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Personal Experiences with Zen Practice
How Zen Practice Has Changed My Life
Dae Hyun


I have now been practicing for almost 15 years under the Ven. Zen Master Young San Seong Do at the International Zen-Temple.

Despite my many years of practice, I still see myself as a beginner. I often think that my practice should be stronger. But I am very happy to have never given up and stayed true to Zen practice. Over the years, Zen has become the most important thing in my life.

What, then, does ‘Zen practice’ mean? To understand this is itself a part of practice. It can hardly be explained in words and terms.

Simply put, regular silent sitting mediation is the core of Zen practice. At the International Zen-Temple, this takes place on fixed weekly days and for longer periods of intensive practice as a group. This practice in the temple is particularly important due to the great guidance received by the Ven. Zen Master and because of the energy the group generates. However, it is just as important to sit at home alone regularly, at best twice a day.

Zen sitting practice is intrinsically connected to koan practice, particularly with the main koan "What is this?" ("What am I?"). At the same time, work with the koan goes beyond our sitting practice because it should accompany us in our everyday lives, after we get up from our sitting cushion.

However, religious ceremonies, reciting sutras and the practice of prostrations are also part of Zen practice. The Zen school emphasizes that one's own practice is the only thing that ultimately counts and that theoretical, intellectual knowledge is an obstacle which must be cut off. Nevertheless, on our way to the final goal of our practice, it is also important to study sacred Buddhist texts and know and observe the basic precepts.

But Zen practice is also the manner in which I carry out the activities assigned to me by the Ven. Zen Master in the Zen Temple. Ultimately, everything is Zen practice: How I keep my own mind at all times and places and the way I live my life.


The goal of Zen practice is to attain enlightenment. I have absolutely no doubt that it is possible to attain this goal in this lifetime through Zen practice.

It would not be right to start with Zen practice for selfish worldly objectives, such as success in your career. But the fact remains that Zen practice, even for those amongst us who have not yet achieved the ultimate goal of enlightenment, has an extraordinarily positive effect on our personal life.

This I can testify from personal experience.


Zen practice has made my mind much quieter. This is not only true for the time I spend in sitting meditation, but for the whole of my life. While fears, desires and worries have not disappeared from my life today, they have become much less agonizing. I believe my mind is less complicated and confused than in the past and that I have fewer unnecessary worries and problems.

Others have also noticed this. Friends and colleagues, even superiors, have repeatedly told me in the last ten years that they appreciate my advice or even just my presence in difficult situations because I spread an atmosphere of stability and clear orientation.

I believe this greater clarity of mind also allows us to have a much better ‘intuitive’ understanding of people and circumstances. Sometimes I am myself surprised at my ability to concentrate at work and understand and control even very complex situations.

The practice has increasingly given me the ability to see recurring sequences of feelings, thoughts and impulses arising in my mind. Then I realize how illusory my proud ‘reasoning’ is, not much different from a nocturnal dream.

I often exclaim to myself: "How confused our human mind is!" In fact, I believe that worldly thinking, in particular supposedly scientific thinking, is in fact ‘crazy’ and that this thinking can make people ‘crazy’. I believe Zen practice is the best medicine for our mind. I therefore hope that I have the energy to improve my Zen practice and that many people find their way to Zen practice.


Generally speaking, I have the impression that my life has developed in a stable and positive way since I started practicing Zen. This is true both for my relationships with friends and family as well as for my professional development. The difficult and critical situations I occasionally encountered were ultimately resolved in a positive way, sometimes ‘all by itself’, sometimes through a twist which appeared to be a small miracle. It is as if good spirits were protecting my life. I find this all the more striking because my life before I started practicing was rather complicated.

My physical and mental health has greatly improved through practice. I had a frail constitution since my childhood, but have virtually never been seriously ill in the 15 years since I started practicing Zen.

The experience of seeing physical pain simply disappear through the mind by means of sitting practice makes us less attached to our body and its discomforts. It is not that I basically lack faith in modern scientific medicine. But because I know the power of the mind over the body, I doubt many supposedly ‘scientifically proven findings’. For my own life, this means that I have become much less anxious about my body.

Once, I made a vow to carry out the practice of 300 daily prostrations for a period of over 3 years. About 4 months before the end of the practice period my knee became badly inflamed. The doctor I consulted told me to keep my knee absolutely quiet for several weeks. When I explained to her why this was not possible, she, to my own surprise, agreed: Spiritual exercise and keeping a vow were more important than narrow medical considerations. I continued the practice until the end, did not even use the ointment she had prescribed and the inflammation disappeared by itself. It was the first time I had met this doctor, who was substituting for someone else and who, as she told me, was also a Buddhist. It was a small miracle that strengthened my resolve to practice.

I am very happy in my job. On the one hand, I manage not to take it too seriously, but on the other hand, I pursue it with great joy.

In general, I find it much easier than before to let go of all kind of things. My relations with my worldly friends are fewer in number than before, but have improved in quality. I was able to overcome some bad habits. I do not live in strict asceticism, but clearly realize that worldly goods and possessions have an extremely relative value. I can easily cast away material objects. My attitude towards life has become more generous, also when it comes to money. In this way I have less to worry about, I gain the good will of the people around me and, in the end, wondrously get back what I have given. This is not an abstract religious theory, but my own practical experience.

The changes brought about by my Zen practice are also reflected in clearly visible, outwardly matters: Thanks to the effects of my practice and the exemplary order and cleanliness of the Zen Temple, both my home and my work place are tidy and beautifully decorated. Visitors therefore feel at ease in my surroundings.


As Zen practice has become so important to me, it makes me sad when I see people starting to practice Zen and then giving up, because I think of the unique opportunity they are throwing away.

In conclusion, there are two things I would like to mention:

Firstly: Based on my own experience, I firmly believe that Zen practice is of immense benefit for anyone who earnestly undertakes it. The basic principles of your character and temperament may remain unchanged, but your personality and whole environment will become much more mature, harmonious and stable. If you want to transform your personal life and improve the world, I cannot imagine anything better than Zen practice!

Secondly: The Venerable Zen Master often emphasizes that Zen practice can make one's life incredibly easy, clear and simple. ‘Simple’ does not necessarily mean the seclusion of a monastery, but is independent of one's social position and activities in life. I can wholeheartedly confirm this. Of course, life always has its problems. Old age, sickness and death spare no one. But when I look at other people who do not have the benefit of Zen practice, year after year I perceive more clearly how they create an incredible variety of problems for themselves and do not even notice how they are becoming more and more entangled in them. If you want a clear, fresh and straightforward life, you should immediately begin to practice Zen.

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