During my sophomore year of college, I enrolled in a course covering the various branches of Buddhism. It would prove to be one of the most helpful classes I’ve ever taken, and not a day goes by where I’m not reminded of some Buddhism tenet or text.
The practice of meditation is, obviously, a fundamental aspect of Buddhism. Our professor required us to practice various forms of meditation each day; primarily, tantric and mindfulness meditation. I saw the most personal gain from my practice in mindfulness.
The benefits of meditation on one’s mental health are not new. Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found in 2014 that mindfulness meditation can significantly improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, based on 47 clinical trials.
I was introduced to the works of Shunryu Suzuki, a Zen monk famous for helping popularize Buddhism in the United States. His book “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind” outlines the guiding principles of Zen Buddhism and meditation — or “zazen.”
Suzuki’s first chapter, titled “Right Practice,” begins with the following excerpt:
Zazen practice is the direct expression of our true nature. Strictly speaking, for a human being, there is no other practice than this practice; there is no other way of life than this way of life.
The book explores both the challenges and benefits of meditation, often referring to one’s “beginner mind” as the ideal state of being. This “beginner’s mind” refers to one’s natural state, their “Buddha nature” so to speak.
Suzuki says that through our lives, we pick up reflections of the world around us. If we do not pay attention to these reflections, they will cloud our judgement and our true, unthinking nature.
Suzuki says that the results of meditation are spectacular, but do not present themselves spectacularly. Later in the chapter, Suzuki writes:
If you continue this simple practice every day you will obtain a wonderful power. Before you attain it, it is something wonderful, but after you obtain it, it is nothing special. It is just you yourself, nothing special.
This “nothing special” carries a much greater weight than is implied by Suzuki’s subtle phrasing. It does not mean that the results are negligible, but instead they are simply showing what is already present within us all: intentional, mindful potential for peace.