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The Basics of Zen

Zen is an art that is often mistaken for a form of nihilism seeing as there is a principal of nothingness that is attached to it. In fact it seems that when we talk about Zen we are actually talking about nothing at all, and this is actually true of Buddhism in general. What is enlightenment? Not suffering. What state of mind should I cultivate? No-mind. Zen is an art that is based in nothingings, but why? Simply put the way to realization is not attained with the mind, but rather with the awareness. There is a crucial importance to this difference because awareness is an aspect of our being that flows from spirit, or Buddha nature, whereas mind is concerned with the personality and thought. Thus the purpose of Zen is to no longer let the mind be the one in charge and rather let the inner nature that is the source of awareness and attention be the center of our “self”.
So how does one cultivate this state of being known as enlightenment? In Zen’s eyes it is done through presence and Zazen. Zazen is a meditation practice that is unlike most others as it uses no visualizations and no mantras, in fact every aspect of Zazen is concerned wholly with one thing, and that is the realization of enlightenment, which, as is written above, arises from a state beyond mind. Thus, Zazen is about stillness of mind, which is usually achieved through concentration on the breath, sitting in an intense state of no-mind, or through Koan practice (Koan practice is meditation on a question whose purpose is to take the student beyond the mind).
Another basic of Zen is the principle of presence, sometimes expressed either in terms of continuous no-mind, or in terms of a deep non-judgmental awareness. Presence is impossible to talk about, as there is no thought per se that can really encapsulate it. Stillness of mind is it’s basis, and you will know when you are present because it is often associated with spontaneous laughter with no cause, inexplicable joy, and, more commonly, a sense of peace and acceptance regardless of your situation in the present moment. Zen monks seek this state of no mind unflinchingly and any serious mystic or spiritual wayfarer would be wise to do the same as it often leads to startling insight. In the end Zen boils down to an intense abiding in the moment through consistent awareness, a meditation practice that involves going beyond mind, and the ability to practice in the face of mystery and accept that you will never uncover all of them.