It was a beautiful summer’s day. Like my cubicle at the office, the humidity in Tokyo can be suffocating. I texted my friend that I’d meet her for a late lunch. Then, I got out of the station and proceeded on my familiar walk to the temple. This temple in the heart of Tokyo would be the place that changed my life, my perspectives, and my relationships for years to come. It’s the place where I first discovered what it means to truly devote myself to the Zen way of living.
The unique aspect of this temple is the long path that you walk leading up to the main hall. Most people don’t come for the walk. They are impatient. They have children walking alongside them.
But, I come, specifically, for this long walk.
This long walk stills my heart for the prayers that would come to me as I ventured onto the main prayer hall. This long walk is my chance to meditate on every aspect of life at this moment in time. With each step that I took, my breath synchronized with the sound of my feet shuffling the pebbles. I’m conscious of the well-manicured trees, the wind brushing my cheeks, and the expansive shade these trees provide.
In this moment of “just be” as I walk, I derive a sense of safety from each step.
People often ask me what is Zen Buddism. I respond in kind, “It’s the zen way of living.” It’s about letting go of earthly needs, wants, and seeing yourself embody the very essence of the universe all around you. Unlike other Zen Buddhists, I don’t place too much value on being present in the moment, rather I venture to go a step further. Being present is the byproduct of immersing yourself into the world through your experiences.
By immersing yourself in the world and learning the essence of things, with thought, objectivity, and curiosity, you can embody the very thing that you seek. You can gain infinite wisdom from the world around you, absorbing everything while shifting your perspectives steadily and incrementally.
Each day, you ask questions, you receive answers, and you learn.
Over time, the meditation sessions, the prayers, and the balanced way that you live add up to who you are — someone who’s devoted to finding out about the universe and safeguarding it, no matter how the universe changes.
“A strong man overcomes an obstacle, a wise man goes the whole way.” — Zen Buddhism Quote
Unlike my Asian overachievement upbringing, Zen Buddism is all about moderating earthly wants and needs. Our need to achieve to feel good about ourselves, our need to win and gain attention, our need to obtain happiness from gathering all of our material goods, all wane when measured against the totality of our life’s journey.
I often have a picture of the Buddha rising from his lotus seat in my mind. He’s propelled by some immovable force to fly free. He keeps going and doesn’t care if anyone is beside him.
He’s unafraid to go the whole way alone. For he’s never truly alone, he walks the intricate fabric of the universe and can sense it all. He’s one with it all: the light and the dark.
Patience is a virtue in some religions. But, patience is a byproduct of the everyday practice of Zen Buddism. You learn to be patient by moderating the conflicting forces that ravage your inner peace.
“A mountain never yields to the wind no matter how strong it is.” — Zen Buddhism Quote
The wind is like water, it doesn’t have shape unless you give it a shape. It permeates everything no matter if you want it to or not. It flirts with possibilities. It engulfs thicker air. It waves, bends, and persists as a joyful addition.
A mountain, on the other hand, can be seen as an obstacle and a will. It is fully formed. It has fewer possibilities. It symbolizes strength.
When you compare the two side by side, the wind is infinitely adaptable. As the world changes, so do the wind, showing its strengths and weaknesses. Even weak winds can act as a reminder of forgotten wisdom.
The point is not about yielding, but rather about experiencing.
“Your home is where your thoughts find peace. “-Zen Buddhism Quote
Too often, we are busy constructing a home where we live with our earthly needs. The whole minimalist way of living is an effort to return us to the essence of what makes a home joyful, and peaceful.
It’s the balance and the directional currents of the air inside the home that alters the true essence of the home. Everyone who comes and goes can alter the energy of the home.
When you relate to all members of your household with peace and serenity, you will be surprised how quickly your home turns into a home that embodies peace.
Our human-ness is often what makes it difficult for us to obtain inner peace and our home will reflect that.
But, like everything in Zen Buddism, the practice of returning our earthly human-ness to its rightful owner: ourselves, so that our home can stay spiritually clean is called meditation.
“When an ordinary man attains knowledge, he is a sage; When a sage attains understanding, he is an ordinary man. “ — Zen Buddhism Quote
We often think of knowledge as something concrete. We hold sages as somehow above the ordinary man. But, both can contribute fully to wisdom. Real-world knowledge that is evaluated, tested, and has survived complements the true understanding of the experience.
This is why ordinary men sit next to the sages and vice versa. They both have much to learn from each other. They are partners.
“All the things that truly matter, beauty, love, creativity, joy, and inner peace arise from beyond the mind. “ — Zen Buddhism Quote
So many of us think that our minds hold the whole truth. It’s by far the truth. There’s intuition, heart, and body that hold wisdom that complements everything in our minds.
When we think about what inspires us, we think about what’s in our minds. But, our minds can be twisted, flawed, and uniquely human.
By practicing peace in our hearts, shifting our thoughts through our bodies, and gaining an intuitive channel into the world around us, we hold space beyond our minds.
We tap into universal truths. Our universal truths have unlimited potential, embodies freedom, and give us faith.
Over the next 20 years, I’ve come to learn that the practice of a Zen lifestyle comes and goes. As with any other practice, life can get in the way. With each spiritual awakening, I feel more grounded in this practice. By being grounded I mean that my prayers, my devotion, and how I live with it have deepened.
For instance, my prayers have gone from “asking Buddha for things” to “asking Buddha to bring other people things”. Sometimes, I find myself saying gratitude prayers for weeks on hand and not finding anything to ask for.
My devotion has shifted from devotion to the Buddha, who is a presence, or a god of some sort to the devotion to the universe around me.
There have been many years when practicing this Zen way of living was a bit of out of reach for me, but I find that the constant returning to the practice and this way of life keeps me wildly alive.
I now look at this Zen way of living as a spiritual relationship that I have. I’m nurtured by this relationship. This is why I will always return to it.
Maybe you are from different faith and religion, but I think the common thread of all religions is the sense of peace that it brings to us and how it allows us to live a more peaceful life.
When the boundaries are broken on religions, do we find our common universal truths within the cracks of the bigger picture?