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Patrick Graven



Patrick Graven


The Essence Of Zen

The Essence Of Zen

16 mins 308 16 mins 308

The meaning and the essence of Zen is achieving enlightenment by seeing one's original nature. To be true to oneself and the thought of the moment. Other than continuing to exert yourself, enter into nothing else, but go to the extent of living single thought by a single thought. It requires an intense discipline which, when practiced properly, results in total spontaneity and ultimate freedom. The path is made by living it. All that is happening is here in the present moment and the present is the only time to live.

The samurai, members of a powerful military caste in feudal Japan, began as warriors of each of their provinces before rising to power in the 12th century with the beginning of the country’s first military dictatorship, known as the shogun. As servants of the great lords, the samurai backed up the authority of the shogun and gave him power over the emperor. The samurai would dominate Japanese government and society until the Meiji Restoration. Despite being deprived of their traditional privileges, many of the samurai would enter the elite ranks of politics and industry in modern Japan. Bushido is found in life and death, one will always die, it's living that takes real courage.

Shogun was the name given to the title for a military general in ancient Japan during the Heian Period. The word "shogun" comes from the Japanese words "sho," meaning "commander," and "gun," meaning "troops." In the 12th century, the shoguns seized power from the Emperors of Japan and became the rulers of the country. Shoguns would rule Japan from its capital at Kamakura for nearly 150 years. Although emperors continued to exist and to hold spiritual power over the realm, it was the shoguns who actually ruled the lands of Japan.

Like most Japanese of their time, the samurai followed Buddhist religious teachings as well as the practices of Japan’s native belief system, Shinto. The main teachings of Buddhism expounded in the Four Noble Truths preached by the Buddha, teach the origins of human suffering in desire, and offer hope of escape from suffering and the endless cycle of rebirth through pursuit of the noble eight fold path. The rest is a set of guidelines for living based on principles of ethical conduct, the cultivation of wisdom, and discipline.

Shinto is the native religion of Japan. Shinto means "the way of the gods" and is the indigenous faith of the Japanese people and as old as Japan itself. It remains Japan's major religion alongside Buddhism. The word Shinto is a combination of two kanji characters, “shin”, meaning gods or spirits, and “tō” meaning way or path. There are no absolutes in Shinto as it is an optimistic faith, as humans are thought to be fundamentally good, and evil is believed to be caused by evil spirits. "Shinto gods" are called "kami". They are sacred spirits which take the form of things and concepts important to life such as wind, rain, mountains, trees and rivers.

The religion of Shinto is a collection of rituals and methods to regulate the relations between living people and the spirits. The main theme in the Shinto religion is love and reverence for natural artifacts and processes. Things in nature come to be regarded as a spirit of that place, so might abstract things like growth. The principal worship of "kami" is done at public shrines, also known as "jinja". The Shinto ways of thinking have influenced Japanese society. Many famously Japanese practices have origins rooted in Shinto. The Shinto ideal of harmony with nature underlies such Japanese arts as flower arranging, which is known as "ikebana". Many Japanese customs have their origin in Shinto beliefs and practices.

Leading lives of great fragility, never knowing when death might strike, perhaps the samurai warriors needed faith in the Buddha Amitabha more than most. Pure Land monks accompanied samurai into battle in order to guide them in the recitation of the name of the Buddha Amitabha, a prayer known as the "Nembutsu", should they succumb to wounds, and pray for their successful salvation in the event of death. Any fears would greatly be eased even by death.

Introduced to Japan from China in the twelfth century, Zen is a form of Buddhism that mainly focuses on seated meditation and pondering of koan, the paradoxical statements, and questions, as practices leading to enlightenment. With its emphasis on discipline and self-reliant effort, Zen was temperamentally suited to samurai warriors, who on the battlefield required skill and courage. Followers practiced Zazen, the discipline of seated meditation, and worked closely with experienced teachers in order to gain insight as they move towards enlightenment.

The ultimate goal of Zen is peace, spiritual awakening and the attainment of Buddhahood, but the concentration and equanimity fostered by the practice of meditation and the directness of mind and expression called for in koan encounters were of great practical use to even the most unenlightened samurai. The majority of Zen practicing samurai sought the mental discipline to be better warriors and meditation became their way of life.

Many samurai practiced meditation, alone and under the tutelage of Zen monks, and the concentration required by this practice became a guiding principle for martial arts and military discipline. The shogun’s deep connection to the Zen community is further demonstrated by the fact that many Zen monks wrote inscriptions above the painting to comment on its content. Other samurai would also collect Chinese ceramics, poetry and ink paintings, introduced to Japan through the Zen monasteries.

Zen is noted for its physical and mental training. The daily practice and the breathing exercise remarkably improves one's physical condition is an established fact. Zen masters enjoyed a long life in spite of their simple way of living. It is self control, the uplifting of the moral ideal and the disclosing of inborn wisdom. It was first introduced to Japan as the first faith for the Samurai and molded the characters of many distinguished warriors whose lives adorn the pages of history. Afterwards it gradually found its way into homes and palaces through literature, poetry and art.

Hatsuhinode is the Japanese tradition of waking up to see the first sunrise of the year on New Year's Day. It means "The Rising Sun" and is also known as "Hatsuhi Sunrise". This custom began in the Meiji period. The sun goddess Amaterasu Ōmikami is worshipped in many places of Japan. Gazing at hatsuhinode while wishing for a good fortune for the year ahead, Japanese people make new year resolutions and hold various events. People travel to popular locations such as Mount Fuji's summit and other locations of higher altitude in order to get better views of hatsuhinode. Temples and shrines on mountains are crowded with people trying to catch a first glimpse of the sunrise. Awakening before sunrise is also considered important, as viewing the first sunrise of the year is thought to be a good and proper start for the New Year.

Tao is the process of nature by which all things change and which is to be followed for a life of harmony. It is a Chinese word meaning "way". Tao signifies the fundamental nature of the universe. Tao is the underlying natural order of the universe. It is a discovery of a set of practices to aid keeping the mind, body and spirit engaged and strong. The path of understanding the way is simply accepting oneself as they naturally are. One's nature is ever changing and is always the same, Taoism is more than just a philosophy, it is understood as being and practices towards the service and living to one’s nature. Taoism is acceptance in our lives.

The Ensō is a sacred symbol in the Zen philosophy and is one of the most common subjects of Japanese calligraphy. It is also known as the Circle of Enlightenment. If you actually took the meanings of the two Kanji symbols that make up the word, Ensō would translate as the Circle of Togetherness, the cyclical nature of existence. Ensō symbolises many more things including: strength, elegance, the universe, the state of mind of the artist at the moment of creation and the acceptance of imperfection as perfect. The Ensō is a universal symbol of wholeness and completion, this is a zen symbol of the absolute, the true nature of existence.

Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning "a reason for being." According to the Japanese, everyone has an ikigai. Finding it requires a deep and often lengthy search of self discovery and reflection. The word "ikigai" is usually used to indicate the source of value in one's life and the things that make one's life worthwhile. The word is also used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which one feels that their life is valuable and worthy. Ikigai is thought of as a reason to get up in the morning, that is, a reason to enjoy life.

Japanese Gardens were first cultivated during the Asuka period, an early period of time in Japan. Japanese travelers and merchants saw the beauty of the gardens and wanted to create a similar atmosphere at home. The tradition was influenced by the Shinto religion and the gardens provides a place for people to reflect. Japanese Gardens and Chinese Gardens appear in many major cities around the world. The ponds in Japanese gardens are usually filled by koi fish, trees, and flowers. Buddhist and Chinese philosophers used these gardens as a sanctuary for reflection, and in hundreds of years, the purpose of the gardens have remained the same.

The Sakura, the national flower of Japan, also known as the cherry blossom, represents a time of renewal and optimism. Due to their quick blooming season, cherry blossoms also symbolise the transience of life, a major theme in Buddhism. Cherry blossoms are magnificent but brief lifespan, falling a couple of weeks after full bloom, reminds people that similar to the delicate white pink flowers a human’s life is also short and beautiful. Sakura are also revered as a symbol of rebirth. There are many more significant meanings of the cherry blossom, and the Japanese reflect on them every year during a custom called Hanami.

The Sakura flower is also a symbol of coming of the spring. This flower is the first one to blossom after the winter which is why many see it as a symbol of rejuvenation and rebirth. Every spring, this gorgeous flower covers the alleys and pathways with a beautiful scent and makes everyone feel happy for the upcoming spring season. The flower of the cherry blossom is springtime after the long and cold winters, and in its simple beauty inspired the emperors, princesses, artists, poets, samurai and ordinary people of ancient Japan and became one of the main symbols of the earth of the emerging sun.

The lotus flower represents one symbol of fortune in Buddhism. It grows in muddy water, and it is this environment that gives forth the flower’s first and most literal meaning: rising and blooming above the murk to achieve enlightenment. The second meaning, which is related to the first is purification. It resembles the purifying of the spirit which is born into murkiness. The third meaning refers to faithfulness. Those who are working to rise above the muddy waters will need to be faithful followers.

Each lotus has its own colour and bears importance in the meaning of the lotus flower in Buddhism. A white lotus flower refers to purity of the mind and the spirit. A red lotus flower refers to compassion and love. The blue lotus flower refers to wisdom and logic to create enlightenment. The pink lotus flower represents the history of Buddha and the historical legends of the Buddha. A purple lotus flower speaks of spiritual awakening and mysticism. And the gold lotus flower represents all achievement of all enlightenment.

The stage of growth that the lotus flower is in represents a different stage of enlightenment. A closed lotus flower represents the time before one has found enlightenment. A lotus flower fully bloomed and open represents full enlightenment and self awareness. The mud represents an importance in the meaning of the lotus flower in Buddhism. All humans are born in a world where there is suffering. This suffering is a vital part of the human experience, it makes us stronger and teaches us to resist the temptation of the bad. When we banish bad thoughts from our mind we are able to break free of the muddy water and become one with nature.

The lotus flower represents rebirth, in every sense. The rebirth can be a change of ideas, an acceptance of enlightenment where there once was none, the dawn after one’s darkest day, a renaissance of beliefs or the ability to see past wrongs. The meaning of the lotus flower in Buddhism represents rebirth as a reincarnation, such as in the Buddhist religion, when a soul leaves this world in its present form to be reborn in another, and that is part of nature.

The path of peace consists of putting ourselves in tune with the universe, maintain peace in our own realms and to nurture life in whatever way that we can. Just as a lotus flower springs from the mud to bloom splendidly, the interaction of the universal nature causes the flower of the spirit to bloom and bear its fruit and beauty to the world. The most perfect actions echo the patterns found in nature and will always be over time.

Mindfulness is the quality of mind that is aware of what’s happening without interference. It is like a mirror that simply reflects whatever comes before it. We can start the practice of mindfulness meditation with the simple observation and feeling of each breath. Realise the difference between being lost in a thought and being mindful that we’re thinking. Becoming aware of the thought is like waking up from a dream after being absorbed by it. Through mindfulness, we naturally awaken from the dreams of our minds.

The art of peace is a way of life. Nature is always speaking to us, we just need to be aware and listen. Life is growth, always keep our mind and soul as clear as the open sky, the deep great ocean, and the highest peak of the mountains. Those who are growing and present never stop constructing themselves to be better warriors. The true purpose of practice is to better oneself and bring one's spirit to life. Be grateful even for hardships, dealing with such obstacles is an essential part of growth. The quality of peace is the appreciation of the coming together of the universe, earth and humankind. It is all that is true, good and beautiful.

All the principles of nature and earth are living inside of us. Life itself is the truth, and this will never change. Everything in the universe and earth breathes, for breath is the thread that ties creation together as one. For when the variations in the universal breath can be sensed, the techniques of harmony and peace are born in. Now and again, it is necessary to seclude ourselves amongst the trees, rivers, valleys, oceans and the mountains to restore our link to the source of where there is life. Our life is something we build everyday. It's not that one is lost, it's just that one is finding their own way.

Know that we are all in constant change, the energy of the sun and moon, the breath of the earth, the light and the darkness, the ebb and flow of the tide and the change of seasons. Our breath should follow the same pattern of that of nature, absorbing the entire universe in our body with each inhalation and releasing. Think of the recurrent pattern of the coming and going of the tide, the waves come onto the shore and dissolve, and then new waves come again and go back into the ocean. Observe constantly that all things take place by change and reflect on how all things change and constantly attend to the cycle of life.

Those who practice mindfulness and meditation must take care of themselves and take care of mother nature, the divine mirror of creation, and keep it beautiful and pure. The actions of our lives as peaceful warriors gives birth to natural beauty. The artistry, skills and techniques of a warrior arise as naturally as the appearance of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. Being a peaceful warrior is none other than the spirit and liveliness that sustains all life. Our mind should be in harmony with the functioning of the universe and our body should be in tune with the movement of the universe.

Always observe the way of nature, see how the branches reach out to grasp the suns rays, study how water flows in a valley stream, smoothly and freely between all the rocks. Everything should be our teacher, the animals, the birds, the plants, trees, mountains and rivers and all that surrounds us. Contemplate of all that is in the world and take all that is good. To bath ourselves with goodness, truth and with love and placing ourselves in the heart of nature. Peace originates in the flow of things and its heart is like the motion of the wind and waves.

Each day of human life contains all kinds of emotions and each moment is etched with nature's grand designs and we should always allow the natural order of things. The way of zen is to establish harmony within ourselves. To always try to be in communion with nature, then the world will appear in its true light. The essence of zen is to bring the world completely into our sphere. To truly implement the way of harmony and zen, one must be able to be divine and enlightened everywhere, by being from within. To think lightly of oneself and deeply of the world.

The way of zen is attempting to understand the meaning of life directly without being misled by logical thought. The true essence of zen is that all human beings are nature, and that all they have to do is to discover that truth for themselves. Zen is something a person does, it does not depend on words, it has to be experienced and lived in order to be truly understood.

Zen sends us looking inside us for peace and enlightenment. There's no need to search outside ourselves for the answers, we can find the answers in the same place that we found the questions. It consists of how we control our minds through meditation and other techniques that involve mind and body. Zen is concerned with things as they are in their original nature.

It is what it means to be completely alive, meditation for the body and the mind, a natural philosophy, a way of life with peace. When we are at peace inside ourselves, we are at peace with the world. To awaken to the basic reality of everyday life, we learn to participate in being present and to be completely engaged in the now. One should always confine to the present.

The mind is boundless just as the pure water, containing the essence of the seasons. It is glistening bright and lustrously clear in the same way that the moonlight envelops the entire night sky. To follow the path within and clearly see the origin of all things, obscured by nothing, held by one's own self, freedom is the path of infinity, where dreams are born on the journey.

The face of nature is as a face in a mirror, like the water of a mirage, like the sound of an echo, like a mass of clouds in the sky and dreams of the eternal divine. In a thousand directions everywhere, throughout the sea of lands, every view has gone by encompasses oceans of the past. Only heartbeats short of eternity, in breath by breath we dwell.

At this moment what more need we seek, As the truth eternally reveals itself, This very place is the garden of purity, And this very land is the ocean of zen. The echoes from the seasons' breeze, The water flowing and it's constant endeavour, The strength of light shining through the trees, Awakened to the cycle of life forever.

© Patrick Graven

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