How to Be a Practicing Zen Buddhist

by Brian Gabriel

Zen Buddhism, a combination of Buddhism and Taoism, is a philosophy devoted to a more direct understanding of life. Practicing Zen Buddhists encounter reality through meditation and similar techniques instead of through logical thinking. Zen practices are designed to bring practitioners into an awareness of their own Buddha-nature. Whether this realization happens gradually or in a flash of insight, it must be the result of one's own efforts.

Read Zen sacred poems and sayings to aid in the process of realizing Buddhahood. Meditating quietly on a koan helps to cut through the intellectual obstacles that stand in the way of enlightenment.

Encourage the existence of life and refrain from unnecessary killing. Zen Buddhist practitioners must live compassionately with all forms of life. The San Francisco Zen Center says, “When understood in its broadest context, not killing can also be understood as not harming, especially not harming the body or psyche of another.”

Develop mindfulness through meditation. Mindfulness in the Zen Buddhist tradition begins with samatha, or calming meditation. Samatha requires the practitioner to focus on breathing and detach from the world of the senses by letting all objects of thought fade away. Mindfulness gives the practitioner greater awareness of the body, mind and feelings.

Practice honest communication with other people. Practitioners must use straightforward and open communication in their dealings with other people and in all personal relationships. Honest communication also means that Zen Buddhists cannot withhold important information from others because it will help them learn how to change their behavior.

Resolve personal disputes with an attitude of honesty, humility and kindness. If complete resolution is not yet possible, The San Francisco Zen Center recommends that meditation should be used in order to clarify the difficulty. The Zen Center says, “The harboring of ill-will is a poison for individuals and for the community. Even more corrosive is the harboring of ideas of revenge.”

Practice a detachment from all objects, ideas and attachments. In his book "Invoking Reality: Moral and Ethical Teachings of Zen," John Loori says that when people transcend their various attachments, the “true dharma eye is opened, the exquisite teaching of formless form is manifested” The purpose of detachment is to reach a state of clarity. Loori says that this clarity is something “revealed” as a result of practice – not something “acquired.”

About the Author

Brian Gabriel has been a writer and blogger since 2009, contributing to various online publications. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in history from Whitworth University.

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