Real Zen for Real Life


What do you think of when you hear the word “Zen”? Many Westerners may associate Zen with the counterculture of the 1960s and 70s, while others may associate it with today’s hipster culture. Many use the word to simply mean laid back and relaxed.

But what does Zen really mean? Zen is a school of Buddhism and a rigorous spiritual discipline. To understand what Zen is really about, it is vital not only to study its profound philosophical teachings, but also to engage in the practice of Zen. The word “Zen” means meditation, and Zen meditation is a practice of “clearing the heart-mind.” For Zen, an open mind entails an open heart, and this open heart-mind is the source of both creativity and compassion.

Professor Bret W. Davis, Professor of Philosophy and the T. J. Higgins, S.J., Chair in Philosophy at Loyola University Maryland, has created a highly accessible introduction to the philosophical teachings as well as the meditative practice of Zen with Real Zen for Real Life. Applying the intellectual acumen of a philosophy professor, the erudition of an academic scholar, and the spiritual experience of a practitioner and teacher of Zen, this course reflects the push and pull between Eastern and Western traditions and cultures with the goal of making the study and practice of Zen more accessible and engaging to all viewers.

Over the course of 24 lessons—including meditation checkups at the end of eight of the lessons—you will learn both what Zen has traditionally meant for East Asians and what it can mean for contemporary Westerners. Prepare to be challenged as Professor Davis asks you to set aside your preconceptions in order to open yourselves to what Zen masters who lived in the past and in distant lands have to teach you. You will especially need to be open to the possibility that Zen may be able to teach you about yourself. This course aims to challenge and inspire you, both intellectually and personally.

Practicing What You Preach

Laden with personal connections, Professor Davis consciously participates in the process of transplanting the authentic Eastern teachings of Zen into a Western cultural context. His goal is not just to teach you about Zen; he wants you to learn from Zen.

This course is an invitation to engage in the practice of Zen as well as to learn about its philosophical articulations and implications. It aims to teach you about real Zen, and how to relate it to your real life. And no matter what your cultural and religious background, you will discover how Zen can enhance your life and enable you to reflect more clearly and deeply on your accustomed beliefs and values. Through Zen practice, you can awaken a state of mindfulness—of being in the present moment—that can help you attain what Zen masters call the “everyday even mind” or a state of unperturbed attentiveness in the midst of all life’s ups and downs, twists and turns.

One important concept you will examine and learn to embody is karma. Often associated with retribution or the concept of “what comes around goes around,” with Professor Davis, you will actually engage with this concept not as an outside force that the universe uses to right wrongs, but as an inner guide of the self. As you will see, karma is about becoming the person you want to be by practicing your own values and integrating healthy, positive habits that shape your everyday experience of the world, with all its inevitable complications and setbacks.

Change Comes from Within

A Zen master goes to buy a hot dog on the streets of New York, and he says to the vendor, “Make me one with everything.” Jokes aside, what does it really mean, according to Zen Buddhism, to become one with everything, or to realize the oneness of everything? What it does not mean is to lose one’s individuality or uniqueness, to melt into a homogenous blob. For Zen, “non-duality” is about interconnectedness. . It is about realizing our intimate co-existence with other people and with the natural environment.

Jokes aside, what does it really mean, according to Zen Buddhism, to become one with everything, or to realize the oneness of everything?

Zen is often not very well understood in the West. While there are hundreds of books, websites, and guides that claim to showcase the ‘Zen’ of “something” (golf, cooking, pets, etc.), this course digs into the realities of Zen. As you get a thorough explanation of the main philosophies of Zen, you will learn how its lessons are applicable to all modern Westerners, not just monastics and other committed Zen practitioners. For example, Professor Davis stresses that Zen Buddhist philosophy can deepen your understanding of Christianity as well as your connection to other people and the world. He compares Zen with other schools of Buddhism, and with other religions as well

Over the course of 24 lessons, you’ll see how the pivotal role of meditation distinguishes Zen even among other schools of Buddhism. With Professor Davis’s guidance, you’ll examine the Ten Oxherding Pictures for an overview of the path of Zen as well as get an in-depth introduction to Zen poetry and art. You’ll engage with the sayings and writings of generations of Zen masters and practitioners. You’ll learn how to meditate in an authentic and effective manner, with a focus on how to optimize your posture and breathing techniques, understand what walking meditation is, dive into the benefits of chanting in meditation, and learn how to find a Zen center or community that is right for you.

Living, Dying, and Everything in Between

Zen Buddhism is about living fully engaged in the moment. It is about being able to understand yourself in connection with the world around you, about maintaining your own peace of mind while also bringing peace to others. The Way of Zen does not lead to floating above or flying away from everyday life—it’s not about otherworldly mysticism or altered states of consciousness. Rather, it is a matter of putting your feet on the ground and awakening, step by step, to the present moment, to the wondrousness of mundane matters and the meaningfulness of everyday errands.

Life is unpredictable. Often, the only thing you have control over in a given situation is how you face the struggles and triumphs you are dealt. Whether you decide it should be the primary guiding system of your life, or you simply want to integrate its many useful teachings in the ways that best work for you, Zen can provide insight into yourself and the world around you. As both a philosophical framework and a real-world practice, Zen can give you the tools to stay calm and centered when it feels like everything is in turmoil. It can also help you approach the inevitable changes and transitions of life, including the most inevitable of them all: death. By applying the Way of Zen in your life, you can live in such a way that even death becomes another stage of your journey rather than something to be feared.

By collecting and connecting wisdom from across the ages in Real Zen for Real Life, Professor Davis offers guidance to anyone who wants to achieve inner peace and spread outer calm across the many stages of your life and all the many changes—both expected and unexpected—you will encounter along the way. As you will discover, the journey is the destination.Hide Full Description

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