Lets talk about Zen. Zen is one of the practices of the Buddha Way. It is not a belief system or a dogma. It is not a philosophy, nor a religion in its own right. Zen is a practice, the practice of meditation, a practice done in many forms: sitting, eating, working, walking. So, in a sense Zen is about where your mind is during an activity.
Is your mind attending to the activity? Or is your mind somewhere else? Are you mindful in your behavior, which is to say, are you aware of the activity as yourself?
Zen can be practiced "religously." Or not. Zen can be part of a faith tradition, hence the existence of Jewish Buddhists, Catholic and Protestant Buddhists, and so on. or not.
Zen properly understood is, at its root, iconoclastic. We say, "If you meet the Buddha on the road, kill him!" Which is to kill our idea or concept of something. We realize an idea or concept of something is not the thing itself and in fact, such an idea or concept often blinds us to the actual truth of what is directly in front of us. Therefore our practice is to recognize our ideas and concepts as just that: ideas and concepts.
To get to the truth of something we need to set aside what we think we know. We need to take on a "beginner's mind" and "leave home. True Zen is not about bells, robes, incense, and the like. True Zen is naked. This is why it is so difficult. Its about seeing clearly. For me, as well as everyone else I believe, this is a daunting if not impossible task. Self awareness, self concept, attachments to who or what we believe we are --- or are not --- are a serious challenge.
Our world today is filled with deceit, danger, greed, and hatred. As reflective human beings, beings with a mind and heart, beings with frailties and strengths, we have many opportunities to practice our Zen. We practice as we are confronted with demons outside and inside of us. Each of us has the capacity to hate and love, be honest or dishonest, manifest charity or greed, and exhibit defensiveness and vulnerability.
Our Zen is not a flavor of the month; it is an everyday discipline and art whose primary function is awareness. Not just any awareness, though, but the awareness that comes with steady and unswerving attention regardless of the cost to our sense of self esteem and self concept. Such a practice takes courage. For those willing to look deeply the "rewards" are nothing but everyday life lived in the light of wisdom.
May we each develop and possess this sort of courage.