Zen Journal


BEGINNER’S MIND.  In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.”

“People say that practicing Zen is difficult, but there is a misunderstanding as to why. It is not difficult because it is hard to sit in the cross-legged position, or to attain enlightenment. It is difficult because it is hard to keep our mind pure and our practice pure in its fundamental sense. The Zen school developed in many ways after it was established in China, but at the same time, it became more and more impure. But I do not want to talk about Chinese Zen or the history of Zen. I am interested in helping you keep your practice from becoming impure.”

~ Shunryu Suzuki, from “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.” 1970.


Most people are afraid of suffering. But suffering is a kind of mud to help the lotus flower of happiness grow.
There can be no lotus flower without the mud.”

When we suffer, we tend to think that suffering is all there is at that moment, and happiness belongs to some other time or place. People often ask, “Why do I have to suffer?” Thinking we should be able to have a life without any suffering is as deluded as thinking we should be able to have a left side without a right side. The same is true of thinking we have a life in which no happiness whatsoever is to be found. If the left says, “Right, you have to go away. I don’t want you. I only want the left”—that’s nonsense, because then the left would have to stop existing as well. If there’s no right, then there’s no left. Where there is no suffering, there can be no happiness either, and vice versa.”

~ Thích Nhất Hạnh, from “No Mud, No Lotus.” 2014.


A teacher visited during this time, and I remember her saying to me, “When you have made good friends with yourself, your situation will be more friendly too.”

”I had learned this lesson before, and I knew that it was the only way to go. I used to have a sign pinned up on my wall that read: “Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible be found in us.” Somehow, even before I heard the Buddhist teachings, I knew that this was the spirit of true awakening. It was all about letting go of everything.”

~ Pema Chödrön, from “When Things Fall Apart.” 1997.


WE ARE IN a unique period of human history. For the first time, the major threats to our existence are not the natural disasters that were the biggest fears for our predecessors a thousand years ago, but human-created dangers.”

“This places us at a critical time in evolution, a time that could decide the fate of both the human race and the planet we all share. The most compelling paradox we are encountering is that, on the one hand, we possess a degree of knowledge and technological capability hardly dreamed of only decades ago. We understand complex data about the furthest reaches of space and the most subtle workings of minute fragments of atoms. On the other hand, millions of us starve. Our enviroment is polluted. The earth’s natural resources are being plundered at an alarming rate, and the spectre of global ecological catastrophe raises the possibility of the extinction of our species and all life. In spite of our understanding so much about the universe and its functioning, we’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of understanding who we are, what our life is, and what our relationship is with the “ten thousand things” that comprise phenomenal existence.”

~ John Daido Loori, Roshi. “Teachings of the Earth: Zen and the Environment.” 1999.


Often, when we say, “I love you” we focus mostly on the idea of the “I” who is doing the loving and less on the quality of the love that’s being offered.”

“This is because we are caught by the idea of self. We think we have a self. But there is no such thing as an individual separate self. A flower is made only of non-flower elements, such as chlorophyll, sunlight, and water. If we were to remove all the non-flower elements from the flower, there would be no flower left. A flower cannot be by herself alone. A flower can only inter-be with all of us… Humans are like this too. We can’t exist by ourselves alone. We can only inter-be. I am made only of non-me elements, such as the Earth, the sun, parents, and ancestors. In a relationship, if you can see the nature of interbeing between you and the other person, you can see that his suffering is your own suffering, and your happiness is his own happiness. With this way of seeing, you speak and act differently. This in itself can relieve so much suffering.”

~ Thích Nhất Hạnh


YOUR BREATHING ROOM is a sacred place. You don’t need any furniture, maybe just a cushion or two, and perhaps an altar or a table with fresh flowers. If you want, you can have a bell to help you with the practice of stopping and mindful breathing.

Think about the setup of this room or corner carefully. How much we enjoy being in a certain place very much depends on the energy that is generated within it. A room can be well decorated but feel cold and unfriendly; another can lack color and furniture but can feel simple, spacious, and comfortable. If you live with other people, you should design and decorate this space together, perhaps with flowers, pebbles, or photographs. Don’t put a lot in this area. The most important elements are a place to sit and a feeling of peace.”

~ Thích Nhất Hạnh, from “A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation”


Prayer of the Bodhisattva

“As long as space endures,
As long as sentient beings remain,
Until then, may I too remain
and dispel the miseries of the world.”

~ Shantideva, “Bodhicaryavatara” (Way of the Bodhisattva), 8th Century


We can observe emptiness and interbeing everywhere in our daily life. If we look at a child, it’s easy to see the child’s mother and father, grandmother and grandfather, in her. The way she looks, the way she acts, the things she says. Even her skills and talents are the same as her parents’. If at times we cannot understand why the child is acting a certain way, it is helpful to remember that she is not a separate self-entity. She is a continuation. Her parents and ancestors are inside her. When she walks and talks, they walk and talk as well. Looking into the child, we can be in touch with her parents and ancestors, but equally, looking into the parent, we can see the child. We do not exist independently. We inter-are. Everything relies on everything else in the cosmos in order to manifest—whether a star, a cloud, a flower, a tree, or you and me.”

~ Thích Nhất Hạnh, from “The Art of Living.” 2017


Creativity is our birthright. It is an integral part of being human, as basic as walking, talking, and thinking. 

Throughout our evolution as a species, it has sparked innovations in science, beauty in the arts, and revelation in religion. Every human life contains its seeds and is constantly manifesting it, whether we’re building a sand castle, preparing Sunday dinner, painting a canvas, walking through the woods, or programming a computer.

The creative process, like a spiritual journey, is intuitive, nonlinear, and experiential. It points us toward our essential nature, which is a reflection of the boundless creativity of the universe.”

~ John Daido Loori, from “The Zen of Creativity.” 2004

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