The practice of Zen is the practice of mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness is not the practice of Zen. Zen is a Buddhist tradition of awakening. It has a rich history of crazy and wise teachers and students working toward that awakening and trying to pass it on to others. It has customs, rituals and practices all designed to help practitioners find liberation by coming to an understanding of how little they understand. Zen is confusing that way. It uses confusion to dispel confusion. Zen is a science of the mind and a religion of the spirit. Mindfulness has nothing to do with the Buddha. It is a practice of watching the mind in a compassionate and non-judgmental way. It is the practice of being aware of the present moment. It has nothing to do with the Buddha. Mindfulness doesn’t advertise awakening. It doesn’t talk about delusions or ignorance. It doesn’t challenge the idea of the self.
Buddhists often take a vow to save all beings from suffering. For some people, the idea Buddha is repulsive. They believe in other things or see religions as superstitions. These beliefs make it hard for Buddhists to save them from suffering. Part of a Zen practice is cultivating patience. It is generally understood that saving all beings from suffering is a long-term project. It will require the participation of all beings. Mindfulness is available for people who are unconcerned with spiritual transformation. It can help people who don’t like the idea of religion or different religions. With no religious undertones, mindfulness can help people observe the habits of their thoughts and see how those habits lead to stress, anxiety or depression.
Meditation is a central practice of Zen and an important skill in mindfulness. The practice of sitting quietly and observing your mind gives you a different perspective on life. It allows you to see how your thoughts come and go, arise and pass through your awareness. Observing thoughts is a skill, which meditation enhances. The practice of mindfulness is intense during mediation and more intermittent throughout the day. In mediation we sit still and actively practice observing and letting go of our thoughts. In meditation we often get carried away by thoughts. In mindfulness, as we go about our lives, we actively practice observing and letting go of our thoughts, we often get carried away by those thoughts.
Zen teaches us not to be concerned with our awakening, but to spend all of our efforts opening up to that awakening. Mindfulness only asks us to watch our minds with compassion. It does not even suggest that we will become something other than we are. A compassionate attitude saves us from beating ourselves up and cutting ourselves down in our internal dialogues. Mindfulness helps us to be aware of the contents of our internal dialogues. WIth awareness and compassion, mindfulness helps us change our mental habits which cause us excessive stress and anxiety.
Whether we practice Zen mindfulness or mindfulness depends on what works for us. Whether we are suffering from Buddhist ignorance or stress, depends on our outlook. Whether we are concerned with personal or world peace is only a matter of the scale of our compassion. However we come to practice, learning to live with our minds is a skill we can work on. We have to live with our minds anyway. Life becomes more enjoyable when we are able to do things that put our minds at peace.