Zen is an ancient philosophy steeped in centuries-old wisdom and tradition. The sacredness of the student-teacher bond is exceedingly important in Zen – and fortunately for our modern times, there still exist many insightful teachers who draw from Buddhism and Zen lore to show us the way to enlightenment
For example, when asked by a group of students what surprised him most about humanity in general, the Dalai Lama offered a Zen-inspired reply – “man,” he said.
“Man surprised me most about humanity. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
The concept of “living in the present” is hugely important in Zen tradition. When we let the past and the future interfere with our enjoyment of what we have right now, we get discord and confusion – the result of which must be a process of healing and meditation, according to Buddhist nun Pema Chodron.
“We think that the point is to pass the test or overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don't really get solved. They come together and they fall apart. Then they come together again and fall apart again. It's just like that. The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
Zen also teaches that no matter how much confusion is present in our lives, there is always room for hope. And some teachers, like Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, would even argue that the greater an individual’s struggle, the sweeter their enlightenment. On hope, he says:
“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”
Again, we return to the concept of the present moment. All that we have, all that we are, exists only in this moment before us – and that, says American Zen writer Peter Matthiessen, is the ultimate key to happiness.
“In this very breath that we take now lies the secret that all great teachers try to tell us. “