Zazen is a spiritual practice that finds its origin in the life and experiences of Shakyamuni Buddha, an Indian prince who lived some five hundred years before the common era. At the age of 29, Shakyamuni left his home to seek an answer to the problems of suffering, old age, and death. He wondered if there wasn’t a way to find true happiness in spite of these inescapable facts of human existence. Not finding an answer in prolonged ascetic practice, he decided to sit down and meditate until he realized the truth. After six years of dedicated practice, he looked up one morning at Venus shining brightly in the dawning sky and suddenly came to a great realization. Wonder of wonders! Everything is the same essential nature. What a pity that people don’t realize this because of their delusive views of self and other, he exclaimed. For forty-nine years following this experience, Shakyamuni, now called “Buddha” or “Awakened One” taught people about the nature of the True Fact and how they could attain the same realization.
The practice of zazen that we do today has developed out of the teaching and experience of Buddha. It leads to an experiential understanding of our true self. Many people begin to practice because they want to find peace of mind or a way out of suffering, and these are sufficient and legitimate motives for beginning. Although zazen demands discipline, if you persevere, you will find that it will, indeed, help bring more simplicity and peace in your life.
Pursue it long enough, though, and you may be surprised to find that ultimately the practice of zazen totally upsets your familiar worldview and idea of yourself. It does not simply offer a bit of solace to help make life easier. When faithfully pursued, it radically cuts through our present understanding of ourselves and of life. It leads to the experience of what is Real and to deep joy and peace. Zen practice clarifies the jewel of our existence.