A short introduction about Zen.nl in English.
Zen.nl is an organization that provides zen coaching, zen courses, zen retreats and zen teacher training courses, aiming to help as many people as possible to attain sustainable happiness. By sustainable happiness we mean the improved ability to enjoy the challenges of life in a wide array of circumstances.
By providing zen coaching, zen courses, zen retreats and zen teacher training courses, it is our mission to help as many people as possible to attain sustainable happiness. Happiness, for that matter, is not the same as enjoyment, but happiness is the skill that enables you to enjoy the moment more. This mission is our modern-day translation of the ancient Buddhist bodhisattva ideal of bringing enlightenment to all living beings. Research and experience have shown us that our pursuit of this mission is actually the best possible way to attain our own sustainable happiness (see Graph below). The term 'sustainable' in our mission refers both to the skill of happiness and to the way in which we aim to accomplish our mission: in harmony with our surroundings and nature.
Zen.nl Contemporary Buddhism
The guiding principle in all we do at Zen.nl is our mission as phrased above. In all respects, the tradition of Zen Buddhism is our primary source of inspiration, guiding all our coaching sessions, courses and retreats. In addition, our training approach is guided by modern scientific data, current educational paradigms and contemporary social standards. Zen.nls theoretical and practical starting-points have been documented in great detail in books by Rients Ritskes and in countless articles published in our weekly newsletter, ZenActueel, over the years. Zen.nl is a regular participant in scientific studies of the effects of meditation and evaluates the quality and effects of its own training activities on a comprehensive scale (see Graph below).
Zen.nl aspires to achieve the highest possible quality levels in all its training activities and is CRKBO-registered, a government professional education register in the Netherlands. Senior teachers train new zen teachers and help them, if necessary, to establish their own new Zen.nl branches. There are 39 Zen.nl branches in the Netherlands at present, while another ten to twenty new branches are expected to open up over the next few years. Zen.nl aims to be a professional organization of lay practitioners, and its growth in recent years has helped to create both full-time and part-time jobs.
Zen.nl was founded in 1989 by Rients Ritskes (1957), who became at that time a full-time zen teacher, after he had been working as a student counsellor at Utrecht University for a decade. As a student of zen, he worked with many well-established zen masters and obtained his zen teaching qualification from Hirata Roshi at the Tenryu-ji monastery in Kyoto. In 2013, he formally severed relations with Tenryu-ji, the zen monastery where he had been a regular practitioner of zen up until that time. Rients Ritskes visits Japan on a regular basis to lead study trips and pilgrimages in and around Kyoto. Several of Rients Ritskes' books have been translated into German, and one into English (The Zen Manager), which is available online.
More zen means greater happiness
In March 2014, over 1200 people took part in our annual Zen.nl survey gauging the happiness of all involved in our organization. Its main conclusion is that people who meditate are happier than people who do not meditate, and people who meditate more are happier than people who meditate less. This survey was performed for the third consecutive year, and its results are very similar to those of previous years.
Several scientific studies indicate that more meditation leads to greater happiness because meditation improves our concentration. The ability to focus on the present moment appears to be strongly related to mental well-being; and the ability to concentrate improves our ability to choose what we will focus our attention on. This allows us to enjoy the positive aspects in a growing array of situations, even those we would initially consider to be negative ones.
Scientists have also found a more physiological explanation in the fact that meditation demonstrably improves important neural connections in our brain. These improved connections re-establish links between our thinking and our feeling, which improves our ability to feel what is right for us and what is not. If we develop this feeling ability, it will obviously makes us happier.
Zen teachers happier than average
As in previous surveys, practising zen teachers appear to be the happiest category of respondents in our survey: scoring 7.7, they far outstrip the national average of 7.0, which was measured in a national control group of 500 respondents. The graph below also shows that beginners who have just taken an introductory course tend to give themselves a lower score than the average Dutch person. A logical explanation for this is that most participants have good reason to take up meditation: they do not sleep well, feel anxiety or face other challenges. This would explain their happiness score being just below average. In the advanced groups, the score of 7.2 has already risen above the 7.0 average; and for the practising zen teachers, the gap with the control group has even widened further. This would appear to confirm our view that facilitating others to attain sustainable happiness actually makes you happy.
National evaluation of Zen.nl introductory courses November 2014
The national evaluation amongst Zen.nl introductory students was carried out in November 2014. Thirty out of thirty-nine of our branches took part, and about 900 students were sent a questionnaire. A total of 460 students complied with our request to complete the questionnaire. It was two years ago when the previous evaluation was done, and the results are very similar. At that time, nineteen branches took part, and 336 people responded. The main difference with the situation two years ago, therefore, is that the numbers of branches and students have gone up in the meantime. Over the past few years, the overall assessment of the introductory course has been at a very steady score of 8.1, the same score we measured in 2011. Another constant is that relations with the teacher get the highest score, 8.3 this year, and that theory gets a slightly lower score at 7.8.
The main conclusion of this comprehensive evaluation is that our well-qualified teachers have managed to keep course quality at a very high level indeed, despite Zen.nl's rapid growth.
Ninety-eight percent of our students
A new question in this evaluation was whether students would recommend Zen.nl to friends; no fewer than 98% of the respondents replied YES. And 84% of them thought our price-quality ratio was good or very good.
More meditation = more effect
As the total number of students has grown, we can get a better idea of how meditation frequency relates to the occurrence of positive effects. The first graph below demonstrates this relationship. In our courses, we strongly recommend meditating at home, twenty minutes twice a day being our general advice. In this group of 460 respondents, 14% of students managed to meditate fourteen times a week or even a little more. On average, people tend to meditate nine times a week.
The fourth graph below shows what effects people experienced and how often. On average, students report up to four different effects of their meditation. The effects they report are often logically connected, as in 'better sleep' and 'more energy'. Meditation frequency and the number of some reported effects are correlated: students who do little meditation report an average of three effects, and those who meditate more frequently report an average of four effects.