Contrary to what people believe, Buddhism is not a religion. It is a lifestyle and a practical experience. It dates back more than 2500 years when a man named Siddhartha Gautama (later known as Buddha) achieved “enlightenment” (a state of mind where you reach harmony of body and mind) by way of “Zen meditation”, a way of self-discovery and vigilance practiced by sitting on a meditation cushion and experiencing living in the moment, here and now.
Zen Buddhism challenges all aspects of your everyday life. Nowadays everybody’s too busy seeking success, power, money and recognition, which only leads you to be stressed out all the time, have poor eating habits, trouble sleeping, suffer from anxiety, depression, and to compare yourself to others all of the time.
Preconceived notions have molded our lifestyle, making us believe that we have to be more productive and run around all the time, whereas Zen teaches us to slow down in order to achieve true peace and happiness. You have to follow your own process through studying yourself and working on achieving moments of inner wisdom that can change your life.
You can implement a few easy Zen Buddhism practices in your life even if it may seem a bit overwhelming. Pick a few that may work for you and start from there, and remember, the point of Zen is not overthinking and letting go of stress and anxiety.
1) Zen, or “Buddhist Meditation”
Zen meditation or “Zazen” (za= sitting and Zen=meditation, in Japanese) is the base of Zen Buddhism. A few minutes a day can decrease anxiety and stress in a couple of weeks. It will help you develop a filter for your mind so you can take on new challenges in a more conscious and peaceful way.
Meditation has been proven successful as a way to “reset” your mind. It can help you unwind from a hectic lifestyle, making you more resilient, productive, calm and a happier person all around.
There are a ton of books and articles out there to help you break down different types of meditation practices, especially Zazen, or sitting meditation, such as Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation and Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”.
2) Mindfulness: Meditation in action
Mindfulness can be defined as a “Continuous, clear awareness of the present moment”, and it’s what happens when you put Zen Buddhism in action. Thich Nhat Hanh describes it as “keeping one’s consciousness alive to the present reality”. Mindfulness will help you find true happiness instead of cheap thrills and fixes like binge watching TV, alcohol, overeating, etc.
It can be as simple as being aware of your breath. Whatever you are doing, by focusing on it you can stay anchored to the moment, the “now”. It is a really easy and powerful tool that you can use wherever you are or whatever you are doing.
According to a study published in JAMA Internal Medicine, people who completed a program of mindfulness awareness where they were taught meditation and other exercises designed to help them focus on “moment-by-moment experiences, thoughts and emotions”, had less insomnia, fatigue and depression at the end of the six week study.
3) Finding happiness from within
We strive for peace and happiness but keep seeking in the wrong places. It is part of human nature to seek pleasure. Money, power, professional success…things that we think will impress others and trick them (and ourselves) into thinking we are happy, but that won’t necessarily make us happy in the end.
The high paced rhythm we are used to has damaged us by making us seek instant gratification, instead of seeking true happiness within ourselves. True power comes from you, from understanding those around us and practicing self-love.
4) The power of compassion
The concept of compassion is often encountered as a foundation of Buddhism. Compassion not only helps you connect with others, but with yourself. Buddha once said: “If your compassion does not include yourself, it is incomplete.”
If you practice compassion on a daily basis, you can make your life better by strengthening your relationships with empathy and kindness. When you are compassionate toward others, regardless what you might think of them, you are practicing self-love (not only will this change others, but yourself).
5) Practice Mindfulness of Consumption
Think of consumption as the information that you give and receive through your senses. We are bombarded with banal and empty information on a daily basis seeking instant gratification, that will only keep you “happy” for a little while. Tabloids, fast food, shopping sprees, binging TV, gossip. It will only lead you away from true peace and happiness.
You can change one step at a time by being aware that whatever you do, buy or consume has a direct impact in your life and everything that surrounds you. Surround yourself with positive and enriching things, thoughts and relationships.
6) Simplify: What is essential and what isn’t
When you start practicing Mindfulness and Meditation, Zen Buddhism will show you that material things are not as important as you once thought. You will realize that real happiness and peace don’t come from owning more material things or impressing others, it comes from within. It is a way of living and a state of mind, who we are and what we do are simply constructs of the mind, illusions and ideas we have gained and built over the course of our lives.
By changing the way you think, you can change the way you act. Simplifying is both a mental and physical state. Get rid of things and thoughts that don’t bring anything good into your life, and you will be on a path towards inner peace and happiness.
7) Buddha Nature: Find your Essence
Buddha nature is a term used in Buddhism that’s difficult to define. It is basically, the fundamental nature of all beings. Think of it as your “original self” or you “true self”.
We spend our whole lives seeking our purpose in life only to realize what we have missed along the way. Zen Buddhism focuses on the journey more than the destination (and meditation is your vehicle). The key lies in not overthinking and trying to micro-manage every little thing in your life.
Meditation is the tool that connects you with your mind and body. What’s important is to focus on the experience of mindfulness and gaining insight. You can find your true self and fulfill your life not only in your work, but also by everyday life. Make sure to find fulfillment in your life, connect with others and contribute to the greater good.
For more information on Zen Buddhism and meditation visit Buddhism.about.com. There is an incredible amount of information that can help you out, read a couple of articles, buy a book (or 2). I highly recommend Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation and Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind”.
And if it’s available where you live, visit your nearest Zendo (Zen temple) where you can connect and learn from others as well. Remember that you can always do it alone, at home or wherever you are.