The goal of Zen is for the practitioner to arrive at the fundamental understanding of the complete interconnectedness of all things.
To live with this experience is to be enlightened.
Though many people practice Zen throughout the world. The institutions of Zen Buddhism hold that the most serious practitioners are those people who have devoted their entire life to the discipline.
When a person decides to become a Zen monk they have decided to devote their life to "humility, labor, service, prayer, gratitude and meditation."[i] A Zen monk live in a highly disciplined community, under the guidance of a master who helps them develop in meditation, through the study of sutras, and primarily through the use of koan.
In the monastery, they are able to work and provide service for their community, and develop the virtues of humility, prayer and gratitude. A Zen monk sees this work as not only of benefit to themselves, but as benefitting the entire world. They see the fruits of their labors as the fruit of peace, whose ripened bounty they hope will overflow from the walls of the monasteries and cloisters within which they live, to permeate the entire world.
In our discussion of Zen, we should be mindful that traditional institutions of Zen Buddhism would remind people not to fall into the mistaken belief that Zen is only a meditational practice, or a system of discipline. Zen can easily be misunderstood as a contemplative movement outside of Buddhism. This is especially true in America where so many of our common and casual associations with the term Zen have to do with best selling books such as Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, or Zen and the Art of Tennis.
The tension between a “western” view of Zen, and a traditional view of Zen Buddhism is clearly articulated by the religious scholar Rau Grigg, in his book, The Tao of Zen, "The focus of Zen has always been toward engendering sensitivity and insight into the world itself, not the teachings of the Buddha per se, and certainly not the religious dogma of Mahayana."[ii] Grigg’s point of view is valid, but it should also be understood for what it is, a privileged, academic view that represents a departure from the norms of Zen practice and culture.