Ten Profound Truths I Have Learned From My Zen Master

Shinzan and Daizan Roshi

Ten Profound Truths I Have Learned From My Zen Master

When we let go we let come

Learning detachment, cultivating the ability to loosen our grip over people, situations, outcomes and possessions is one of the most profound things we can do for both ourselves and others. When we let go of the need to control. When we are generous with our time and our money, without expecting anything in return. When we show up in the world in a helpful and kind way with no expectations of what that will do for us. When we embrace this way of living every day, our lives can begin to blossom in unexpected ways.

Don’t allow the things we own to own us.

There is nothing wrong with having dreams or working hard to buy things to own, the trick is not to invest too much energy or value on those things so they then in fact end up owning us.  In Buddhism we are taught that we if aren’t careful possessions can eventually cause us suffering.  What I mean by that is it bodes well to cultivate a balance between enjoying the benefits and happiness that something may bring us, but we must learn not to place too much energy or value in things outside of ourselves always providing us with a sense of joy, because if we do so, eventually when an item or possession breaks, or it gets lost, or it gets stolen it can cause us immense suffering.   

Change is a universal law, don’t resist it.

Change is inevitable. Nothing is permanent or a solid fixed object, and that includes ourselves as human beings.  We are born, we grow old and then we die. When we look closely enough we learn that the universe is in fact made up of a series of ‘processes’. Everything is in a constant state of change. You aren’t the same person you were when you started reading this post a few moments ago, tiny biological changes have occurred in your body, you are a few moments older, you may have learned something new. Our unhappiness so often occurs through our resistance to change, and yet we cannot prevent change. When we learn to embrace change without any resistance, we discover a new sense of freedom.    

Enlightened Action Leaves No Wake

If we learn to act skilfully, even in times of challenge, even when we feel irritated, angry, sad or triggered our skilful action will leave no wake on the world. In other words, the way we behave will not cause harm or suffering to others. This is a lifelong skill to learn, we are human after all. It takes immense practise and I am still very much a work in progress on this front, but what I have found is that this practise starts with getting to know yourself on such a deep level, that you begin to not only become aware of all of your ‘stuff’. Your patterns of behavior, your quirks, your inner workings shall we say. When we do this, over time, we can become more skilful in how we present ourselves in the world, how we show up each day.

Happiness begins with serving others

It’s scientifically proven that helping and serving others increases our own levels of happiness. When we learn to show up in the world as a helpful and giving person this brings benefit to others, but also to ourselves. Be generous with your time, energy, love and kindness when it comes to others. Give freely and without expectation of getting anything in return. Cultivate an open hearted approach to everyone you meet, including those who challenge you and watch how your sense of worth and happiness increase.

Compassion Must Always Start with Self-Compassion

To understand the true meaning of compassion we must be able to begin with cultivating our own self-compassion first. The word compassion often gets confused with kindness or loving kindness. Compassion actually means the wish for others to be free from their suffering. Or to be able to sit with others pain or suffering. What my teacher has taught me is that to truly be able to show up in the world with the strength to hold or relieve others from their suffering, I must first learn to sit with my own.  Zen practise is focused heavily on self-enquiry. We are cultivating the courage to truly sit with ourselves and face all of the things we carry. All of the painful and difficult stuff. I of course have discovered this is hard, but it’s also deeply profound work.  When we learn to truly acknowledge and work through all of the stuff we carry, we are then able to show up in the world in a way that enables us to support others to do the same.

Nature teaches us all we need to know

If you want to learn some profound life lessons, look to nature. She is a powerful and wise teacher. She can open our eyes to embracing change, letting go, growth and development, patience and resilience. All of it, all of life’s lesson are there to be witnessed amongst the trees, the mountains, the oceans and our skies. We just need to take the time to be openly aware of all that she has to teach us.

If you want understand the concept of oneness look at your dog

This is one of the most profound teachings my Zen Master gave me. If I want to understand the meaning of being at one with all that is, observe dogs. The next time you are out with your dog or you meet a dog on your travels, observe how the dog interacts with his surroundings and his experience of what he is experiencing. Dogs brains don’t get in the way of what they are experiencing, they just experience life as it is. What I mean by that is when a dog is out in the fields sniffing the grass, it isn’t thinking about the fact he is out in the fields sniffing the grass, he is just experiencing it. He is engrossed in his experience of that exact moment without trying to analyse it, change it or question it.  Dogs, cats and all animals in fact are the perfect masters of oneness, they experience the world around them with complete acceptance, engrossed fully in each moment exactly how it is.

All of the emotions we deem as negative, stem from fear.

Fear is the root of all of the emotions we deem as negative. Anger, greed, jealousy, aversion, hatred, sadness, worry and anxiety, when we have the courage to look more deeply at the root behind these feelings, we can always see more clearly that somewhere these emotions all arise from fear. Fear of not having control, fear of not being liked or loved, fear of not being worthy, fear of not being accepted, respected, valued, fear of not having what someone else has or fear of change. The list is endless.  When we cultivate this understanding and take time to explore our emotions more deeply, our relationship with our feelings and emotions can begin to shift and we can become more friendly with our fears.

The best thing we can do for others is to work on ourselves, we turn the torch back to ourselves.

It took me a long time to really understand the depth of this truth. If we truly want to help others we must continue to always, always work on ourselves. What I mean by that is we must learn to really get to know the person we truly are, the person we are when everything else is stripped away. If I asked you right now ‘Who are you?’ What would you say?  You may tell me your name, the job you do, the fact you’re married with two kids. You may proudly tell me you about your nice house, or your nice car, your beautiful dog.  But all of those things aren’t you.  Yes they are of course things you may have achieved in your life or enjoy experiencing, but all of those things are things that are outside of yourself (and many of them are just things our ego craves in order to feel successful in life.) Working on yourself is about exploring who you are on a much deeper level. It’s about focusing all of our attention inwards, not outwards. Having the courage to explore and acknowledge our patterns, our triggers, our limited thinking about ourselves or others, our pain, our suffering, our judgements, our past conditioning. Ultimately from a Zen perspective, it’s simply about learning to see exactly where we a stuck. Then through our daily practise we gently learn how to approach it all with this gentle curiosity, with kindness and ultimately we begin to soften our grip and gradually let go of everything that is restricting our ability to live our life with more openness, kindness and happiness.