“The Zen the can be explained is not the true Zen.”
But I will make an attempt anyway…

We all seem to have an idea of what Zen Buddhism is. Contrary to popular belief, Zen is not necessarily just about being blissed out or euphoric. It is about seeing ‘what is’ more clearly, like cleaning the windshield of your car, or polishing the mirror. It’s about owning your thoughts and emotions without being them, then dealing with what comes up, moment by moment. If you’re angry, be angry. No one ‘made’ you angry, that was the response you chose. You can also choose how and when you express that anger or how you channel it…

Zen is a sect of Buddhism, one of the world’s oldest religions. Buddhism originated in India, with the enlightenment of Buddha under the Bodhi tree. It is believed that after his death he chose to come back (reincarnation) to help others work towards enlightenment rather than dwell in nirvana. The Buddha is not God but an awakened one who can help us all to achieve that state of being fully awake. We are all Buddhas in the making, somewhere along the path to enlightenment.

Buddhism moved through India, then across China where it melded with Taoism. From there it migrated to Japan, where a branch of Buddhism based on rigorous contemplative meditation became ‘Zen’. Zen came to America in the 1930’s from Japan. Many were introduced to Zen Buddhism when Japanese teacher and Roshi DT Suzuki opened the first Buddhist Zendo in the US and then wrote his classic book Zen Mind, Beginners Mind. Zen entered the mainstream consciousness in the 1960’s with scholars such as prolific author of Eastern philosophy Allan Watts, beat poet Allan Ginsberg and then Gary Snyder, and with musicians like John Cage and Leonard Cohen.

Zen is now not only practiced as a religion but as a philosophy. It is widely studied by many as a guide for mindful living by people of many faiths. There is a strong history and tradition of Zen practice among Jews and there are numerous Rabbis as well as Christian clergy that are also serious Zen practitioners, and not seen by them as a contradiction to their faith but rather an enhancement.

Some essential concepts:
– The Zen that can be explained (or taught or read about) is not the true Zen
– Understanding can only come from direct experience (contemplation, meditation)
– Essence: being fully present, aware and awake
– Experiencing fully the continuing and unfolding present moment
– Learned by sitting zazen (Zen meditation or “facing the wall”)
– Zen has little emphasis on achieving enlightenment or Nirvana like other Buddhist sects
– Everything, including ourselves, is impermanent
– Everything is interconnected
– Central concepts: Impermanence. Interconnectedness.
– Buddha is not ‘God’ but an enlightened or “awakened” being
– Buddha chose reincarnation to come back to teach others

The Buddha taught “The Four Noble Truths
1) To be human is to experience suffering
2) Suffering comes from cravings and attachments
3) Cessation of suffering is attainable
4) Understanding impermanence and practicing meditation leads to cessation of suffering

The 3 Treasures of Zen:
– The Buddha
– The Dharma (teachings)
– Sangha (community)

The Eightfold Path
1) Right View
2) Right Intention
3) Right speech
4) Right Action
5) Right Livelihood
6) Right Effort
7) Right Mindfulness
8) Right Concentration
How can we apply these to our photography?

Zen Koan. A traditional method of helping students understand Zen. A question given by the Zen master, or Roshi, that the answer cannot be found by thinking and logic.
These could be great photo assignments!

Evolution of the term “Zen in the Art of Photography”:
Zen in the Art of Archery, Eugen Herrigel, 1953
– Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Robert Pirsig, 1974
– Zen in the Art of…everything! 1990’s overuse

Photographers who embraced Zen:
– The photography and teaching of Minor White (in the shadow of Ansel Adams)
– Minor Whites’s students and followers like Paul Caponigro, George Tice, Wynn Bullock
– John Daido Loori, Roshi of Zen Mountain Monastery, was also a student of Minor White
©Douglas Beasley 2013