Zen is a practice of awareness based on meditation, focusing on the present moment. Whilst easy to like, it is difficult to understand, and even harder to practise because Zen centres on experiencing the present moment with an empty mind, which in her book entitled Eastern Wisdom, Priya Hemenway describes like this:
[The] empty mind is not an irresponsible mind, nor is it a vacant or a hollow mind; it is a mind that has relinquished the need to reconceptualize and has thus become free to respond spontaneously. With an empty mind, the practitioner of Zen experiences the richness of life one moment at a time without any fear of the past or concern about the future.
Like Zen, Sant Mat philosophy also stresses the importance of living in the moment. As explained in Living Meditation, “Outside the moment, life is suffering.” By dwelling on the past we’re liable to focus on disappointments while in thinking about the future, we are creating new desires and sowing the seeds for future karma. This is why both Zen and Sant Mat emphasize focusing on the present moment by repeating simran and practicing meditation. When our attention is in the now, it is difficult for us to be trapped by our own mind; we eliminate the ego’s need to inflate its importance by living constantly off memories of the past or fears for the future. The present moment is the most valuable thing there is. As the author of Living Meditation concludes, by living in the moment, “we are empowered to become serene witnesses of our own lives while we engage with and fulfill our own responsibilities.”
Elaborating further on Zen, Hemenway states:
To live in Zen is to live in meditation and to be constantly aware of the nature of mind. The continual preferences for and against this and that, yesterday and tomorrow are simply a disease of the mind. The practice of Zen is to recognize the disease, catch hold of it, and let it go.
The preceding quotation is similar to a central tenet of Sant Mat philosophy, namely, stilling the mind in order to reconnect with Shabd. The “disease” Hemenway is referring to is, as the author of From Self to Shabd put it, our “addiction to thinking.” Regardless of whether our thoughts are “positive” or “negative,” both keep us in the realm of maya, thereby keeping our attention away from the eye centre. Thus, the Zen idea of living in the present moment could be viewed as analogous to eradicating the habit of compulsive thinking. This, in turn, will render the mind motionless, enabling us to go deep within ourselves and realize we are Shabd.
Bodhidharma’s disciple, Sosan, distills Zen’s notion of an empty mind as follows:
Zen is not difficult for those who have no preferences.
When love and hate are both absent
everything becomes clear and undisguised.
Make the smallest distinction, however,
and heaven and earth are set infinitely apart.
If you wish to see the truth
then hold no opinions for or against anything.
The struggle with what one likes and dislikes is a disease of the mind.