Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

What Should I Do To Live In Accordance With Zen?

As a Zen Buddhist teacher, I am frequently approached by individuals who inquire about living their daily lives in alignment with Zen Buddhism. 

However, it is essential to understand that Zen does not require us to do anything specific or follow rigid guidelines to experience its essence. Zen invites us to embrace the present moment and cultivate a profound awareness without imposing any particular actions or practices. 

In this article, we will explore the fundamental principles of Zen Buddhism and discover how they can naturally infuse our daily lives, transforming our perspectives and interactions. 

Zen in Daily Life

Imagine Zen as a gigantic box (I know, I know, try to go beyond words). Every experience, action you perform, and thought and emotion you have to go into this box.

Once you’ve begun practicing Zen, it becomes an inextricable part of your existence. Just as items placed within a box take on the box’s ambiance, your Zen practice subtly influences every action, thought, and emotion within your life.

Every action you take is tinged with Zen in this Zen box of life. The Zen mindset subtly influences your professional undertakings, creative pursuits, and everyday tasks. You might find yourself approaching work with increased focus and equanimity or embracing hobbies with heightened mindfulness and joy. Zen imbues these actions with a tranquil quality that transcends the mundanity of routine.

The metaphor extends to your relationships too. Your interactions with your spouse, your children, friends, colleagues, and even strangers can be transformed by Zen. The Zen principles of compassion, empathy, and non-judgment subtly reshape how you communicate, express love, manage disagreements, or offer support.

The Zen box encompasses not just your actions and interactions but also your emotional and mental landscape. Your thoughts, feelings, and responses to different situations will carry the serene hue of Zen. This influence might manifest as increased patience in adversity, a deeper appreciation of the present moment, or a profound sense of interconnectedness with everything around you.

The Zen box metaphor illustrates Zen Buddhism’s profound, all-encompassing influence on your life. Once you’ve embarked on the Zen path, it ceaselessly works its subtle influence, transforming specific areas and your entire life experience. Your work, hobbies, relationships, thoughts, and emotions are all gently and irrevocably tinted by the Zen perspective.

Follow The Presepts

Embracing Zen doesn’t demand a radical overhaul of your lifestyle or confine you to specific conduct. Quite the contrary, Zen allows you to lead your life as you wish, provided you respect the essential boundaries set by the Five Precepts of Buddhism. These tenets—abstaining from causing harm to living beings, avoiding theft, circumventing sexual misconduct, preventing false speech, and steering clear of intoxication—are not authoritarian edicts but common-sense, ethical rules that underpin our shared human existence.

Simply put, Zen gives you the license to live freely, stipulating that your actions should not harm others or infringe on their rights. It’s all about responsibly embracing personal freedom and fostering peace, respect, and compassion.

It’s Not What You Do, It’s How You Do It

It’s important to understand that Zen Buddhism does not require you to do any specific actions or behavior. People often ask how they should act or what they should do to live following Zen. The Zen box metaphor beautifully counters this notion. Do whatever you wanna do! You don’t need to “do” anything differently when practicing Zen. Rather, Zen permeates your life organically, subtly coloring everything you do, think, and feel. You live your life, and Zen naturally integrates with it, guiding your actions and interactions and molding your responses to life’s circumstances.

Every action, no matter how small or large, can become an embodiment of Zen when performed with mindfulness. Being mindful means being wholly present and engaged with whatever you do, without judgment or distraction.

For instance, when washing dishes, you become fully aware of the sensation of water on your skin, the sound of water splashing, and the sight of soap bubbles. This act of complete immersion transforms a mundane activity into a meditative Zen practice.

The Zen of Interpersonal Relationships

Our relationships with others offer a rich canvas to express the Zen practice. Zen calls for deep listening, truthful speaking, and compassionate acting—all of which have the potential to enrich our interactions with others.

A casual conversation becomes a Zen practice when you listen with your whole being, responding with mindfulness and compassion. Every relationship can become a Zen practice when nurtured with understanding, empathy, and mutual respect.

The Zen Approach to Challenges

Life invariably throws us challenges. Zen teaches us to view these not as obstacles but as opportunities for growth. In facing life’s adversities, we can practice patience, resilience, and wisdom—attributes that are expressions of Zen. When met with a Zen mindset, challenges become like rocks in a stream, around which the water effortlessly flows—unhindered, adaptable, and resilient.

The Zen of Ordinary Life

Zen urges us to find the extraordinary within the ordinary, the miraculous within the mundane. When performed with mindfulness, each daily activity can transform into a ceremony of life—an expression of the profound interconnectedness of all things.

Every sip of tea, every step you take, every breath—when experienced fully, with mindfulness—is Zen. Zen lies in full appreciation and engagement with the present moment, regardless of what that moment contains.

Zen, Creativity, and Work

Work, often viewed as a necessary struggle, can also be painted with the brush of Zen. When engaged mindfully, work becomes more than a means to an end—it transforms into a process of self-discovery and growth. Whether you’re writing a report, programming, or designing a garden, every task offers a platform for the practice of Zen.


Zen is not an esoteric philosophy confined to the lofty heights of Buddhist monasteries or obscured within the depths of ancient texts. It is a way of life, a state of being, accessible to anyone willing to live each moment fully and mindfully. The essence of Zen is not found in the destination but in the journey, each step taken with mindful awareness.

Remember, Zen is not just about what you do but how you do it. It’s about transforming the quality of your actions, making each one a work of art painted with the brush of mindful awareness. And this art extends to everything: eating, working, communicating, and even resting.

Through this very act of mindful being, we discover the true essence of Zen.