The Thing I Learned from Studying Zen

May 22, 2024

In a fast-paced world that's always moving and in a society that values attainment over fulfilment, my study of Zen and related practices has been a refreshment and a calming force in my life. Whatever we think we are, whoever we claim to be, we are wrong.

I came across Zen years ago while listening to Alan Watts's audios. He spoke about Far Eastern philosophy and its potential benefits for the Western mind. Whenever I delved into Zen practices, it reminded me of what I learned in martial arts: a state of no resistance to whatever happens. Zen often employs the element of sudden surprise and questions that the intellect cannot answer.

What fascinates me about Zen is that, unlike many teachings I've encountered, it does not point to supernatural phenomena, fantastic states, or anything particularly special. Instead, it points to the very experience of being alive and being human. Zen, unlike many other religions and practices, does not find fault in basic human nature but advocates for the disappearance of the belief that something is inherently wrong with how things are.

“Doing nothing is better than being busy doing nothing.” — Lao Tzu

When I speak with entrepreneurs, I often hear about how busy everyone is, how much there is to do, and how overwhelming everything feels. To Zen, this is merely a fantasy of the mind. There is only to do what there is to do now. Overwhelm does not occur from a mind that lives this truth.

We are addicted to our futures, to being busy, and to being seen as "working hard," "being valuable," and "looking good." Zen disregards all that because, to Zen, there is no ego that could look good in the first place. There is simply what's here now. And only that.

Zen draws a clear distinction between the world of concepts and the world of presence. Our minds, especially in Western culture, often don’t live within this distinction but suffer from fantasies of meaning and imaginary scenarios that haven’t even occurred.

What I found most refreshing about studying Zen is the basic premise of trusting our nature and nature in general. A Zen master trusts himself or herself to respond to any situation in accordance with the situation, so endless rumination is unnecessary.

He or she trusts themselves to find the path once started, with no need to check the map every other second.

“To attain knowledge, add things every day. To attain wisdom, remove things every day.” — Lao Tzu

Our culture values knowledge, information, and the constant pursuit of things. Yet if you really look, none of it has brought us the fulfillment and happiness we seek. The mind grabs, and the ego cares much about what the world will think of it. The person of Zen does not, as the person of Zen sees no difference between the world and themselves, the mind and the body, the plants and the animals. She sees that distinction arises and is not real.

She smiles at death and smiles at birth, as there is nothing that could fear either, as no self has arisen that lives only in holding on to and grabbing what is transient anyway, what never came to last.

A mind not holding, not grabbing, not forcing, not fighting, not rejecting itself.

In a culture that values the individual and where our self-absorption is at its peak, this way of thinking cuts through the importance of oneself and gives relief to the cause of much of our suffering.

If you look at your problems, most of them aren't where you are seated but are placed in time in a fantasy called your future. Most of what gives us stress revolves around a me-centric stream of thoughts:

"What will they think if..."
"How can I do X?"
"What if I fail at X?"
"Why does this happen to me?"

Zen gives no importance to this confusion of the mind but invites us to get real, look at what's really here, be with what is so, not with what isn't.

A practice worth the while for anyone, and especially for entrepreneurs.

Studying Zen reminds me of the castles of thought my mind can build and to look at my feet instead, realising that they are, while the castle isn't.

The effect?  

Spontaneous Creative Expression

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