There are several Zen teachings that can be profoundly useful to our well-being. We can often feel worried, angry, confused or a number of other unhealthy emotions at various times in our lives. Zen teachings can help us deal and understand these emotions to make us much wiser and calmer individuals. But before we explore these teachings, we must ask what is ‘Zen’?

What Is Zen?

The word ‘Zen’ is a Japanese word that means emptiness. This meaning is the general foundation of Zen Buddhism; that life is generally and fundamentally empty – it has no meaning. However, this is not as bleak as it sounds.

Instead, Zen Buddhism uses this premise to formulate a number of teachings to do with introspection, understanding, self-control and compassion towards others. It is more of an activity than a belief system, and if we practise it then we will be better off as a result.

Two major aspects of Zen teachings is the idea of awake to or aware of our lives and the realistic facets of them and the importance of undertaking meditation. These two things are integral to Zen teachings and weave into all the ideas that we will discuss here.

5 powerful zen teachings that could change your outlook and attitude to life

These teachings and ideas of Zen Buddhism can help to alleviate the anxieties and pains that are inevitable to our existence. Often we tend to overthink everything, which only aggravates the issues that we are grappling with.

However, through self-reflection and introspection, it is possible to recognise the simplicity of our issues. Moreover, we acquire the tools that help us to become wiser, calmer, and more at peace with these inevitabilities.

1. Live in the present

Perhaps the most fundamental and crucial teaching that Zen provides us (apart from the more obvious act of meditation) is the significance of being aware of the present moment. Concerns about the past and the future are irrelevant to us. What really matters is an effort to focus on and heighten the present moment. This will, in time, help us heal, quell and come to terms with the common worries and anxieties that we all will feel.

Do you worry that you will be a success in your career in the years to come? Do you deeply regret a past mistake? This is futile according to Zen teachings. We cannot alter the past or the future. Therefore, it is futile to even think of it. Our lives exist here and now and are what we can fully perceive and comprehend.  This is the only thing that matters and we should direct all our focus towards this.

We can only deal with our pains and suffering by waking up to the fact that we live in the present. We are able to tackle our current issues because they exist with us at this current moment. They are not in some unreachable time zone. Consequently, it makes sense to concentrate on the present moment. As a result, the likelihood is that you will worry a little less and generally become more peaceful.

2. The importance of meditation

directed meditation

Part of the way, technique or act of being awake to the present moment is through meditation. This practice is probably the most popularly known feature of Buddhism. In fact, it’s probably what comes to people’s minds when they picture such eastern philosophy.

However, it is something that we all can practice. For example, taking time to relax and turning off your thoughts for a period of time. This provides some momentary and lasting peace. Not least for quiet but also to search for answers that we may otherwise be unable to find.

We should take the time to consider our lives. There are many aspects of them that we can perceive and recognise. The idea is that we are questioning certain facets of our lives.

For example, our sufferings, and trying to resolve them. These answers are found in the very place that these questions come from – in our minds. The solutions to our problems are prevalent through deep and careful consideration of our existence. Thereby, changing our mentality to improve our well-being.

This can practically be done through a focus on slow and naturally flowing breathing. This allows the mind to clear so the focus can be given to these issues. It can be commonly known as searching for ‘inner truths’. However, this may seem mystical or spiritual to some and therefore difficult to relate to or engage with.

Yet, meditation is not an exclusive activity. We all have the ability to empty our minds, relax and think carefully about what is bothering us. It could be a useful and important activity to partake in regularly. Then we won’t flounder in the stress and worries that can all too easily consume us.

3. Understand your anger to become more compassionate

Living in the present moment and meditation are two of the fundamental pillars of Zen. Further Zen teachings build on these premises. One of which is to take time to understand our anger in order to be compassionate to others.

We do this through introspection in awareness and meditation. Only then can we find the root of our anger and to recognise the cause of it. Through this, one can cultivate an awareness of the emotion. Once we recognise it in ourselves, it is easier to spot it in others. Remember, you have to observe the emotion in order to understand it. In time, you’ll learn that the frustrations and anxieties you feel are, in fact, universally felt by everyone.

This can do two things:

  • Help you deal with and come to terms with your own sufferings
  • Allow you to develop compassion towards others

As a result, we will have the tools to relate to and sympathise with others. This makes us and others feel a little less alone.

It's a sign of your wisdom and growth when you choose to respond calmly to the negative behavior of others.

It’s a sign of your wisdom and growth when you choose to respond calmly to the negative behavior of others.

4. Accept that men are men and nothing more

Zen does not place any emphasis on some spiritual or higher power. Whether this is to give answers, explanations or solutions to our problems. It fully accepts that men are men, and women are women. Both genders are imperfect, complex and quite often broken – and we should recognise this.

These teachings do not try to answer large and complex questions about the world and our existence. Probably because we do not (as of yet) have the mental capacity to do so. Also, it is not the most important thing to consider. What matters is our understanding and well-being in the here and now of our own lives. This is so we can manage our sufferings and live in a fulfilling way.

Zen does not provide answers – it does not teach us what to think. Rather, it teaches us how to think (through awareness and meditation). We should use the capacity of our minds to understand ourselves, as human beings in the present moment. Not giving time to grapple with harmful existential concerns that will only aggravate our current sufferings.

5. Be aware of the impermanence of things

Shaolin Monk Training life lessons

Perhaps the underlying root of many of our anxieties is the impermanent, temporal and ever-changing nature of our lives and existence. We may worry because we are growing older and have regrets about not capitalising on opportunities that have past us by. Or we may feel anxious about the instability of our jobs or fear the mortality of ourselves and our loved ones.

Everything has the capacity to change and fall apart, and everything will pass us by in a cruel and swift way. As a result, we may feel confused and angry at the impermanence of things in our lives. We may struggle to understand them. Zen teaches us that the best and perhaps only way to deal with such truths and inevitabilities is to simply recognise the impermanence of everything.

Through meditation, reflection and detailed consideration we can recognise that we, and everything around us, will eventually come to pass. Being aware of this fact will lessen and dampen the anxieties we may feel. We will be able to make the most of the present moment rather than worrying about the fleeting facets of our existence. This allows us to live fuller, richer and more content lives as a result.

Why we should all explore these zen teachings

Even if you are not inclined to take guidance from Buddhism or eastern philosophy as a whole, these Zen teachings could prove highly fruitful to all of us. All you need to do is take a moment to simply try it out.

These teachings are not living by a religious sect or adhering to a belief system. It is simply partaking in an act of reflection and introspection in an attempt to deal with and quell our anxieties and sufferings. In turn, we can feel connected to the present moment and to those around us.

It may prove valuable and pragmatic to take some time to clear your head and to simply think about what is bothering you. As a result, the issues that are causing you pain may begin to seem a little less frightening and a little more manageable than they did before.



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