The short answer is: Zen is meditation.
Original Zen and all subsequent flavors of Zen are centered around a
regular and consistent practice of meditation. The Zen meditative state is
real meditation, the state of being awake and without thought. But it goes much deeper.
The best answers to What Is Zen?
comes from the teachings of a monk named Bodhidarma who is widely recognized
as the world's greatest Zen master. He did not discover Zen on his own but
was mentored by a woman master named Prajnatara, who has been called the
Mother of Zen. After her passing, Bodhidharma heeded her wishes and went to
China some time between 400 and 500 CE. Why? China had thousands of Buddhist monks at that time, but none of
them was enlightened. The central theme of his teachings, dutifully copied by many monks,
is quite clear. Here it is in simple English:
Zen is the pathway to discovering your own self-nature and finding
knowledge stored deep inside you, knowledge that you were born with.
Your self-nature is what you are and who you are at the deepest level
of your being. It goes far deeper than who your ego thinks you are. You cannot discover your
self-nature by thinking or by intellectual introspection. Instead, that
discovery requires stilling the conscious mind and going deep within
yourself, chiefly by practicing Zen meditation. Discovering your self-nature is
usually the first step toward Enlightenment.
In the centuries since Zen was discovered and subsequently taught, many
teachers and practitioners have written volumes, lovingly adorning Zen with
many complications. But Zen itself is very simple. That is why we like to
call it Original Zen. Following the path of Original Zen allows you, if you
so choose, to
ignore as much of the literature and lore as you wish. All you have to do is
start your own meditative practice. And then follow it consistently. Later,
as your practice develops, you may want to read and study as much of the
history of Zen and Zen Buddhism as you like. Also, it is useful to learn about the practices and
discoveries of other practitioners of Zen.