For those who don’t know anything about Zen or general Buddhist philosophy, here is a short introduction.
Zen is a Japanese school of Buddhism that emphasizes the focus on inner peace. While Buddhism can be considered a religion, it is more a life philosophy. It is a way of living that is compatible with other religions. I consider myself a Buddhist Christian for example. Buddhism is based on the verbal teachings of Siddhārtha Gautama, the Buddha. He was a spiritual leader that examined the problem of human suffering and how to achieve freedom from it. Most of his teachings were identical to those of Jesus or even Muhammad in later centuries. Buddhism just presents a more systematized “how-to” than the guidelines Jesus and Muhammad laid out.
He taught the Four Noble Truths, the basis of all Buddhist schools.
1) Suffering exists
2) Suffering is caused by identifiable sources
3) Suffering and its causes can be stopped
4) There is a path to stopping suffering and its causes.
Suffering is a result of our misconceptions about reality. We view life as permanent. When things die or break we become upset and suffer. Basically, we suffer because of how we think about things. We reduce our suffering by shifting how we think about reality through meditation techniques. This is not to say that pain and death won’t effect us once we become free from suffering. They are absolute facts of existence. However, we can learn to accept these facts and not lose our inner peace.
We are naturally peaceful. We only lose touch with that natural calm over time. Acceptance that everything is broken, that all relationships have already ceased, and we are already dead can sound morbid. Really, realizing that everything is impermanent, that they will break, end, and die, allows us to embrace life more fully.
This is just a very, very brief summary of the foundation of Buddhism. If you are interested in learning more about the details of the philosophy check out “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” by Thich Nhat Hanh.