How does Zen work? Examining Buddhist Tradition and Practice

An ancient Buddhist practice known as Zen was introduced in the 13th century by the great philosopher Dōgen. You can find all the information you need about Zen’s ancient practice if you’re interested in meditation, so take a look.

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Bitely Team
Last update:calendarApr 20, 2024
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How does Zen work? Examining Buddhist Tradition and Practice

An ancient Buddhist practice known as Zen was introduced in the 13th century by the great philosopher Dōgen. You can find all the information you need about Zen’s ancient practice if you’re interested in meditation, so take a look.


Zen — What Does It Mean?


The term ‘Zen’ has been misunderstood in 21st-century Western society. Many people mistake Zen for a state of extreme relaxation, but it is an ancient Buddhist practice that millions of people around the world follow. A practice that focuses on nonduality, that is, all things are neither entirely independent nor wholly separate from one another, emphasizes nonduality with an emphasis on being determined and dedicated. Meditation aims to alleviate the suffering of the mind.


Teaching, practice, and enlightenment are the three pillars of Zen philosophy. According to Zen theory, enlightenment is about helping others, and the path to enlightenment is accepting suffering rather than fighting it.


There is still a tradition of practicing Zen daily at the Sōtō retreat and elsewhere in Japan. However, this meditation type emphasizes simplicity: no objects are used.


It is essential to understand that Zen is a skill that is particularly difficult to master; it is something that requires one to focus inward and to find the purest version of oneself by turning inward.


What books are best for learning about Zen?


We’ve collected the best meditation, mindfulness, and purpose books here on Bitely. The following books promote Zen as a vital part of life:


The Way of Zen by Alan W. Watts


In this book, Alan Watts traces the history and evolution of Zen from its nascence through Indian philosophy, metaphysics, and early Buddhist thinking to its current form.


The author explores the art of meditation and the importance of incorporating Zen into our daily lives through meditation. He tries to introduce a Western audience to this Eastern philosophy by arguing that we are nothing other than what we perceive of the world as we know it — which means that we are nothing except what we perceive.


A firm believer in Zen meditation’s power, Watts believes it can make a positive difference in our everyday lives. A fundamental belief underpins the entire book. Buddhism is neither a religion nor a philosophy; it is neither psychology nor a science. Instead, it exemplifies what Indians and Chinese call a ‘way of liberation.


The essence of meditation is seeing the world for what it is. As a result, mental stillness can be achieved. Among Zen practitioners, meditation purifies and cleanses the mind, which can become clouded over time. It is foolish to pursue happiness alone. Alan W. Watts writes that we cannot appreciate true happiness without sadness. Avoiding pain is impossible; it’s just one aspect of pleasure.


Feelings cannot be changed. Regardless of how we perceive them, we will value them in some way, even if we are not initially aware of them, because they are natural products of our world and society.


A world where destinations are increasingly disconnected from each other, a world that values ‘getting from here to there quickly becomes a world of no substance.


Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig


Over five million copies have been sold worldwide since the book was published. As a fictionalized biography, the book explores Plato’s famous concept of reality by challenging the ‘metaphysics of quality.’


Working outward from one’s heart, head, and hands is the first step toward improving the world.


Pirsig’s synthesis of the spiritual, artistic, and scientific disciplines under an overarching umbrella is a metaphysics of quality. An example of this would be Zen, art, and motorcycle maintenance. As the author (representing himself) and his son travel by motorcycle, the story follows his father’s (representing him) journey. Besides the father, a third protagonist, Phaedrus, is an intellectual preoccupied with quality.


Pirsig sees no issue with physical objects (the motorcycle), as they symbolize how we should live. Other thinkers and practitioners of Zen are concerned about connecting directly with objects (the motorcycle). Phaedrus stresses the importance of fully engaging in any activity to attain happiness, a Zen philosophy. By aligning Eastern and Western values in this book, Pirsig aims to bring them into harmony.

Telling someone he is ungrateful is calling him a derogatory term. You haven’t resolved anything.


Engagement is Pirsig’s primary method for feeling fulfilled. It is a prerequisite for excellence, regardless of what or with whom you engage. He describes the opposite as a gumption trap, which is poor engagement. Excellence comes from dedication, practice, and drive. We should strive to exceed our expectations and have high ideals for ourselves.


Just as Zen philosophy emphasizes journeys over final destinations, Pirsig also emphasizes journeys over final destinations. Therefore, it is essential to view actions as unique events, not as a means toward an end.


Abandoning rigid values is necessary. Pirsig emphasizes the importance of adaptability and changing one's values as one goes along. A commitment to one’s past values may hinder change.


An Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D. T. Suzuki


Daisetzu Teitaro Suzuki, the author of this book, is known worldwide as a man credited with bringing Zen to the West. This little book was among the earliest to appear in English on the subject, making it one of the oldest books on the subject. Carl Jung, a renowned Swiss psychiatrist, prefaces the book, making it even more intriguing.



For Westerners, the concept of Zen is complicated to grasp. It contains many paradoxes, and you must remove logic from it to understand it.

D. T. Suzuki wrote this book to provide Westerners with an understanding of Zen. Reading this book is an excellent place to start your exploration of this way of thinking.


Satori (realizing your true nature, attaining enlightenment) is one of the basic Zen concepts described in the book. Suzuki also explains the function of a Zen koan in practice. In this section, students are given short irrational anecdotes that will challenge them and help them better understand Zen.


Suzuki summarizes Zen’s teachings prominently and concisely, which is the book’s main point. Zen does not teach anything. Instead, it is your mind that teaches you everything about Zen. Therefore, accessing your inner thoughts is the key to Zen.

Let’s recap!


  1. Without being misled by logic or language, Zen attempts to understand life’s meaning directly.
  2. Zen leads to spontaneity and complete freedom through intense discipline if appropriately practiced.
  3. The only way to enlightenment is from within.
  4. Philosophies of thought that place a high value on reason are arguable ‘anti-philosophies’ in Zen.
  5. Zen acknowledges that the body and mind are connected but not the same.


Are you feeling inspired? You can find further information on anything and everything you are interested in with Bitely’s collection of book summaries — from productivity tips to science, technology, and business.

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