There exists a great interest in the West about Zen, particularly
since World War II. Yet there seems to be a general haziness about the
origin of Zen, what it believes, and the disciplines of Zen. The fault
is not entirely with the interested-but-uninitiated. The fault lies
also with Zen as a deliberately inscrutable teaching, made even more
enigmatic by its interpreters, who spend many years writing
innumerable books to explain what they insist is utterly inexplicable.
Their explanations are frequently interrupted to warn the reader that,
in the words of Lao Tzu, "they who tell do not know; they who
know do not tell."
people think of Zen as a Japanese development, manifest in their Noh
plays, in their flower arrangements, in their dances, in their tea
ceremonies, in their art, in their archery. And if they think so, they
are within the area of the truth. Some think of Zen as a Chinese
interpretation of the Buddhist concept of the state of enlightenment,
or of being "awakened," transported and adjusted to Japanese
culture. That, too, is within the area of truth. And then there are
some who think that Zen Buddhism goes back to the days of the Buddha
in India, when he began to expound Zen, wordlessly.
to legend, when Buddha was growing old he convened his disciples for
an important discourse. And when they gathered and sat down silently,
reverently waiting to hear their aging Master speak, the Buddha arose,
came forward on the flower-decked platform, looked over his audience
of disciples and monks, then bent down and picked up a flower which he
raised to the level of his eyes. Then, without uttering a word, he
returned to his seat. His followers looked at each other in
bewilderment, not understanding the meaning of his silence. Only the
venerable Mahakasyapa serenely smiled at the Master. And the Master
smiled back at him and wordlessly bequeathed to him the spiritual
meaning of his wordless sermon. And that, according to legend,
was the moment Zen was born.
a thousand years passed from the legendary encounter of the Buddha and
the venerable Mahakasyapa until Zen, transmitted from generation to
generation, reached Bodhi-Dharma, who introduced it to China. And
still another century passed before a Chinese philosopher and
theologian, Hui-neng, who died in 713 A.D., established Zen as a sect
China, the mystic experience of the Buddha's enlightenment was
influenced by the teachings of Lao Tzu. While the seed of Zen came
from India, it grew in China and was transformed by Taoism. But it did
not reach full flowering until it came, with Chinese Buddhism, to
Japan. In Japan, Zen was crystallized into a system, although its
adherents insisted that it could not be taught, and argued that there
could be no dependence on explanations, on sermonizing, or on any
formal creed or ritual.
Zen was adopted and adapted in Japan, it has gone through a number of
transformations. For historical reasons, and because of its presumable
nihilistic implications, Zen became popular with the intellectual
classes in Japan, and its following increased to nearly five million
toward the end of the Second World War.
name "Zen" is Japanese. It derives from the Chinese
Chan'an-na, which is a corruption from the Buddhist Dhyana, meaning
means waking up to the present moment. That is, perceiving this moment
exactly as it is, rather than through the filter of our ideas,
opinions, etc. One way to practice this is to ask yourself a Big
Question, such as "What am I?" If you ask such a question
strongly and sincerely, what appears is "Don't Know." This
don't-know is before thinking. If you keep it moment to moment, then
everything is clear. Then, each moment, whatever you're doing, just do
it. When you're sitting, just sit; when you're eating, just eat; and
so on. According to Zen, existence is found in the silence of the mind
(no-mind), beyond the chatter of our internal dialog. Existence, from
the Zen perspective is something that is only happening spontaneously,
and it is not just our thoughts. All of life that we perceive is
constantly in a state of change. Every atom in the universe is
somewhere different every millionth of a second.
then is existence? Zen says that it is instantaneous. Since the earth
is constantly moving, and our thoughts and our bodies are constantly
in a process of fluctuation, then what we really are, can only be
experienced in each moment.
of a view. Is it what it was a second ago, or what it is now? In fact
the moment we say the word “view", the view has already
changed into something new.
fact, anything that we can explain, according to this viewpoint, must
be past-tense. Even if it’s about our most immediate feelings and
thoughts, it is not the same experience the second after it passes
through our minds. Researchers estimate that our minds perceive 12,000
separate impressions every second. This is in terms of everything that
we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel.
what is our reality really? Isn’t it always a very limited view of
what we are even actually experiencing around us? And that which we
are aware of, is only our own minute impression of the world itself.
Are any of our views then actually true in the absolute sense of the
word, or are they all just our subjective impressions, based on an
individual experience of what we are perceiving?
example, a person may think that the Sun moves through their sky, and
that the earth is stationary. Is this actually true? It may seem true
for a person at the moment they make the observation, but how true is
it from an absolute perspective of the universe? Can we even know what
is the absolute perspective? In this example, from another perspective
the earth appears to travel around the Sun.
with this in mind, there are an infinite number of viewpoints possible
at each moment, from an infinite number of perspectives; therefore
there are an infinite number of existences, and in any absolute sense,
existence itself is inexpressible. Can we actually experience
existence then? Perhaps from the Zen perspective the question is,
"Why do we not experience it?"
says that if we entertain no personal version of what we think
existence is, in other words, if we hold no subjective interpretation
of what existence is, at the moment we are free of any notion at all,
we will experience existence instantaneously, spontaneously.
see this point? Zen says that we don’t really experience existence,
because we are too busy experiencing our own subjective, version of
then can we experience existence itself? If we don’t create
existence, then existence simply IS. The problem is, that we are
usually trying to create our own model of the world. Whatever
existence we create, it will be an extremely limited view, and that
isn’t existence itself.
a less subjective awareness is cultivated through silent meditation,
and contemplating on certain sentences, known as Koans. A koan is
defined in "The Three Pillars Of Zen" as, "Formulation,
in baffling language, pointing to ultimate Truth. Koans cannot be
solved by recourse to a logical reasoning, but only awakening a deeper
level of the mind beyond the discursive intellect."
example of a Koan would be, “The sound of one hand clapping”, or
perhaps you remember this one from grade school, “Does a tree that
falls in the forest make a sound if there isn’t anyone there to hear
it?," and so on.
these more abstract thoughts, the Zen student may find that they
gradually suspend with their reasoning altogether (this is called
no-mind), and this clears the way for an actual experience of
spontaneously, without warning, the student may suddenly experience
that 'Peace' beyond thought, words, or description. All that anyone
can really say who has experienced this is, “All is one, and one is
all”. This is what Zen calls the experience of Nirvana, or