101 Powerful Zen Sayings and Proverbs to Live By

"The world is its own magic."

- Shunryu Suzuki

When I was first introduced to Zen, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I was in the middle of a sort of "path of self-discovery", let's call it, when Zen promptly hit me upside the head.

Two years before that, I started reading a book. This book largely became my life for those two years, and I consequently ended up reading it ten times more than any other book I had read in my entire life up until then. The book? Tao of Jeet Kune Do.

For those who don't know, Tao of Jeet Kune Do is the book Bruce Lee is most well known for outside of his films. He wrote a lot, and after his passing at the young age of 32 his family and students gradually released to the public various books and collections of his notes, but none received the notoriety that the very first collection, Tao of Jeet Kune Do, did.

Bruce Lee was nearly as much a philosopher and mystic as he was a martial artist. And Bruce Lee's philosophy on the martial arts was heavily influenced by Zen.

So much so that the first ten or fifteen pages of the Tao of Jeet Kune Do is dedicated solely to his favorite snippets from various Zen texts. And it's these very same pages that would be my first introduction to Zen.

I had read the Tao of Jeet Kune Do earlier in my life and was completely lost by this first section of the book, and likewise would be again when reading it years later. It might have been my first somewhat introduction to Zen, but at the time I had no idea what the heck I was reading. There was stuff like this:

Voidness is that which stands right in the middle between this and that. The void is all-inclusive, having no opposite - there is nothing which it excludes or opposes. It is living void because all forms come out of it and whoever realizes the void is filled with life and power and the love of all human beings.

As much as I loved the martial arts, it was this first section of the book which I considered most fascinating. I remember sitting down for long periods, contemplating what the various snippets from this section meant.

While at the time I didn't know what most of it meant, those moments of contemplation would later help me piece things together as I began to learn more about Zen.

You can't technically talk about Zen, or write about Zen, because true Zen can't be put into words. Ultimately, I can only point the way.

Leading people down the path, helping them discover the truth for themselves is part of what Buddhaimonia is about. I don't presume to be some magical guru that has special abilities or whom you should follow because "only I know the way".

You'll find the way in whispers of truth which you experience in your own everyday life.And as you follow that trail, you'll find greater peace and joy throughout each day.

Not a sense of relief though, that's shallow, I'm talking about a sense of peace that washes over every part of you and seems to bring everything into focus, even if at first just for a moment.

The below list of Zen quotes and Zen proverbs are bits of universal wisdom and insight which I've gathered over the past few years, mostly from teachers whom I have an immense amount of respect for. People such as:

Thich Nhat Hanh Shunryu Suzuki Alan Watts Dogen Zenji Eckhart Tolle Byron Katie Osho D. T. Suzuki Rumi Buddha

I've amassed these from years of reading books and articles (I love buddhismnow.com) and listening to a lot of audio. Sometimes it feels like I'm following an invisible trail, laid out step by step from past mystics and spiritual figures. It's like one big game of connecting the dots. And this is a trail that anyone can follow.

I narrowed this list down from some 250 original quotes to the essential, the ones which held the most significance for me and which I felt would bring the most value to you. I feel that even a single quote can have a profound effect. A quote can give us insight into something new or confirm something which we've felt or experienced.

As with all of Zen, the below Zen quotes aren't about beliefs or ideas, but universal wisdom which you can discover in your own daily life. And Zen is just one way to these universal truths, countless mystics and spiritual traditions have come to the very same insights independently that perfectly echo what Zen has discovered. This is why you'll see quotes from people other than notable Zen figures, such as Rumi and Martin Luther King Jr.

Zen is about pointing to the universal everyday wisdom all around you, about getting you to experience things purely "as they are", not about convincing you of some specific way of thinking, or about stamping some specific label on something.

Don't get caught up in thinking something is "Zen" or anything like that, these are simply bits of wisdom pointing to universal truth. Treat them as such and let them guide you towards a life of greater peace and joy.

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Living Zen Spirit...Coming Soon

Living Zen Spirit Book Cover via Buddhaimonia.com Zen for Everyday Life

If you're interested in learning how to bring more authentic Zen spirit into your life, then you'll love my upcoming book Living Zen.

If you'd like to be notified when more information is available, as well as get some cool exclusive book bonuses from here until release, fill in your name and email below!

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101 Powerful Zen Sayings and Proverbs to Live By

I separated the quotes and proverbs below based on a number of major sections to help you piece together their meaning. Keep in mind though that each section is really just a "shade" of the same one thing, and so you'll notice that many of these can be placed under multiple categories.

Worry less about what category these fall into and more about receiving the message purely as intended and you'll get the most from this list.

The Present Moment and Mindfulness

“This is the real secret of life -- to be completely engaged with what you are doing in the here and now. And instead of calling it work, realize it is play.”

- Alan Watts

“The only thing that is ultimately real about your journey is the step that you are taking at this moment. That's all there ever is.”

- Eckhart Tolle

"Wherever you are, be there totally."

- Eckhart Tolle

"I’m here to tell you that the path to peace is right there, when you want to get away."

- Pema Chödrön

"When you are present, you can allow the mind to be as it is without getting entangled in it."

- Eckhart Tolle

"If you miss the present moment, you miss your appointment with life. That is very serious!"

- Thich Nhat Hanh

"Practice is this life, and realization is this life, and this life is revealed right here and now."

- Maezumi Roshi

"If you want to change the world, start with the next person who comes to you in need."

- B. D. Schiers

"My experience is that the teachers we need most are the people we're living with right now."

- Byron Katie

"Guilt, regret, resentment, sadness & all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past & not enough presence."

- Eckhart Tolle

"Throughout this life, you can never be certain of living long enough to take another breath."

- Huang Po

"Awareness is the greatest agent for change."

- Eckhart Tolle

"When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself."

- Shunryu Suzuki

“The art of living... is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.”

- Alan Watts

“The intuitive recognition of the instant, thus reality... is the highest act of wisdom.”

- D.T. Suzuki

“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”

- Thich Nhat Hanh

"And when they played they really played. And when they worked they really worked."

- Dr. Seuss

Interbeing

"Preparing food is not just about yourself and others. It is about everything!"

- Shunryu Suzuki

"Things derive their being and nature by mutual dependence and are nothing in themselves"

- Nagarjuna

"Nothing ever exists entirely alone. Everything is in relation to everything else."

- Buddha

“Heaven and earth and I are of the same root, The ten-thousand things and I are of one substance.”

- Seng-chao

"It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

- Martin Luther King, Jr.

“We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”

- Thích Nhat Hanh

"Heaven & earth & I are of the same root. Ten thousand things & I are of one substance."

- Sêng-chao

Impermanence

“One must be deeply aware of the impermanence of the world.”

- Dogen

True Self and No-Self

"The practice of Zen is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with something."

- Koun Yamada

"I don't let go of concepts - I meet them with understanding. Then they let go of me."

- Byron Katie

"The Zen expression "Kill the Buddha!" means to kill any concept of the Buddha as something apart from oneself."

- Peter Matthiessen

"When you hear that all beings are Buddha, don’t fall into the error of thinking there’s more than one Buddha."

- Zen Graffiti

"The self divides into ten billion distinct illuminating spirits. Distinguish these without falling into names and classifications."

- Hongzhi

"To study Buddhism is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be awakened by all things."

- Dogen

"Melting our attachment to self is the most powerful medication for bringing mental and emotional imbalances in check."

- Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche

"Have good trust in yourself ... not in the One that you think you should be, but in the One that you are."

- Maezumi Roshi

Direct Experience

“My finger can point to the moon, but my finger is not the moon. You don’t have to become my finger, nor do you have to worship my finger. You have to forget my finger, and look at where it is pointing.”

- Osho

"To accept some idea of truth without experiencing it is like a painting of a cake on paper which you cannot eat."

- Suzuki Roshi

"Zen has no business with ideas."

- D.T. Suzuki

"What is important is not the right doctrine but the attainment of the true experience. It is giving up believing in belief."

- Alan Keightley

“The menu is not the meal.”

- Alan Watts

“Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”

- Alan Watts

Awakening and Everyday Life

"People sleep, and when they die they wake."

- Muhammad

"Today, you can decide to walk in freedom. You can choose to walk differently. You can walk as a free person, enjoying every step."

- Thich Nhat Hanh

"When an ordinary man attains knowledge, he is a sage; when a sage attains understanding, he is an ordinary man."

- Zen Proverb

If we don't occupy ourself with everything, then peaceful mind will have nowhere to abide."

- Shen-hui

"Flow with whatever may happen and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate."

- Chuang

"The Buddha talked about saving all beings from delusion, not converting them to a new religion."

- Buddhism Now

"Let your mind wander in the pure and simple. Be one with the infinite. Let all things take their course."

- Chuang Tzu

"Let go over a cliff, die completely, and then come back to life -- after that you cannot be deceived."

- Zen Proverb

"The personal life deeply lived always expands into truths beyond itself."

- Anais Nin

"Each step along the Buddha’s path to happiness requires practising mindfulness until it becomes part of your daily life."

- Henepola Gunaratana

"Power over others is weakness disguised as strength. True power is within & available to you now."

- Eckhart Tolle

"Body and mind dropped off."

- Dogen describing enlightenment

"It's not about approving or liking, but just being able to allow the world to be the way it is without resenting, hating, or judging it."

- Buddhism Now

"Only when you can be extremely pliable and soft can you be extremely hard and strong."

- Zen Proverb

"It all depends on you. You can go on sleeping forever, you can wake up right this moment."

- Osho

"To understand everything is to forgive everything"

- Gautama Siddhartha

"Any enlightenment which requires to be authenticated, certified, recognized, congratulated, is false, or at least incomplete."

- R.H. Blyth

"Self-realization is effortless. What you are trying to find is what you already are."

- Ramesh Balsekar

"When the mind is perfectly clear, what is is what we want."

- Byron Katie

"The way out of life & death is not some special technique; essential thing is to penetrate to the root of life & death."

- Bukko

"The aim of spiritual life is to awaken a joyful freedom, a benevolent and compassionate heart in spite of everything."

- Jack Kornfield

“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don't even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child -- our own two eyes. All is a miracle.”

- Thích Nhat Hanh

"Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen.”

- Bodhidharma

"To follow the path, look to the master, follow the master, walk with the master, see through the master, become the master."

- Zen Proverb

"Learning Zen is a phenomenon of gold & dung. Before you learn it, it's like gold; after you learn it, it's like dung."

- Zen Proverb

Reality and the True Nature of Things

“You are a function of what the whole universe is doing in the same way that a wave is a function of what the whole ocean is doing.”

- Alan Watts

"At the still-point in the center of the circle one can see the infinite in all things."

- Chuang Tzu

“In the scenery of spring, nothing is better, nothing worse; the flowering branches are; some long, some short.”

- Eicho

"There is no mistake in nature."

- Byron Katie

"Still water has no mind to receive the image of the migrating geese."

- Zen Proverb

"All the things that truly matter, beauty, love, creativity, joy and inner peace arise from beyond the mind."

- Eckhart Tolle

“No snowflake ever falls in the wrong place.”

- Zen Proverb

"Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing there is a field. I'll meet you there."

- Rumi

"Why is the tao so valuable? Because it is everywhere, and everyone can use it. This is why those who seek will find."

- Lao Tzu

“Do not seek the truth, only cease to cherish your opinions.”

- Seng-ts’an

"Any experience of reality is indescribable!"

- R. D. Laing

"No thought, no reflection, no analysis, no cultivation, no intention; let it settle itself."

- Tilopa

"You're never given more pain than you can handle. You never, ever get more than you can take."

- Byron Katie

"As a bee gathering nectar does not harm or disturb the color & fragrance of the flower; so do the wise move through the world."

- Buddha

"Zazen is an activity that is an extension of the universe. Zazen is not the life of an individual, it's the universe that's breathing."

- Dogen

“The whole moon and the entire sky are reflected in one dewdrop on the grass.”

- Dogen

“You are an aperture through which the universe is looking at and exploring itself.”

- Alan Watts

“Things are as they are. Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations.”

- Alan Watts

“Through our eyes, the universe is perceiving itself. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.”

- Alan Watts

"Tao in the world is like a river flowing home to the sea."

- Lao Tzu

“Try to imagine what it will be like to go to sleep and never wake up... now try to imagine what it was like to wake up having never gone to sleep.”

- Alan Watts

“Who would then deny that when I am sipping tea in my tearoom I am swallowing the whole universe with it and that this very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space?”

- D.T. Suzuki

The Way and Non-Striving

"The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness."

- Eric Hoffer

"The resistance to the unpleasant situation is the root of suffering."

- Ram Dass

“For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”

- Thích Nhat Hanh

“If you are unable to find the truth right where you are, where else do you expect to find it?”

- Dogen

“The meaning of life is just to be alive. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves.”

- Alan Watts

"Life isn't as serious as the mind makes it out to be."

- Eckhart Tolle

“Man suffers only because he takes seriously what the gods made for fun.”

- Alan Watts

“Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone.”

- Alan Watts

"The greatest effort is not concerned with results."

- Atisha

"When I feel like dancing, I dance. I don't care if anyone else is dancing or if everyone else is laughing at me. I dance."

- Rachel Danson

"A follower of the way has neither form nor shape, neither root nor trunk; nor dwelling place; like a fish leaping in the water."

- Rinzai Zen proverb

"I cannot tell you any spiritual truth that you don't know already. All I can do is remind you of what you have forgotten."

- Eckhart Tolle

"Every being is in search of truth, but small fears go on preventing you."

- Osho

"All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place of no-mind, from inner stillness."

- Eckhart Tolle

“I have lived with several Zen masters -- all of them cats.”

- Eckhart Tolle

______________________________________

Living Zen Spirit...Coming Soon

If you're interested in learning how to bring more authentic Zen spirit into your life, then you'll love my upcoming book Living Zen.

If you'd like to be notified when more information is available, as well as get some cool exclusive book bonuses from here until release, fill in your name and email below!

______________________________________

Living Zen Spirit Book Cover via Buddhaimonia.com Zen for Everyday Life

Did I miss any of your favorite Zen-themed quotes or proverbs? Let me know in the comments below.