Zen Uncovered: How the Zen Experience Enhances Meditation and Mindfulness

Mayumi Folio
Mayumi Folio

Zen is one of Japan’s most representative philosophies.

Zen is attracting attention in various settings around the world.

In this issue

– I have a vague idea of what Zen is, but I am not sure if I can explain it to a foreigner who asks me about it.

– What is the difference between Zen and mindfulness, which we often hear about these days?

– What kind of Zen experiences are recommended for foreigners?

I will explain Zen to those who want to know more about Zen and to those who want to tell foreigners more about Zen, focusing on points such as the following

What is Zen philosophy?

History of Zen Philosophy

The word Zen comes from the Sanskrit word dhyana, meaning “a state in which the mind is no longer agitated.

Zen Buddhism is a branch of Mahayana Buddhism that originated with Daruma, a Buddhist priest who came to China from southern India.

Master Daruma practiced zazen for nine years at Shorinji Temple.

He created the Zen school of Zen Buddhism, which is a way of moving toward enlightenment by learning about the hearts and minds of his students through direct contact with them, rather than relying on scriptures or written texts.

The Rinzai school, founded by Rinzai Gigen, and the Soto school, founded by Obaku, were born from the teachings of the great Zen master.

In China, Zen Buddhism declined during the Ming dynasty (1368-1644), but in Japan, it developed in accordance with the times and has remained alive in the Japanese people’s unique view of life and death until the present day.

Zen Buddhism came to Japan between the Nara and Heian periods, and pure Zen Buddhism was introduced in the Kamakura period (1185-1333).

After the Meiji Restoration, D.T. Suzuki introduced Japanese Zen to the world.

Zen philosophy

So what exactly is Zen thought?

To understand the entrance to Zen, let us look at the word “furyuumonji,” which is at the root of Zen thought.

The word “furyuumonji” means “to teach and transmit through experience of practice, apart from teachings in scriptures and texts.

It has the meaning of

To find enlightenment through furyumonji.

To become aware of the Buddha within oneself and to be in a state of letting go of all attachments, both body and mind.

There are two important ideas in Zen thought: Hanya and Daihi.

Hanya is “transcendental wisdom.

Hanya, or wisdom, enables one to see beyond the phenomenal expression of things and decipher their reality.

Daihi is love and compassion, which allows love to extend to all things without selfish hindrance.

When we attain Hanya (wisdom), we are able to penetrate the world of life and its fundamental meaning, and we are no longer bothered by personal gain or pain.

Then Daihi (compassion) will be able to act freely.

It is a generous mind that stands on the empty values of “non-living, non-perishable, non-purifying, non-increasing, non-reducing,” that forgives and recognizes others who are different from oneself and makes them one with oneself.

To cross the distance and boundary between oneself and others, one must empty oneself.

This is the other name for Zen or Kokoro.

Reference book: Zen and Japanese Culture, summarized from D. T. Suzuki

Reference site: Myoshinji Temple, Daihonzan Myoshinji Temple of the Myoshinji School of Rinzai Zen Buddhism:

Zen practice

Zen refers to the practice of identifying the true nature of things and the way they are, and preparing the mind to respond correctly to them.

In order to achieve this state, one performs and trains in order to attain it.

The basic Zen practices to reach enlightenment are “zazen practice,” “koan,” and “samu.

Zazen practice involves sitting in zazen meditation, breathing and mindfulness, and diving deep into the consciousness of the ego.

The koan is a study subject that helps practitioners attain enlightenment.

Zen practice also includes cleaning and cooking, which is called samu.

The samu is very close to the daily habits of everyday life, so even ordinary people can become aware of Zen in their daily lives, rather than practicing it as a full-fledged form of Zen.

Soto Zen: How to do Zazen:

Zen and Japanese Culture


When Zen Buddhism was introduced to Japan, it spread widely throughout the country, from the samurai to the common people.

The Muromachi Shogunate began to protect and control Zen Buddhism in particular, and Zen temples were built throughout Japan.

Zen thought was not limited to practice and ideology, but also led to the development of a unique Japanese aesthetic based on Zen thought, which in turn led to ink painting, calligraphy, gardens, architecture, and the Sado (Tea ceremony).

Zen philosophy has been alive and well in a variety of fields, and has given birth to the beauty and values that are uniquely Japanese.

Zen has deeply permeated the entire Japanese people, from their sense of beauty and thought to their lifestyle.

In this way, Zen became the backbone of Japanese culture.

Zen and Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs is probably the first famous foreigner who comes to mind as having been influenced by Zen thought.

It is said that Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, was greatly influenced by Zen philosophy.

In particular, he deeply revered the Soto Zen monk Hirofumi Otogawa of the San Francisco Zendo Buddhist Center in the U.S., with whom he had a very deep relationship and even held his wedding ceremony in a Soto Zen temple.

During the time between their exile from Apple, Jobs and Otogawa spent a lot of time together, and they both learned Zen philosophy and teachings from him.

His Zen philosophy can be seen throughout Apple’s products, which are based on stripped-down design and functionality.

Zen is also found throughout Jobs’s books and lectures, and he incorporated Zen into his lifestyle as well.

Bunshun Online《Zen Means Sweeping and Cleansing》Words from the Japanese monk who saved S. Jobs from a messy relationship:

Difference between Mindfulness and Zen

What is mindfulness?

Silicon Valley-based IT companies such as Google and Facebook are attracting attention for their use of Zen and meditation to care for the mental health and well-being of their employees.

Zen rooms are set up within the company for Zen practice, and instructors are called in to teach meditation and Zen to all employees.

This Zen-based meditation, which has been developed into a procedure and manual, is called mindfulness.

Mindfulness is a method of focusing on the present state of mind.

We seem to be living in the present moment, but we tend to spend a lot of time thinking about our worries and anxieties about the past and future.

It is no exaggeration to say that in this state we are creating our own anxiety, worry, and stress.

Free yourself from this state and look at yourself in the present.

It is said to have the effect of finding the distance between self and others, facilitating business, and deepening creativity.

To be intentionally aware of the experience of the present moment, and to simply watch, in a state of not being able to capture it without evaluation.

An effective capacity-building program for this purpose is called mindfulness.

Google has developed Search Inside Yourself, or SIY, as a further capacity-building program for this mindfulness.

Search Inside Yourself, or SIY, is a development program that combines mindfulness, neuroscience, and emotional intelligence to help people develop their individuality and leadership skills.

Search Inside Yourself:

In this way, Zen is being embraced around the world in new ways in today’s society.

Differences and similarities between mindfulness and Zen

Mindfulness was born in the U.S. as a more medical approach without the religious overtones of Zen thought or Buddhism.

Mindfulness is considered a medical practice, and in 1979, Jon Kabat-Zinn systematized it as a clinical technique, combining it with the attention-focusing theory of psychology.

Mindfulness meditation is designed as a meditation exercise.

The basics are similar to zazen, but are about how to sit, how to breathe, and how to control your awareness.

There are also mindfulness meditation programs that incorporate yoga and walking.

It started with Buddhism.

Zen Buddhism, in particular, had a strong influence on mindfulness.

However, the strong religious flavor of mindfulness has made it difficult for it to be accepted naturally in Western society.

However, clinical trials have shown beneficial effects of mindfulness for stress-related disorders, chronic pain, hypertension, and headaches.

In the United States, mindfulness programs are widely used in schools, prisons, hospitals, veterans centers, and other settings to focus on the benefits of mindfulness, independent of religious or cultural traditions.

Examples of Zen Experiences for Foreign Visitors to Japan

Zen Abroad

Just as there are Christian churches in Japan, there are Zen temples abroad, and some people practice Zen in earnest.

Steve Jobs, who was strongly influenced by Zen, attended a Soto Zen temple in San Francisco.

Some people become ordained after serious training, while others incorporate their faith into their daily lives as believers.

Others are not necessarily believers, but they incorporate Zen into their daily lives.

There are also many people who began meditating as a form of mando-fullness as a form of medical treatment, and then became interested in Zen philosophy.

Western culture has always placed great importance on philosophy, so some people adapt Zen teachings to their own philosophy as a guide to how to live.

Examples of Zen Experiences for Foreign Visitors to Japan

As a Zen experience for foreigners visiting Japan, you can have a real Zen practice at a Soto Zen temple.

List of Soto Zen temples accepting foreigners:

And for groups of foreign visitors to Japan, plans incorporating special Zen are popular.

You will actually visit a temple, experience Zen, and receive a sermon from the abbot.

The tour is popular because an interpreter is with you so that you can understand the sermon properly.

Zen tours are also attracting attention as a team-building activity, and companies are choosing to offer them as part of their employee training in Japan, the home of Zen.

Many foreign corporate executives and managers are interested in learning the fundamentals of Japanese hospitality. Motenas Japan offers a Zen course for foreign corporate managers and executives who want to learn the basics of Japanese hospitality.

Motenas Japan has prepared a special Zen experience plan.

You will learn how to do zazen meditation at a historic temple, and experience a genuine Urasenke Sado (Tea Ceremony) while learning about the spirit of Japanese hospitality and etiquette from the head priest.

The day will end with a Zen meditation session, followed by a Sado (Tea ceremony) lesson on the spirit of hospitality.

We were impressed by the refreshed faces of the participants at the end of the day.

Motenas Japan: Experiencing the Essence of Japanese Hospitality Culture


Zen thought was born in India and crossed over to China.

Throughout its long history, Japan has carefully inherited the philosophy of Zen at each turning point of the ages.

The spirit of Zen is still alive in our daily lives today.

Today, the world is showing a growing interest in the philosophy of Zen in a variety of settings.

By understanding the spirit of Zen more deeply, we may naturally reconfirm the appeal of Japan.