What is Zen Counseling?

I would define counseling as a process in which one human being helps another to solve a personal problem or discover a direction to solve a troublesome issue. There are many kinds of specialized counseling – relationship counseling, career counseling, psychological counseling, parent-child counseling, teenage counseling, and so on.

In all counseling, it is assumed that the counselor has more experience, more knowledge, more insight about a subject and is therefore in a superior position than the client. One goes to a counselor expecting to receive customized advice or personalized solutions from someone who knows the patterns of such problems and the generic solutions to those. And what does the counselor do? He hears the problems of the client and maps it to some similar problems in his past experiences, searches for an appropriate solution for that and gives that advice to the client.

A canned solution can never solve a unique problem.

But most counselors learn only canned approaches and solutions which they offer to their clients – because those solutions are in vogue, in current fashion or currently acceptable.

But let me ask a question. Can one person help another person just by virtue of being another human being? Without being an expert, without being more experienced in any skill or domain? Is there a quality in which every human being in equally skilled? What is the action that every person can do equally well – in all circumstances, always, in any relationship, in any environment, through any means of communication?

Yes, there is this skill, this ability, this faculty which is equal in all human beings – it is not thinking, it is not talking, it is not walking or acting

It is LISTENING.

Anyone can listen, young or old, fair or dark, male or female, today or tomorrow, 10,000 years in the history or 10,000 years in the future, anyone can listen.

Everything else might be different, the way we speak, the way we think, the language we speak or the content of our thoughts. But the way to listen cannot be different in any age for anyone. Every human being can listen.

And with listening, one human being can help another. Anyone can help anyone without any special skills on knowledge or expertise or experience. The power of listening to solve problems is the most under-appreciated power in human beings. In fact, listening is not considered to be of any significance in daily life. I say that almost all human problems arise because we do not listen enough, and we do not listen deeply.

How does listening help another person?

  1. Listening conveys acceptance: As human beings, we are unique in our thoughts, likes, dislikes, experiences and desires. We want others to accept us as we are. Listening to another shows that you accept the other person as he/she is.
  2. Listening does not judge: Given a person’s problem or situation, if we judge that as good or bad, it puts an end to the discussion. Any judgement is a conclusion and stops further conversation. You don’t feel understood if the person listening to you is constantly judging you. But when you listen attentively without judging then the speaker opens up. He/she starts to trust you and opens up more.
  3. Listening gives space: In today’s world, everyone wants to speak and get his thoughts out there in front of other people. Advertisements, slogans, speeches – everyone seems to be speaking and no one seems to be listening. This suffocates the mind. Mind needs space for creativity, for problem solving. But when there is no space, mind reacts, gets into a survival mode and deteriorates into emotional outbursts. When you listen, it gives space for the other person to look at his own thoughts, to unwind, to untie the knots within.
  4. Listening is compassionate: When you listen, you show an interest in the other person. Since you want to know more, you ask questions, you clarify things. All this displays compassion and empathy towards another.
  5. Listening is freedom: In normal conversation, there seems to be a compulsion to say something, to respond with an answer or a suggestion. But when you are listening you are free. You don’t have to respond to any pressure. Listening is therapeutic. Listening is relaxing.

Zen Counseling is based on this power of listening to help other people solve their problems. It combines listening with the fundamental insights and principles of Zen Buddhism to provide a very potent and very effective way to problem solving.

Zen Buddhism considers every human being to be a Buddha.

A Buddha is an awakened one, one whose mind is awake. An implication of this premise is that for any person who as a problem, the solution to that problem is within his own mind. No external answer will suffice.

Therefore, in Zen Counseling, the first rule for a counselor is to consider the client as a Buddha. And the second rule is not to offer any advice.

The Zen Counselor simply listens in a relaxed manner. As the client talks about his / her problem, the Zen Counselor continues to listen. And in this listening process, in the space that is created, in the acceptance and the non-judgmental atmosphere, the client starts to unravel his problem in his own awareness. As the problem becomes clear, the client will start to see the solution emerge.

The life situation of the client, the experiences of the client and the specific attitude and personality of the client determines the solution.

Any solution offered by the Zen Counselor is not going to be effective because it will be colored by his own biases and past experiences or no experiences. Therefore, a Zen Counselor never offers any advice. And that is the power of Zen Counseling.

It is effective in any circumstance, any age, for anyone, young or old, for any problem – career, relationship, finance, goal setting, sometimes even physical pain.

Zen Counseling is the way of the Buddha. It is surprisingly effective in solving problems or helping people find a direction.

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