Zen - Past Present Future

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In the Dalai Lama’s words – ‘The basic thing that everyone wants is happiness, no one wants suffering.’ Happiness, he concluded, mainly comes from our own attitude, rather than from external factors, if your (one’s) own mental attitude is correct, even if you remain in a hostile atmosphere, you (one) feel(s) happy.’ And happiness, as how Augustine of Hippo wrote in his book: Confessions – ‘The ultimate goal of all human endeavors lies in the happiness. A lot of times, happiness comes from success in life. Also, happiness is for one who is contented . Contentment, in another translation is Zen or Inner Peace. Zen is the school of Mahayana Buddhism which originated in China and it has about 1500 years of history. It is often linked to the religion of Buddhism as the foundation of thinking and practice, however, Zen can be acquired not only through the practice of Buddhism. Zen is also known Chán. This entire school of thought originated from the monk Bodhidharma who ‘faced a wall for nine years and did not speak for the entire time to meditate about life and inner peace.’ His thoughts and ideas were passed on to other famous philosophers after him like Hanshan Deqing and Miyun Yuanwu. More importantly, the philosophy also branched out to Japan during Ming Dynasty in China. This branching led to many famous Japanese philosophers like Hakuin Ekaku and Matsuo Basho who brought the Zen movement to a greater height with notable works like Oku no Hosomichi . In this book, the author wrote down his thoughts and experiences throughout his travel around Japan in search for enlightenment as part of his Zen meditation. The branching out to Japan heavily influenced the spread of Zen to the western world in recent years. After World War II, notable Zen philosophers like Philip Kapleau and Janwillem van de Wetering studied with various Zen masters in Japan and many Japanese Zen philosophers also travelled to the West to share the practice and philosophy of Zen. So what is the main idea of Zen and what does it encompass? Over the years, Zen divided into many different schools of thought and no one is exactly sure of what it truly meant back in the days of Bodhidharma. However, the main idea of Zen lies with the concept of emptiness. The search for this emptiness starts with the question of who you are and what you truly believe in. Everyone has the tendency to search for happiness through materialistic means but few understand that the search comes from within. Happiness is defined by the individual’s true self from within . Once you find your inner belief, you will be able to have clear expectations and goals for yourself. It is the ability to follow your beliefs that will bring you true inner happiness. As such, when happiness is not achieved through material or selfish means, inner emptiness is said to have been attained according to the definition of Zen. In the following part of the essay, I will look into the different ways to achieve inner happiness and emptiness, and hence attain Zen. Happiness comes with achieving . It comes from achieving one’s wants and expectations and it also comes from gaining approval from others. Wants and expectations come from within an individual and the emptiness in mind and soul to some extent equates to not having a high expectation of things and not having too many wants in life. The higher the expectation in life, the more effort one will have to put in to achieve it and the harder it will be to find happiness. So letting go of expectations that are not in line with your inner beliefs, that is emptiness. Another way to achieve happiness is to appreciate life and everything in life. A famous saying in Zen is, ‘everyday is a beautiful day.’ Appreciation can help an individual accomplish goals and dissolve anxiety and worries. The ability to dissolve anxiety and worries links back to the idea of ultimate happiness. It is also about letting go; letting go at times can also mean gaining more. This...
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