kind, for it kills. For the same reason Zen never explains, but only affirms. Life is fact and no explanation is necessary or pertinent. To explain is to apologize, and why should we apologize for living? To live—is that not enough? Let us then live, let us affirm! Herein lies Zen in all its purity and in all its nudity as well. T. Suzuki
  • Affirmation

What Zen is not …   

  • Zen is not a psychiatric or therapeutic discipline; it’s a spiritual one. It’s supposed to get energy moving on a deep, fundamental, life-changing level. Its purpose is to orient you toward the truth, toward reality, whatever this takes. It’s not supposed to boss you around with behavioural or self-help dictates or to shoehorn you into the slipper of well- adjusted citizenhood. Shozan Jack Haubner

Zen is unity


For Zen, everything is connected and part of the whole   

  • Zen goes directly to your own experience of the oneness of the universe, of your interconnectedness with all things. You learn to distrust whatever you clung to in your old sense of separation, and that realization can be the most liberating thing in your life, a freedom beyond anything you could have imagined. Jean Smith
  • For Zen, everything is interconnected: the heart of mysticism is knowledge that the part can contain the whole. Christopher Gray
  • The fundamental delusion of humanity is to suppose that I am here and you are out there. Yasutani Roshi
  • Zen takes the opposite tack; it holds that true reality is the fundamental unity of mind and matter, inner spirit and external world. When life is viewed in such terms, there can be no success or failure, happiness or unhappiness; life is a whole, and you are simply part of it. There are no dualities, hence there is nothing to worry about. The result is perfect tranquillity. Thomas Hoover
  • ConnectednessOneness

Zen is about wanting what you have   

  • If you realize that you have enough, you are truly rich. Zen saying
  • It’s not about having what you want. It’s about wanting what you have and what you are, right at this moment. Zen saying
  • Contentment

Zen embraces simplicity and harmony   

  • The beauty of Zen is found in simplicity and tranquility, in a sense of the all-embracing harmony of things. Thich Thien-An
  • SimplicityHarmony

Zen sayings   

  • No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place.
  • The quieter you become, the more you are able to hear.
  • Sitting peacefully doing nothing, Spring comes and the grass grows all by itself.
  • From the pine tree, learn of the pine tree, and from the bamboo, learn of the bamboo.
  • One moon shows in every pool; in every pool, the one moon.
  • Change comes from within.
  • When an ordinary person attains knowledge, that person is a sage; when a sage attains understanding, that person is an ordinary person.
  • When walking, walk. When eating, eat.
  • The bow kept forever tight will break.
  • The obstacle is the path.
  • Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark.
  • Clouds gone, the mountain appears.
  • Do not permit the events of your daily life to bind you,
  • but never withdraw yourself from them.
  • The way a man does one thing is the way he does everything.
  • If you understand, things are just as they are; if you do not understand, things are just as they are.
  • When the realization is deep, your whole being is dancing.
  • When you get there, there isn’t any there there.
  • The ten thousand questions are one question. If you cut through the one question, then the ten thousand questions disappear.
  • When the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten.
  • This is it, but if you fixate on it, then it isn’t anymore.
  • What is inexpressible is inexhaustible in its use.
  • Don’t seek the truth. Just cease to cherish opinions.
  • The snow falls, each flake in its appropriate place.
  • Be as a cup, and the universe flows into you. Be as an arrow, and the universe retreats from you.
  • Don’t just do something, sit there.
  • Worry is like a rocking chair, it gives you something to do but it doesn’t get you any where.
  • Sometimes, simply by sitting, the soul collects wisdom.

Final thoughts

  • As Zen master Dogen writes, ‘To be enlightened is to be intimate with all of life.’ Unmani Liza Hyde
  • We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want. Lao Tzu
  • Talking about Zen all the time is like looking for fish tracks in a dry riverbed. Wu-Tzu
  • The fish trap exists because of the fish. Once you’ve gotten the fish you can forget the trap.  The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. Once you’ve gotten the rabbit, you can forget the snare. Words exist because of their meaning.  Once you’ve got the meaning, you can forget the words. Where can I find someone who has forgotten words so I can talk with him or her?  Chuang Tzu
  • The ultimate standpoint of Zen is that we have been led astray through ignorance to find a split in our own being, that there was from the very beginning no need for a struggle between the finite and the infinite, that the peace we are seeking so eagerly after has been there all the time. T. Suzuki
  • Before one studies Zen, mountains are mountains and waters are waters; after a first glimpse into the truth of Zen, mountains are no longer mountains and waters are no longer waters; after enlightenment, mountains are once again mountains and waters once again waters. Zen saying
  • The man to whom Tao acts without impediment, does not bother with his own interests and does not despise others who do. He does not struggle to make money and does not make a virtue of poverty. He goes his way without relying on others and does not pride himself on walking alone. While he does not follow the crowd, he won’t complain of those who do. Rank and reward make no appeal to him; disgrace and shame do not deter him.  He is not always looking for right and wrong, always deciding “Yes” or “No.”  Thomas Merton
  • To Zen, time and eternity are one. T. Suzuki
  • Life is like stepping onto a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink. Shunryu Suzuki
  • In this plate of food, I see the entire universe supporting my existence. A Zen blessing
  • Travel is a Zen activity that can lift me out of my inner life into engagement with the world around me. There is so much happening— new people, ideas, food, customs, language, sounds, smells—that it literally yanks me from inward to outward focus. Judith Fein
  • The three elements of creativity are thus loving, knowing, and doing; or heart, mind, and hands; or, as Zen Buddhist teaching has it, great faith, great question, and great courage. Eric Maisel
  • From the Zen view all beings are in the grip of the three poisons, greed, anger and delusion (ignorance). Brenda Shoshanna
  • It’s like a Zen Buddhist lesson in self-control. You must be an intense observer, yet always think ahead, anticipate the animal’s response, what one trainer refers to as ‘proactive second guessing.’ You have to think on your feet while always remaining calm. Amy Sutherland
  • In Zen they say: If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, try it for eight, sixteen, thirty- two, and so on. Eventually one discovers that it’s not boring at all but very interesting. John Cage
  • I am not an expert in Buddhism or Zen. In the end I am really only an expert in my own screw-ups. Shozan Jack Haubner
  • The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass. Dogen
  • Do not mistake understanding for realization, and do not mistake realization for liberation. Tibetan saying
  • Keep your mind alive and free without abiding in anything or anywhere. Diamond Sutra
  • I think any spiritual experience that’s worthwhile is not about ego and it will humble you in some way. And also, a Zen monk once said to me, ‘If you’re not laughing, then you’re not getting it. David O. Russell  
  • One does not climb to attain enlightenment, rather one climbs because he is enlightened. Zen Master Futomaki
  • My house burned down. Now I can better see the rising moon Zen Master Masahide
  • I consider writing practice a true Zen practice because it all comes back at you. You can’t fool anyone because it’s on the page. Natalie Goldberg  
  • Well, for one thing, in the tradition of Zen that I’ve practiced, there is no prayerful worship and there is no affirmation of a deity. Leonard Cohen  

Tenets of Zen

  1. The realities of the life are most truly seen in everyday things and actions.
  2. Everything exists according to its own nature. One individual perceptions of worth, correctness, beauty, size, and value exist inside our heads, not outside them.
  3. Everything exists in relation to other things.
  4. The self and the rest of the universe are not separate entities but one functioning whole.
  5. Man arises from nature and gets along most effectively by collaborating with nature, rather than by trying to master it.
  6. There is no ego in the sense of an endlessly enduring, unchanging private soul or personality that temporarily inhabits the body.
  7. True insight does not issue from specialized knowledge, from membership in coteries, from doctrines or dogmas. It comes from the preconscious intuitions of one’s whole being, from one’s own code.
  8. In emptiness, forms are born. When one becomes empty of the assumptions, inferences, and judgments he has acquired over the years, he comes close to his original nature and is capable of conceiving original ideas and reacting freshly.   
  9. Being a spectator while one is also a participant spoils one’s performance.
  10. Security and changelessness are fabricated by the ego-dominated mind and do not exist in nature. To accept insecurity and commit oneself to the unknown creates a relaxing faith in the universe.
  11. One can live only in the present moment.
  12. Living process and words about it are not the same and should not be treated equal in worth.
  13. When we perceive the incongruity between theories about life and what we feel intuitively to be true on the nonverbal, nonjudging plane, there is nothing to do but laugh.
  14. Zen art has this characteristic quality, that it can fuse delight in a work of visual art, knowledge of life, and personal experiences and intuitions into one creative event.
  15. Each of us develops into a unique individual who enters into unique transactions with the world as it exists for him.

Source:  Stewart W. Holmes and Chimyo Horioka, Zen Art for Meditation, 1973