The Best Zen Quotes To Progress Along Your Spiritual Path

Written by:

Gemma Clarke

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Practices like meditation and journalling are a super valuable part of our usual everyday routine, helping us cultivate a sense of peace and serenity. However, sometimes we don’t have the time or the right environment to sit and meditate. For example, when you’re about to go into an important meeting or interview and suddenly feel a wave of anxiety creep up on you.

In situations like this, we need some instant calm. Reading zen quotes and sayings can help us quickly connect to the present moment so we can approach whatever we need to do with the right mindset.

What’s more, reading your favorite zen proverb every morning or evening can help you better handle stressful situations in your daily life. This article will reveal the most famous zen quotes to help you stay centered and cultivate a more meaningful day.

What does Zen mean?

Before we share our selection of the top Zen quotes, let’s discuss what Zen means and what Zen Buddhism is.

The word Zen is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese word, Ch’an. Ch’an comes from a Sanskrit root meaning “thought,” “absorption,” or “meditation,” and the word became known in Japan as “Zen” around the eighth century.

In modern-day usage, we see the term Zen as being in a relaxed state and not worrying about things you cannot control. Thus, we would use Zen to describe someone who is always peaceful and unfazed by challenges or triggers.

What is Zen Buddhism?

Aside from being used as an adjective, Zen is also short for Zen Buddhism. Zen Buddhism is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that originated in China. Although there is no evidence of who invented Zen, the legendary founder is Buddhist monk Bodhidharma, who lived during the 5th or 6th century.

In the early days, Zen was practiced originated in various parts of Asia, such as China, Korea, Japan, and Vietnam. However, it wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that Zen arrived in the western world, brought over by Japanese teachers who relocated to America.

Zen is a meditation-based form of Buddhism that focuses on self-mastery through personal experience. It is more about intuitive understanding than philosophizing. So rather than following religious beliefs, scriptures, or rituals, Zen Buddhism is traditionally passed on from master to disciple through intensive and intimate training.

Zen is best described as a spiritual practice rather than a philosophy or a religion. The method of Zen Buddhism is to observe the mind through sitting meditation. By sitting and breathing with awareness, over time, you will gain deeper insight and understand the true nature of the mind.

Zen monk and teacher Shunryu Suzuki shares that “the true purpose [of Zen] is to see things as they are, to observe things as they are, and to let everything go as it goes.”

Like monks and practitioners of other forms of Buddhism, the aim of Zen practice is enlightenment. In this state, it is believed you will experience the utmost peace and freedom.

What are the main Zen teachings?

The four basic principles of Zen philosophy are:

Understanding interconnectedness in the universe 

Western society teaches that we are all separate entities, which leads to competition, judgment, jealousy, and hatred. However, through the practice of Zen, we realize that this supposed separation between self and others is just an illusion. The truth is we are all connected to each other as we come from and are part of the same source; universal energy.

Denial of the ego 

When you understand the principle above, you realize there is no “self.” The “self” or “ego” is a fabrication of the mind rather than reality. You are not your thoughts, your emotions, or your suffering.

Recognition of attachment as a source of suffering 

Like other forms of Buddhism, one of the primary teachings of Zen is that suffering and pain are a result of attachment. This is because everything is impermanent and in constant change, so choosing to attach to something is choosing to suffer. Thus, to practice Zen means to practice non-attachment (similar to the Yama Aparigraha, a key concept in yogic philosophy).

The realization that human perception is faulty 

Because we are mostly controlled by our minds, our logic is often misleading, and our beliefs are not absolute. Meditation helps us awaken to the truth and detach from our minds and egos.

The most famous Zen quotes

Below is a list of the most inspirational zen quotes from several zen masters, monks, and teachers. To make finding the wisdom you need easier, we’ve split these zen quotes into topic categories; life, mindfulness, peace, self-development, success, relationships, and impermanence.

Zen quotes about life

  1. “The personal life deeply lived always expands into truths beyond itself.” ― Anais Nin
  2. “When you realize nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” ― Lao Tzu
  3. “The practice of Zen is forgetting the self in the act of uniting with something.” ― Koun Yamada
  4. “Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.”― Pema Chödrön
  5. “Our prime purpose in this life is to help others. And if you can’t help them, at least don’t hurt them.” ― Dalai Lama
  6. “The real meditation is how you live your life.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn
  7. “Old friends pass away, new friends appear. It is just like the days. An old day passes, and a new day arrives. The important thing is to make it meaningful: a meaningful friend – or a meaningful day.” ― Dalai Lama
  8. The true miracle is not walking on water or walking in air, but simply walking on this earth. ― Thích Nhất Hạnh
  9. “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” ― Lao Tzu
  10. “Respect life, revere life. There is nothing more holy than life, nothing more divine than life.” ― Osho

Zen quotes about mindfulness

  1. “Those who are awake live in a state of constant amazement.” ― Buddha
  2. “If you miss the present moment, you miss your appointment with life. That is very serious!” ― Thich Nhat Hanh
  3. “Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” ― Buddha 
  4. “The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.” ― Thich Nhat Hahn 
  5. “The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done in mindfulness.” ― Thich Nhat Hahn 
  6. “One loses joy and happiness in the attempt to possess them.” ― Masanobu Fukuoka
  7. “In a mind clear as still water, even the waves, breaking, are reflecting its light.” ― Dōgen Zenji
  8. “Smile, breathe and go slowly.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh
  9. “It all depends on you. You can go on sleeping forever, or you can wake up right this moment.” — Rajneesh 
  10. “As a bee gathering nectar does not harm or disturb the color and fragrance of the flower; so do the wise move through the world.” ― Buddha 

Zen quotes about peace

  1. “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
  2. “When thoughts arise, then do all things arise. When thoughts vanish, then do all things vanish.” ― Huang Po
  3. “The resistance to the unpleasant situation is the root of suffering.” ― Ram Dass
  4. “Do not let the behavior of others destroy your inner peace.” ― Dalai Lama
  5. “To seek is to suffer. To seek nothing is bliss.” ― Bodhidharma
  6. “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” ― Lao Tzu
  7. “Flow with whatever may happen, and let your mind be free: Stay centered by accepting whatever you are doing. This is the ultimate.” ― Chuang-Tzu
  8. “The only Zen you can find on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.” ― Robert M. Pirsig
  9. “A quick temper will make a fool of you soon enough.” ― Bruce Lee
  10. “To a mind that is still, the whole universe surrenders.” ― Chuang Tzu

Zen quotes about self-development

  1. “If you realize you have enough, you are truly rich.” ― Lao Tzu
  2. “The most important point is to accept yourself and stand on your two feet.” ― Shunryu Suzuki
  3. “To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh
  4. “Self-realization is effortless. What you are trying to find is what you already are.” ― Ramesh Balsekar
  5. “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” ― Sun Tzu
  6. “What the superior man seeks is in himself; what the small man seeks is in others.” ― Confucius
  7. “All that we are is the result of what we have thought. The mind is everything. What we think, we become.” ― Buddha
  8. “Little people are forever fussing and fretting.” ― Confucius
  9. “Only when you can be extremely pliable and soft can you be extremely hard and strong.” ― Zen Proverb
  10. “When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways – either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits or by using the challenge to find our inner strength. Thanks to the teachings of Buddha, I have been able to take this second way.” ― Dalai Lama

Zen quotes about success

  1. “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” ― Lao Tzu
  2. “Each morning, we are born again. What we do today is what matters most.” ― Buddha
  3. “To receive everything, one must open one’s hands and give.” ― Taisen Deshimaru
  4. “A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer.”― Bruce Lee
  5. “Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it is dark.” ― Zen Proverb
  6. “Have the fearless attitude of a hero and the loving heart of a child.” ― Soyen Shaku
  7. “Trying to define yourself is like trying to bite your own teeth.”― Alan Watts
  8. “Forget the years; forget distinctions. Leap into the boundless and make it your home.” ― Zhuangzi
  9. “When you do something, you should burn yourself up completely, like a good bonfire, leaving no trace of yourself.” ― Shunryu Suzuki
  10. “The three elements of creativity are thus: loving, knowing, and doing – or heart, mind, and hands – or, as Zen Buddhist teaching has it; great faith, great question, and great courage.” ― Eric Maise

Zen quotes about relationships

  1. “Love is the absence of judgment.” ― Dalai Lama
  2. “Wise men don’t judge – they seek to understand.” ―Wei Wu Wei
  3. “Nothing ever exists entirely alone. Everything is in relation to everything else.”― Buddha
  4. “Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” ― Dalai Lama
  5. “When you think everything is someone else fault, you will suffer a lot. When you realize that everything springs only from yourself, you will learn both peace and joy.” ― Dalai Lama
  6. “If we do not know how to care for ourselves and love ourselves, we cannot take care of the people we love. Loving oneself is the foundation for loving another person.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh

Zen quotes about impermanence

  1. “Throughout this life, you can never be certain of living long enough to take another breath.”― Huang Po
  2. “Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely.” ― Buddha
  3. “Everything that has a beginning has an ending. Make your peace with that, and all will be well.” ― Jack Kornfield 
  4. “This dew-like life fades away; time speeds swiftly. In this short life of ours, avoid involvement in superfluous things and just study the way.” ― Dōgen Zenji
  5. “One must be deeply aware of the impermanence of the world.” ― Dogen 
  6. “Only the hand that erases can write the true thing.” ― Meister Eckhart

Final Thoughts on the best Zen quotes

As you can see, a wealth of Zen wisdom is available at our fingertips to help us find inner stillness and lead a more peaceful life. Whatever area of your life you seek understanding and guidance, you’ll find a zen proverb to help you navigate it.

We recommend choosing a few zen quotes from the list above that you most resonate with and printing them out or writing them down. Then, place your favorite zen teachings somewhere you will see them every morning, such as on the fridge or mirror. That way, every morning, you can read these wise words and start your day in a centered and serene way.

About Gemma Clarke

Gemma Clarke is a certified and experienced yoga & meditation instructor. She has been practicing meditation since 2014 and teaching since 2018. Gemma specializes in yoga and mindfulness for emotional wellbeing, and she has taught in Thailand, Cambodia, and the UK. Gemma is passionate about sharing her expertise and experience with meditation to inspire others to live more mindfully, becoming happier, healthier, and calmer.

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