Zen is often mistaken as a form of Buddhism but in fact, it is a separate doctrine influenced by Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. Zen originated in China and spread to Korea, Japan, Vietnam, and India. Recently, Zen has gained massive popularity in western culture and it is considered one of the most influential spiritual paths. Many Zen masters call it “spiritual ophthalmology” meaning it helps the person seeing and experiencing the ultimate reality of life which in Hinduism and Buddhism literature termed as “Nirvana”. Zen is a direct approach to understanding the ultimate reality and meaning of life through spiritual awakening.
Zen is not a religion itself and talks very less about God or life after death. It majorly focuses on now and presents. Zen’s teachings claim that the philosophizing nature of the world is not the solution but part of the problem of life because ways of thinking normally interfere with perceptions. Instead one must let go of thoughts by meditating which can help in opening up to a non-conceptual and more direct way of experiencing the world. Zen practices are often equated with psychotherapy as it helps to get deeper in the unconsciousness and making one more mindful of the true nature of self and the true nature of the world.
In comparison to other religions and doctrines, Zen is considered more proficient and precise in its teachings to attain spiritual cleaning. For example, in Hinduism, it might take several incarnations to get to the Nirvana, in Christianity even extremely hard practice and concentration with stern discipline may not guarantee the pinnacle of spirituality. Moreover, psychoanalysis also gives the same idea that it might take years and years to undo the problems of the past and to see the world through different perspectives. However, through Zen, it might take as little as 3 seconds to attain that glory.
Zen helps in lifting the worldly hypnosis that hinders getting closer to the ultimate truth. It teaches the detachment from worldly rituals and excessive indulgence in materialistic desires. Unlike other religions, Zen does not consider traditions and scriptures as important neither it is concerned in experiencing some other higher reality. Rather it is more of direct pointing to the human mind and getting insight into one’s own nature for getting spiritual awakening and enlightenment for this world. Zen literature is considered extremely hard to understand and almost incomprehensible until one let go of wordy pre-existing conceptions and idea. It demands the readers to be free of the shackles of learned dialects.
One of the considerably basic principles of Zen is to let go of words and conceptions. It emphasizes experiencing things beyond the existing schemas and concept that has been taught throughout the life span and see things as if never seen before. Such as seeing a clock should not bring up the need of using the word “clock” instantaneously but first one must experience it besides the existing conception of it. Zen has highlighted the downside of language by teaching that it is not always the best option to understand things with language, but one must break the confines of the word barriers and take them as mere tools. While the ultimate reality is beyond the totality of the words.
Zen’s teachings make the person aware that there are no boundaries between the self and the outside world. Experiencing the world as something external to self is nothing more than a mere delusion. This sense of separation is not natural but a psychological and social construct. Whereas the universe and everything in the universe are implicitly linked. Humans in their true nature do not perceive the world that way such as babies are conditioned to see and understand the world in the ways that other people do but newborns do not have this conception. The conditioned self that develops in an interacting cluster of mostly habitual ways of thinking and reacting. This sense of self feels uncomfortable and extends to the feeling of insecurity as if there is a lack of something. This sense of lack never fills up with materialistic possession but can be filled with ego-death.
Another famous dogma of Zen is Ego death. It can be understood as a state of pure consciousness achieved by losing the sense of ego. Self-identity is often used interchangeably with ego. Ego death is a step away from the false reality of life and it helps get past through those habitual ways of thinking and feeling. The ego keeps getting stronger when fed on this worldly reality and to let oneself free of this, one must go through ego-death. There are several steps involved to attain ego death. To begin with, one must persuade the ego that it is dying and build this sense of separation between self and ego. Imagining oneself in the void of nothingness and outlining the ego’s existence as something insignificant makes the ego shrink to the extent that it dissipates. Experiencing this transcendence along with nontoxic psychedelic drugs such as DMT, LST, magic mushrooms, etc. enhances its effect and deconstructs the existing sense of self. Experiencing the vastness of this annihilation makes the ego vulnerable resulting in its death. For many, it has been a transformational process of disillusioning the boundaries which formed thoughts, beliefs, consciousness, and feelings.
Putting the above-mentioned arguments in a nutshell it can be said that Zen is the practice of living in the present without craving desires. Zen practice unlocks the ability to view realities of life and gives the opportunity the accept the happenings with an open mind. An open mind does not harbor grievances attached to the past but let them go. It allows the person to flow with the stream of life and making the strength of stream his own. Zen is more of an understanding than a doctrine, one must go beyond the words in order to understand the true nature. Achieving the Buddha-nature in the midst of life is Zen.
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