BodhidharmaSome view Zen as a philosophy, some view it as a religion, and some as a way of life. In reality, any definition or description we attach to what is called "Zen" would already be distracting us from its essence and our focal point off attention will be drifting away from it. A quote from a famous Sutra illustrates the elusiveness of Zen very well: "Things are not as they seem, nor are they otherwise".

Zen is inseparable from Buddhism, which originated in India around 500 BCE through the enlightenment of a young prince named Siddhartha Gautama. After experiencing the extremes of hedonism and asceticism, he delved deeply into a spiritual exploration of the human condition and realized an inherent fundamental nature that is not subjected to circumstances and conditions, and is beyond birth and death. An inherent potential that can be realized by all human beings. After his enlightenment Siddhartha Gautama became known as The Buddha (the awakened one), and devoted the rest of his life expounding the teaching of the Buddha Dharma.

Later on Buddhism expanded to China, which historically became known as the birthplace of Zen, originating around the 6th century through the teachings of an Indian Buddhist Master by the name Bodhidharma. Zen sprouted out of the encounter between Indian based Buddhism and Chinese based Taoism.

Elements of the philosophically inclined Indian thought merged with elements of the pragmatic and "earthy" Chinese culture, and together molded a practice that has its roots in classic Buddhism, and at the same time deeply echoes the Tao De Ching, written by Lao Tsu, the founder of Taoism. Since its emergence this practice tradition has been directly transmitted from teacher to student in a way that is outside words and scriptures.

zendoSo what is Zen? A famous saying states that the answer is found where the question is. This saying guides us to turn the attention inwardly and examine that which is asking. The word "Zen" (AKA Chan, or Dhyana) means meditation, which suggests we each have to individually explore the deep meaning of Zen through an actual practice rather than an intellectual process. Essentially an ongoing, rigorous, disciplined, and committed practice cultivates the optimal conditions for dissolving the inner resistance of an illusory self, allowing an original self to be released from bondage and function freely. The only way to understand the true nature of Zen is to personally realize it, and then to actualize it through daily activities.

On a more pragmatic level, diligent Zen practice cultivates the ability to step out of a fragmented reality which is commonly viewed as segments of past, present, and future. When no longer bound by this common view, the practitioner is able to let go of an identification with a fixed position, merge with an ever-changing continuum, and flow more freely.