Find your Zen

By Alyssa Sepulveda, Staff Writer

We are constantly searching for something outside of ourselves to help us figure out who we truly are. But have we ever stopped to think that all we need is already within us? 

Let me explain to you what I mean. In Western culture, our society is very much focused on the concept of materialism, and the more things we have, the happier we will be. As a result, we have built our foundation of being around our external lives and what we have experienced.  

While our external reality does influence our patterns and the images that we have of ourselves and others, that is not all there is to us. One of life’s biggest lessons is learning to have faith in ourselves to reach our deepest potential to figure out who we are. And according to Buddhism, we are all potential Buddhas even if we don’t know it, already enlightened and unlocked to our fullest potential. All we have to do is to uncover our Buddha nature.  

This semester, I’m in this class called “Buddhist Christian Exploration” taught by Professor Won-Jae Hur. So far, we are learning about different traditions of Buddhism, and one that has stood out to me the most is Zen Buddhism. Taking this class has made me shift my perspective on how Western culture has taught us about who we are, rather than who we truly are. 

Now, I’m not saying that you have to become a Buddhist to become who you’re meant to be, but I think implementing some principles and practices of Zen Buddhism can possibly help us on our way — or path — there.  

In life, it can be hard to focus on our inner lives when we are faced with the stress of paying bills, our jobs, doing homework, climate change, maintaining relationships or war. But according to Zen Buddhist tradition, if we are able to shift our perspective and not limit ourselves in the midst of our suffering, we can let go of our illusions and see that we can create our own reality. 

Along with everything in life, though, changing our perspective requires action and effort. We must push past our patterns and the stories we tell ourselves in order to improve our lives and how we relate to others and the world around us.  

With that comes discipline. We must always focus our minds to the present moment, and we can do this through meditation. While meditation is traditionally performed in a seated position, the Zen tradition of Buddhism emphasizes how meditation can be done in ordinary living, from washing dishes to walking across the street. 

In Western society, it seems that we are always on the go; incorporating this type of wisdom practice is useful because it allows us to take meditation wherever we go and wherever we’re at in our lives.  

It can be easy to fall out of these habits, to stay present in every moment and meditate, because life is unpredictable. Frankly, sometimes it is easier to stay comfortable living the way we have always lived because it is all we know. When we meditate, it forces us to face long-established habits of thought, feelings and perceptions, and not all of them are pleasant. Nonetheless, we must look inward with courage and insight to improve our lives for the better, even if it may be difficult, tedious or scary.  

This is when skillful means comes into play. Within the Zen tradition, the doctrine of skillful means is a way of teaching people that meets them where they are at in any situation. Whether we are in a bad or good place mentally or knocked off of our path, we can use any situation in our life to find our deepest potential.  

So, look at your life. Look at all you have experienced and how it has shaped your mind and image of yourself. 

Do you like what you see? As said by the wise Tsokyni Rinpoche, life is a challenge, but it is also an opportunity. Whatever circumstances we face, we have the ability to learn and grow from them if we are willing to look beyond what we have been taught and instead look inward. All the answers we need are already in us. The only thing to figure out is: Are you willing to ask yourself the important questions?