Zen is a Japanese school of Buddhism, of 12th-century Chinese origin, teaching that contemplation of one’s essential nature to the exclusion of all else is the only path to pure enlightenment. It is a philosophy of life, promoting self-discipline through insight, self-awareness and mindfulness, both of the self and others. Buddhism, simply put, sees the body and personal identity as a ‘block’ to spiritual enlightenment.
Zen meditation helps an individual to understand that the soul or spirit is a separate entity from the body, and that illness or disease is merely a process attached to the material world and not to the self. It encourages a joyful acceptance of the impermanent nature of existence, leading to contemplation of the ‘reality of emptiness’, and complete freedom and transcendence of suffering. Concern for others and the development of compassion are also crucial aspects of the Buddhist philosophy. Of the many approaches to Buddhism, Zen is anti-rational, teaching an acceptance of ordinary life and encouraging direct experience. Zen influences daily life through zazen , and encourages correct nutrition, hygiene and exercise.
Zen is perhaps the most well-known form of Buddhism in the West. More information can be obtained from Buddhist Centres which show how Zen practice can be suited to modern living. They offer meditation and study programmes through classes, workshops and retreats.