Seven Principles of Zen Buddhism That Can Improve Your Life

Zen Buddhism brings to mind images of orange-clad men with shaven heads sitting in a meditation pose or peaceful ponds full of lotus flowers. However it is also a philosophy of life and inner development that can assist greatly in your day-to-day life. Here are seven principles of Zen that can benefit your life.

1. Quiet Your Mind

Before you can get started on some of the other steps of applying Zen to your daily life you need to quiet your mind. This doesn’t mean that you need to sit under a tree meditating all day, although that can be great, too. What it does mean is to start by cutting down on all the white noise from television and the car radio to checking your phone constantly or texting while you brush your teeth. In addition, try to focus a bit less on what you have and just be. Once you can help cut down all the sources of buzz around you then you may find your mind quietens down a little and prepares you for the next step.¹

2. Focus On One Thing At A Time

You may have heard a lot of buzz about the virtues of multi-tasking, but if you want to get more Zen you should do the opposite. Focus on one thing at a time and slow down. Don’t overanalyze or try to be all spiritual or deep – not at first, anyway. Just simply try to take things one step at a time whether that is making toast or sweeping the floor or calling a friend. Don’t check messages while you wait for the toast to pop, just wait for it. Don’t sweep the floor while talking to your friend, just talk to your friend – and so on.²

3. Reduce Judgments

Everything we do in life from deciding whether to eat an orange or a steak is a judgment. At the same time, however, there are healthy and unhealthy judgments. Instead of reacting to our instinctive emotions and thoughts about others – or even ourselves – try to cultivate satipatthana or emotional awareness. Refrain from excessive or negative judgment. Not everyone has to experience or think the way you do. In particular do not give in to feelings of pride or superiority; others who you may have been taught are bad from different political or cultural traditions are flawed people just like you.³

4. Ritualize

This is related to step one. In Zen ritual is important and you can bring this mentality to your daily life in positive ways as well. Even ordinary household tasks or reading or making food can become a ritual. Waking up and washing your face can become a ritual as you carefully fold a towel by the sink the night before and splash your face in a certain way. You can schedule your daily activities in a conscientious and ritualized way. If this sounds a bit like obsessive-compulsive disorder behavior it’s not: you choose voluntarily to do daily tasks ritualistically and within certain timeframes as part of a discipline and conscious choice, not out of any compulsion, desire for reward or mental anxiety.²

5. Soul Cleanse

Cleansing your soul is very related to step one of cutting down outside noise and confusion, but is slightly more proactive. Instead of only cutting out the outside interference, wash your soul in the tranquility of meditation, simple physical tasks, crafts or even playing music. Cleanse your soul and body from constantly being a slave to your desires and appetites of the moment and spend time in nature observing its rhythms and beauty. Breathe in the scent of the forest and focus on the gurgling of the small stream. Your soul will thank you and you will find increased mental, emotional and physical clarity and energy.¹

6. Become Comfortable With Yourself

As you quiet your mind, cleanse your soul, ritualize and reduce judgments, you will find yourself simultaneously becoming more comfortable and self-sufficient. You won’t need outside distraction or constant stimulation. You can just be you, and become increasingly comfortable being around you. Sure, you’ll still love having company, but the truth is that the more comfortable you become around yourself the more you will also have to give to interpersonal relationships and family as well.²

7. The Two Arrows

The two arrows is a useful parable about how to deal with the pain and disappointments of life. The first arrow is the physical and emotional pain of hardship, the second arrow is the pain of how we respond and react to the first. When we try to run away from pain and disappointment through addictions, pleasure, denial, anger or many other methods we create what the Buddha called dukkha or suffering. Our desires and fears that we cling to as well as our expectations can lead down a dark trail of increased suffering. Become conscious of your evasions and addictions and accept them, then slowly cease to do them, instead fully letting those matters which are outside your control be what they are and doing what you can to improve the areas of your life and internal reactions that you have control over.³