7 Principles of Zen and how they can be applied to the modern world


The Japanese culture is well-known for its tea drinking ceremonies, various forms of martial arts, its exquisite gardening culture, and much more. What all of these have in common is Zen. To put it in simple words, Zen means peace.

Tea ceremonies, martial arts, the gardening culture all of them are practised with Zen and also bring Zen, bring Peace, more profound Peace to the peoples of Japan.

Zen doesn’t come into us; we enter into Zen. Zen is the ever-present truth and mystery that has been, is, and will be. It is always there, waiting patiently, for us to come into union with it.

A large part of the Japanese culture is also based on Art and have 7 Zen principles based on aesthetics. These zen principles are centred around the idea called “Wabi-Sabi” that life, human beings, the earth, nature, everything, is perfect in its imperfections.

One of my favourite quotes is, “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in,” which means all of us are a little broken, but that’s what makes us unique and perfect in our imperfections.

These7 profound yet simple Zen principles urge us to see the beauty in our imperfections and when practised can help us understand the beauty in our imperfections:

Fukinsei (不均斉): 

 Fukinsei means as asymmetry. This principle is based on the idea the all true things in life are asymmetrical, and that is what brings beauty to them. Nature herself is asymmetrical, and yet there is nothing more beautiful than nature and the Zen we come into when we are in nature. 

Kanso (簡素)

 Kanso means Simplicity. All great sages have taught us Simplicity. Yet in the modern world, we tend to complicate things. We buy more when we don’t need it. We talk more when it is not helpful to us. And yet, the answers to the most complicated questions are simple. 

Kanso means the elimination of the unnecessary when we eliminate unnecessary things in our lives we can come into Simplicity. 

When we simplify our life, we can come into Zen. When we become empty, we can come into the ever-present Zen. 

Koko (考古): 

Koko means basic. In our modern world, it can be translated as our basic selves, who we are on a fundamental level.

 If we only set the intention to embody our basic fundamental selves without the need to be who we are not, without the need to be flashy (false personalities), we can see the Simplicity and beauty of life, our selves, in all the imperfections. 

Our hearts know who we truly are, who we are on a fundamental level, and that is where there is Zen. 

Shizen (自然): 

 Shizen means naturalness without pretence. Our modern culture teaches us not to love who we are. They say get a fairness cream so we can become fairer, but we can come into Zen only when we have accepted our natural selves. When we love ourselves the way we are, we can come into Zen. 

Yugen (幽玄): 

 Yugen means subtlety. All great truths are subtle. They are never obvious. It requires a certain sensitivity and purity of heart to perceive these subtle truths. 

True beauty is subtle. It is not so much in the way a person looks, but in the way, a person lives their life. True beauty is in the way a person treats other people, other animals. True beauty is in the way one laughs and cries. True beauty is in the way a person can be truly honest and sincere. 

Subtlety is a lightness of heart. 

When we understand this, we can come into Zen and live a peaceful life. 

Datsuzoku (脱俗):

Datsuzoku in Japanese means Free. It means unbounded by convention. This is based on the idea that in our day to day lives, we should do at least one thing that breaks free from our normal routine that breaks free from convention. It can be a simple thing like laughing till our stomach hurts, or complementing a stranger for the beauty we see in them and bring a smile to their face.

When we begin to break free from conventions and set ourselves free in moments, we see the beauty of life even when things are hard, and this brings us peace, it brings us Zen.

Seijaku (静寂): tranquillity, silence.

Seijaku means silence. It means tranquillity. Silence is the truest refuge. It is in silence where things are born. It is in silence when things die. Everything comes from silence. And everything perishes into it. 

 Sitting in silence for at least a few minutes a day can bring peace within us. When we cannot find an answer to our difficulties even after trying very hard, silence is the best refuge. 

A still and silent mind is the place where gods dwell, where Zen exists. 

Rumi says: “The quieter you become, the more you will hear.”