February 16, 2024

25 Zen Quotes & Poems to Restore Wisdom. {Bonus: Video}

Several months ago, I purchased a book entitled, The Zen Book of Life: Wisdom from the Great Masters, Teachers and Writers of All Time, by Mark Zocchi.

In this treasure chest lies an exquisite compilation of 311 sayings, koans, and poems by Sufis, Zen Masters, poets, and enlightened thinkers throughout millennia.

At the time, I was slowly coming out of another dark epoch due to a prolonged bout of digestive issues that provoked a pattern of samskaras. According to the ego-mind, I thought I needed to be reminded of all that I had forgotten due to my own identification with the anxiety and depression that were present in those especially challenging moments.

Thus, Zen became like a North Star in a vacuous sky, illuminating a path and shedding light on the jewel in the lotus.

Traditionally, the philosophy of Zen originated in India around the 4th or 5th century CE. It is thought to contain elements of Indian Mahayana Buddhism and Taoism. Sooner or later, it was refined in Japan after a South Indian Buddhist Monk by the name of Bodhidharma brought what is called “mind only” teachings there, which postulate that all phenomena, including everything in the manifested world, is merely an appearance of the mind. Bodhidharma started a lineage there. Zen was not brought to the Western world until the end of the 19th century, and did not gain much attention until after the Second World War.

Compared to other schools, Zen is much less abstract and strongly emphasizes that enlightenment is attained through a dedicated and consistent practice of meditation, which puts us face-to-face with ultimate self-realization. As a byproduct of this practice, compassion, peace, and wisdom become second nature.

It is my staunch opinion that our civilization needs to acknowledge and embrace the philosophy and principles of Advaita Vedanta and Zen Buddhism now more than ever before. I believe that our insistence that we are solely physical beings operating in a world of matter and exist apart from the natural world is destroying us in innumerable ways, and thus degrading the entire planet.

In fact, the Dalai Lama once said, “If every eight-year-old in the world is taught meditation, we will eliminate violence from the world within one generation.”

How could this be, you ask? After all, it seems far too simplistic—even too idealistic.

Well, for one, meditation is known to promote self-regulation. Without self-regulation, people are puppets of their own negative and destructive thinking patterns. When they fall victim to their lower nature, self-destruction, greed, gluttony, anger, impatience, and yes, even violence ensues.

In a similar vein, if every business and corporation on this planet embraced Zen principles, greed would no longer be the driving force behind all actions, and nature, which includes you and I, would be prioritized over profit.

Below are 25 Zen quotes from the book to help us embrace the totality of life and restore wisdom. Included is a compilation of spoken quotations by Kodo Sawaki, a Japanese Teacher and Zen Priest of the 20th century, read by a Buddhist nun.

25 Zen quotes and poems to restore wisdom:

1. “Everything that begins also ends. Make peace with that and all will be well.” ~ The Buddha


2. “To be enlightened is to be intimate with all things.” ~ Zen Master Dogen


3. “The resting place for the mind is the heart.” ~ Buddhist Monk


4. “No one who truly loves themselves would harm another for they would be harming themselves.” ~ The Buddha


5. “The only truth you find at the top of the mountain is the truth you brought with you.” ~ Zen Saying


6. “To abandon what is harmful,

To adopt what is wholesome,

To purify the heart and mind.

This is the teaching of the Buddha.” ~ The Buddha

7. “We accept the graceful falling of mountain cherry blossoms,

But it is much harder for us

To fall away from our own

Attachment to the world.” ~ Zen Wisdom


8. “Know all things like this

A mirage, a cloud, a castle.

Nothing appears as it is.” ~ The Buddha


9. “Your worst enemy cannot harm you

As much as your own thoughts,


But once mastered,

No one can help you as much.” ~ The Dhammapada.


10. “All that we are is the result

of what we have thought.

It is founded on our thoughts,

It is made up of our thoughts.” ~ The Dhammapada


11. “Zen mind is not Zen mind,

That is,

if you are attached to Zen mind,

Then you have a problem,

And your way is very narrow.

Throwing away Zen mind

is correct Zen mind.

Only keeping the question,

What is the best way of helping other people?” ~ Seung Sahn


12. “If we speak of what is real,

Even a speck of dust

or grain of sand is real.

Everything is illusory

like the moon reflected in water.

Neither real or unreal

is the infinite void.” ~ Zen Poem, Vietnamese Buddhist Monk


13. “Refraining from all evil,

Not clinging to birth and death,

Working with deep compassion

for all sentient beings,

respecting those over you

and pitying those below you,

without any detesting or desiring,

worrying or lamentation—

This is called Buddha.

Do not Search beyond it.” ~ Zen Master Dogen


14. “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” ~ Lao Tzu


15. “We sat together, the forest and I, merging into silence. Until only the forest remained.” ~ Li Po


16. “We reflect on paradox:

water wears away rock.

Spirit overcomes force.

The weak will undo the mighty.

May we learn to see things backwards,

inside out, and upside down.” ~ Lao Tzu


17. “Seeing through to essential nature

is the window of enlightenment.” ~ Hakuun Yasutani Roshi


18. “One who does not grasp hold

of anything is not agitated.

One who is not agitated is close to freedom.” ~ The Buddha


19. “Stop talking and thinking, then

there is nowhere you cannot go.

Returning to the Source,

you gain the meaning, chasing forms you

lose wholeness.

A moment’s true insight transcends all.” ~ Sosan


20. “The quieter you become

The more you are able to hear.” ~ Zen Saying


21. We are not in chaos

we are the chaos.” ~ MZ


22. “Form is empty of a separate self,

but it is full of everything else

in the cosmos.

The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness.” ~ Thich Nhat Hahn


23. “Do not mistake understanding for realization, and do not mistaken realization for liberation.” ~ Tibetan Saying


24. “Elements of the Self,

come and go like clouds

without purpose.” ~ Zen Saying


25. “All conditioned things are impermanent.

Work out your own salvation

with diligence.” ~ The Buddha’s last words



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