What makes the Zen Buddhist culture unique?
A Zen Buddhist devotes a portion of every day to sitting, known as the practice of Zazen. This is a time to meditate and consider your existence in the universe. During the Zen meditation sessions I attended at USM, the instructors had you focus on slowing down your thoughts. The goal is to ultimately detach yourself from the worries and burdens of day to day life. Try and be mindful of your place in nature and determine what is essential to a happy life. I was surprised to find that Zazen is practiced with your eyes open. I always assumed that it would be easier to mediate with your eyes closed to avoid visual distractions. My instructors said to avoid concentrating on anything in particular and simply gaze at what is before you.
The Zen Buddhist culture values simplicity. It is critical for a Zen Buddhist to live a life free of unnecessary materialistic possessions. In my mediation I quickly realized how hard it is to honestly detach yourself from your normal train of thought. The key is to realize what things are truly giving you happiness, and what things could go. For a Zen Buddhist, it is much easier to accomplish the goal of mindfulness with a simplistic lifestyle.
Unlike most cultures, Zen Buddhism puts a great concentration on something as simple as breathing. During Zazen it is impossible to detach yourself from all thoughts if you are still preoccupied with breathing. I was given the instructions to breathe deeply; inhaling and exhaling through your nose. You want to let each breath come and go naturally. In my meditation I found it helpful to use your slowed breathing to help slow down your mind. Each inhale envision the air gathering all the unneeded thoughts in your mind; which are then released with every exhale.
A Zen Buddhist shows more outward respect to others and to the world. At each mediation I attended, we began by facing each other and bowing. Zen Buddhism values selflessness and respect for others, bowing is a sign of respect. I was surprised by the fact You then bow to your cushion out of respect for your place in the universe. The extreme example of this is Zen Buddhist monk, whose entire life is devoted to teaching and serving others.
Zen Buddhism is a unique philosophy because of the importance it places on the individual. They do not waste their time trying to determine the universal way to reach enlightenment. I have great respect for a Zen Buddhist who recognizes that while they may have found peace of mind, what worked them will not work for everyone. We all have different needs and find happiness in different ways. The goal is determine what is essential to your own life, not to anyone else’s life.