What is Zen by Jordan Bywaters

What is Zen?

Zen - An approach arising from Buddhism, that seeks enlightenment by meditation in which there is no consciousness of the self. 

Zen has several different schools but it originated in China. It is said that an Indian monk named Bodhidharma or Damo walked all the way from India to China to spread his teachings. He is sometimes referred to as the second Buddha. Bodhidharma (Damo) made his way to the Shaolin Temple located in Henan province, China and decided to sit in a cave in meditation for 9 years without moving. It is said that the monks would come to check on him daily noticing that he had not moved. After exiting the cave he was disappointed in the practice of the monks so he taught them techniques that eventually led to the creation of  Cha’an Buddhism, known as Zen in Japan and Korea.

My school or lineage is from Korea (Kwang Um Zen). It was brought here to America by the late Zen master Seung Sahn. Zen provides us with a way of living where we are not attatched to names, forms and perceptions. This allows us to see everything clear in its true nature and to be able to live completely in tune with the present moment.

Buddha Nature - Referring to that moment where all thinking stops and you are completely in tune with the present moment.

What is the one clear thing? (Hit Floor) that moment right there is buddha nature everyone’s thinking stopped and focus was brought to the present moment.  

Famous Story: Buddha was a wealthy prince in India and one day he grew tired of his wealth and riches and thought there must be more to life. So he began to explore  outside of his palace and discovered that in the outside world there exists sickness, old age and death. He decided to take it upon himself to find the origin of suffering. So he abandoned his lavish lifestyle and traveled. One day he decided to sit under a tree and meditate until he attained enlightenment. He sat there for an unknown amount of time (often disputed to be 7 days, or 40 days and nights) but he attained enlightenment.

When we sit and allow our minds to become still it allows us to move into a higher state of consciousness or (Samhadi). Once in that state we are able to see through our delusions, names, form, and perceptions.

The Buddha taught:

The Four Noble truths

  1. The truth of suffering (dukkha)
  2. The truth of the cause of suffering (samudaya)
  3. The truth of the end of suffering (nirhodha)
  4. The truth of the path that frees us from suffering (magga)


The Eightfold Path

  1. Right View                               5. Right Livelihood

  2. Right Thought                         6. Right Effort

  3. Right Speech                          7. Right Mindfulness

  4. Right Action                            8. Right Meditation

Through these teachings we too can awaken and find enlightenment. Buddhism in general is not typically regarded as a religion, it’s more of a practice. Zen is like a combination of Buddhism and Taoism because it teaches wholeness.

“To understand the absolute is to understand yourself.” - Seung Sahn

In Zen we have 3 forms

  1. Zazen meditation
  2. Walking Meditation
  3. Prostrations.

The goal behind these practices is to develop a strong center and a heart of compassion towards all sentient beings.



Mantra - A hymn, Prayer or statement repeated frequently. Typically 108 times

The Standard mantra to begin with is The Great Compassion Mantra. (Om Mani Padme Hum).


By bowing it forces us to completely surrender to the present moment and the action of bowing therefore cutting through our thinking.

During practice and in everyday life our mind likes to naturally wander and when it does we must gently guide it back to the present moment through our practice. (Counting our breaths, Mantras, or Koans ( What is the one clear thing?)




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