What is Zen? Studying the Way

by | Dec 8, 2016

To study the Buddha Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be actualized by the myriad things. When actualized by the myriad things, your body and mind as well as the bodies and minds of others drop away.


These words come from the Zen master Eihei Dogen, a Japanese teacher who lived from 1200-1253.  The quote above is an excerpt from his writing called Genjokoan (Actualizing the Fundamental Point).

Zen is often referred to as the Buddha Way, or the Way.  Zen is not so much a thing or an idea, but the whole-hearted investigation into your own life. Investigating the life that you are living and experiencing directly, in this moment.  In practice this usually starts with seated meditation.  Dogen is advising us on how to practice the Way and he is also giving us a taste of the fruit of practice.

Forget the Self –loosening the grip on who you think you are

  • Actualize-to make a reality of
  • Myriad Things-countless beings, an infinite number of causes and conditions
  • Body and Mind Drop Away-no separation between self and other; seeing through the delusion of a separate me, a separate you.

Master Dogen didn’t make this stuff up, he is simply commenting on the direct experience of his life.  He is expressing something that cannot be pinned down with words.  His experiences within the Zen tradition have been affirmed by his teachers, and they are still being affirmed by all Buddhas of the past, present and future.  His words point to the natural outcome of this simple practice of sitting down and being still, being quite and paying attention.  It is important to note, that writing about Zen is like pointing at the Moon.  The finger pointing is not the thing itself.

Simply put, Zen, the Way, is the activity of paying attention to your life, in this moment.  Paying attention to the life that you are actually living.  Just this moment, just this breath, just this.

Thank you.