It can be hard to find meaning and purpose sometimes. We spend so much time working and being busy that we forget to stop and look inside ourselves to see what we really desire in life.
Fortunately, sages and mystics over the years have encountered the same problem, resulting in valuable wisdom that we all can benefit from.
Japanese Zen master D.T. Suzuki is one of those people. Suzuki was one of the most prominent Zen Buddhist teachers that brought Zen philosophy to people in the west who were struggling to find meaning in life.
Below we go over some of his most potent lessons on living a fulfilling, happy and successful life.
1) Exposure to nature is crucial for the soul
“Modern life seems to recede further and further away from nature, and closely connected with this fact we seem to be losing the feeling of reverence towards nature. It is probably inevitable when science and machinery, capitalism and materialism go hand in hand so far in a most remarkably successful manner. Mysticism, which is the life of religion in whatever sense we understand it, has come to be relegated altogether in the background. Without a certain amount of mysticism there is no appreciation for the feeling of reverence, and, along with it, for the spiritual significance of humility. Science and scientific technique have done a great deal for humanity; but as far as our spiritual welfare is concerned we have not made any advances over that attained by our forefathers. In fact we are suffering at present the worst kind of unrest all over the world.” – D.T. Suzuki
Suzuki makes a great point here. As our society has become technologically advanced, we’ve at the same time lost touch with nature, which only serves to negatively impact our spiritual health.
Science backs this up.
Several studies have found that being in nature reduces stress and makes us happier. What’s more, one study found that nature can help us find “meaning in life” and make us “feel more alive”.
These results lead to one conclusion: If you are constantly on a device or in front of a screen, you’re missing out on something that’s pretty spectacular: the real world.
2) The here and now is what’s important
“The idea of Zen is to catch life as it flows. There is nothing extraordinary or mysterious about Zen. I raise my hand ; I take a book from the other side of the desk ; I hear the boys playing ball outside my window; I see the clouds blown away beyond the neighbouring wood: — in all these I am practising Zen, I am living Zen. No wordy discussions is necessary, nor any explanation. I do not know why — and there is no need of explaining, but when the sun rises the whole world dances with joy and everybody’s heart is filled with bliss. If Zen is at all conceivable, it must be taken hold of here.” – D.T. Suzuki
Zen philosophy isn’t complicated. Don’t worry about the past as it’s already gone, and the future hasn’t yet arrived. The only thing that really matters is the present moment. We don’t need to have a lengthy discussion on what the meaning of life is.
This is where practising mindfulness can be so beneficial. By consciously focusing on the present moment, whether it’s your bodily sensations or what’s in front of you, you can rewire your brain to use your direct experience network more often compared to your default brain network.
3) Get to know yourself
“Zen purposes to discipline the mind itself, to make it its own master, through an insight into its proper nature. This getting into the real nature of one’s own mind or soul is the fundamental object of Zen Buddhism. Zen, therefore, is more than meditation and Dhyana in its ordinary sense. The discipline of Zen consists in opening the mental eye in order to look into the very reason of existence.” – D.T. Suzuki
Understanding who you are and what you desire in life is crucially important if you want to find fulfilment. Suzuki says that we need to understand our own mind’s nature in order to do this.
How do we do that?
One of the best ways to uncover who you truly are is through meditation. With meditation, you learn to become an observer of your mind.
By watching how the mind works without judging it or attempting to change it, it offers you enormous liberation. You can learn to catch any conditioned habits and emotions, which will enable you to accept them and eventually change them.
Spiritual guru Osho describes this as the moment of enlightenment:
“It takes a little time to create a gap between the witness and the mind. Once the gap is there, you are in for a great surprise, that you are not the mind, that you are the witness, a watcher…That’s the moment of enlightenment. That is the moment that you become for the first time an unconditioned, sane, really free human being.”