Zen is short for Zen Buddhism. It is often referred to as a religion while also being called a philosophy. A true practitioners of Zen would tell you to choose whichever term you like, that it does not matter. Zen Buddhism originated with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, a young prince in India who renounced his life of privilege to find understanding. After six years of asceticism he reached enlightenment and was afterwards known as Buddha. Essential Zen by Kazuaki Tanahashi and Tensho David Schneider attempts to offer a variety of stories, sayings, poems and thoughts that strike at the essence of Zen. After reading the book, one might say the best answer regarding what is the essence of Zen would be practice. For words and sentences have little meaning in Zen because they are viewed as having now fixed meaning. Logic is irrelevant. The principles of Zen are very applicable to modern society, including modern western society. If we examine some of the offerings in Essential Zen we can get an understanding of the core principles of Zen while also seeing their applicability and usefulness to modern American life.
If we look at Christianity, we trace a code of principles of living back to the Ten Commandments. However, the code of conduct practiced through Zen is much more about the internal being and its connection to the external environment, both that of others, nature and the universe. Looking at some of the “Sayings of a Zen Master” we can glimpse some of the principles of Zen, such as selflessness, tolerance, nonjudgmental thinking, acceptance of the good and the bad as part of the whole, and rejection of materialism:
Don’t hope for life without problems. An easy life results in a judgmental and lazy mind. So an ancient once said, “Accept the anxieties and difficulties of this life.”
Don’t expect your practice to be always clear of obstacles. Without hindrances the mind that seeks enlighten...