Zen: It's Not Complicated
Many people have heard about Zen Buddhism being described in indecipherable terms with all the clarity of a squid's ink cloud.
However, let's start with the basics:
What Is Zen?
The Japanese kanji 禅 (zen) is two steps removed from a Sanskrit word meaning "silent meditation." Native Japanese words identified with the character are しずか (shizuka, "quiet") and ゆずる (yuzuru, "to yield.")
Zen is a renunciation of enlightenment found via the trappings of organized religion, such as mass prayer, ritualistic chants, and large structures. Zen has no institutions, no bishops, no popes, and no dogma. Zen does have schools of thought that are separate traditions, but these are simply like-minded people following a similar path.
Zen is finding enlightenment by looking within, via personal meditation, silent appreciation of the natural world, and seeing things beyond scriptures and spoken words. Zen recognizes that there are things in this world for which no words will suffice; therefore, the Zen practitioner seeks to appreciate these things beyond words, and ultimately, without words.
For the martial artist, or in older times, for the samurai (among which Zen was very popular), the upside - besides not being forced to follow an organized faith - is really quite simple.
Zen: Clearing the Mind of Clutter
For the 戦士 (senshi), or warrior, Zen is about clearing the mind of distractions. In a life or death struggle, the warrior wants to focus solely on the situation: his opponent, himself, and what he must do to survive and triumph - or failing that, take his enemy with him. Every thought and emotion that is not in service of this goal is a burden. In particular, fear, confusion, and hesitation are a warrior's bane.
A warrior employing Zen is effective because he is efficient. By not wasting thoughts on trivial things, he is decisive in spirit; by not wasting physical motions, he is decisive in body. This is the warrior's path to victory.
For those not facing life or death situations, Zen is the art of making things simple. Meditation, or simply a habit of emptying the mind of distraction, allows a person to focus. Through this focus, less metaphysical forms of enlightenment become easier as well: problems become easier to solve, stories become easier to write, and in general, thoughts become clearer.
Zen isn't complicated. In fact, simplicity is its true beauty.