Get to Know the 7 principles of Zen Philosophy

Zen philosophy involves living a full and authentic life while focusing on the present moment. Here are its fundamental principles.
Get to Know the 7 principles of Zen Philosophy
Maria Alejandra Morgado Cusati

Reviewed and approved by the philosopher Maria Alejandra Morgado Cusati.

Written by Editorial Team

Last update: 21 June, 2023

Zen is a Buddhist school that originated in China during the Tang dynasty and later took root in various Japanese schools. Its philosophy is based on meditation. In fact, the very word zen means just that: to meditate.

In this sense, meditation is a practice of self-discovery that helps us to live fully in the present moment and achieve tranquility. However, Zen philosophy goes beyond this.

It involves living a full and authentic life by focusing on the present moment. It doesn’t dictate what we should feel or think or how we should be or what we should do; it only teaches us to be aware of our experience and live immersed in it.

The principles of Zen philosophy are universal, so we can integrate them into any belief system or lifestyle. Moreover, there’s no need to enter a monastery or go into mystical mode to connect with ourselves and the present moment.

In fact, the following principles can be a good starting point for integrating Zen philosophy into our lives.

1. The mind constructs one’s experience

Zen philosophy teaches us that experience is not equivalent to reality. Therefore, the mind is the one that shapes how we interpret the facts, depending on our belief system and personal predispositions.

Therefore, we can create different experiences by changing and choosing which aspects to focus on. If, when faced with a personal failure, for instance, we focus on blaming ourselves for everything instead of channeling our attention toward what we can learn from the situation, the experience will undoubtedly be very unpleasant.

Mente crea la realidad en la filosofía zen.
The idea that the mind creates reality and modifies it is a principle of the Zen current that’s especially supported by Buddhism.

2. According to Zen philosophy, the self is an illusion

We often believe that we’re the sum of definitions, titles, and roles we fulfill in society, such as writer, student, good person, sportswoman, and mother. However, we’re more than these limiting and closed categories.

The truth is that the self is also one of the realities that the mind constructs. The self isn’t something that can be precisely defined and delimited; it’s an essence that is constantly changing and moving. That’s why it’s so difficult to understand oneself.

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3. You only need to believe in what you feel to be true

It’s important to be flexible with our belief system, so that we don’tt assume any judgment or teaching as absolute and immutable truth. Ideally, we should trust our intuition and our ability to identify what is true for us.

Otherwise, we could end up very conflicted, struggling between what others tell us is right and what we feel is true. According to Zen philosophy, if you aren’t living your life according to what you know to be true, you’re not following your highest good.

4. Detachment is the path to happiness

Detachment does not only imply detaching emotionally from objects, events or people, but rather being aware that everything in life has a meaning and a usefulness.

According to Zen philosophy, detachment implies the understanding that the “bad” things that happen to us teach us and show us how to heal, in order to open ourselves even more to the “good” things.

5. “Being” is more important than “doing”

Stillness and silence are fundamental in Zen philosophy. In this case, meditation allows us to quiet the mind and to recognize what needs to be recognized and healed. It also keeps us connected to ourselves, rather than to attachments.

In this way, meditation teaches us the profound art of “doing nothing” and allows us to simply be. Let’s remember that, according to Zen philosophy, we’re not what we do, but simply are.

6. We can be objective observers of our minds and our lives

Meditation helps us to observe thoughts as they happen, as if we were an external spectator. This allows us to filter through what passes through the mind and discover that we’re not those thoughts or those feelings that arise from them.

According to Zen philosophy, we’re a much more integral reality. We’re the being who experiences those thoughts and feelings and who decides which ones to value and how to act.

Meditación zen.
With Zen meditation, we seek to observe the mind and to be guardians of the thoughts that pass through it in order to treat them with more objectivity.

7. Unity is our natural state

Unity in Zen philosophy refers to the profound union with all that exists. In fact, that’s what contemplation is: not looking at reality from the outside, but entering into the essence of what is observed and merging with it.

The separation between all that exists is also an illusion, since each being is part of a whole. It’s only when we’re able to blend with this reality that we achieve harmony and inner balance.

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Zen philosophy is a lifestyle to feel more fulfilled

If we integrate the principles of Zen philosophy into our lives, we can acquire a healthier perspective, which helps us to manage feelings, thoughts, and experiences more wisely.

Moreover, thanks to its fundamental basis, which is meditation, it not only invites us to connect with ourselves, but also provides us with a moment of relaxation and self-care. This is very necessary for our daily routines.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Nagamoto S.  Japanese Zen Buddhist Philosophy [Internet]. California: tanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; 2019 [consultado el 15 de junio de 2022]. Disponible en:
  • Silva V, Araya C, Martínez D y Aristegui R. La experiencia de estar presente en meditadores Zen: una aproximación fenomenológica. Límite (Arica) [Internet]. 2018 [consultado el 15 de junio de 2022]; 13(43): 29-39. Disponible en:
  • Suzuki D. Introducción a Budismo Zen. Primera Edición. Buenos Aires. Editorial Kier, 2004.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.