Tuesday, May 02, 2006


     Once in a while it’s good to step back from our practice of Zen and refresh ourselves as to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. After all, as Zen people we aren’t blind followers. We may subscribe to a tradition, but we aren’t habitual worshippers.
     I was recently asked some of the usual questions that people ask about Zen, and so I’ll address a few of those questions as a sketchy roadmap for this talk.
What is Zen all about?
Is Zen a religion?
Is Zen a philosophy?
Is Zen the same as Buddhism?
To give a direct answer, Zen is a way of life. To give a Zen answer, Zen is nothing more than a bit of moss growing on the side of a rock.
If we, as Zen people, become so accustomed to our practice, and so obsessed with its historical lore, we may allow ourselves to lose sight of that moss on a rock. And if that happens we may find ourselves merely going through persistent motions.
To quote Samuel Johnson, “The chains of habit are too weak to be felt until they are too strong to be broken.”
One Zen writer [David Fontana, Discover Zen: A Practical Guide to Personal Serenity] said that Zen is both a practical and a spiritual path. Zen is spiritual because it encourages us to see the emptiness behind the world of appearances. That means Zen enables us to go beyond the artificialities and the deceptions humanity constructs in order to trick itself into accepting its own blather.
Zen is practical in that it deals with—it exists in—the present moment. It makes it possible for us to live life without being constrained by thoughts of yesterday and tomorrow.
Zen is both spiritual and practical because it lets us understand that all existence is sacred. Our human existence as well as the existence of that bird singing outside.
When I say existence is sacred am I attributing a sense of holiness? Not at all. I mean sacred in the sense of being exceptional, in the sense of surpassing what is common or usual. Of intrinsic worth. Uniqueness.
Unlike organized religions Zen follows no man-made rules. It has no ideology. This enables us to be free.
We are what we are, but too often humans allow themselves to believe they are something else. Zen allows us to really see ourselves. It leads us to discover our true being.
Remember the koan that asks what your face was before you were born. That is our true being.
Through Zen we gain awareness, serenity, compassion, and a sincere appreciation of the preciousness of our existence as well as the existence of all things.
Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “I am a part of all that I have met.”
The world is a squirrel cage. Society hammers away at humans running here and there to do this or that, to be this or that. Society encourages people to behave in a manner that negates naturalness and promotes artificiality. Society encourages humans to wear masks and suits of armor that buffer them from the real world.
Zen enables us to see beyond the masks and the armor and live a life that is intuitive rather than established by edict.
Zen may threaten some people because some people can’t face their own true self.
To other people Zen may seem wishy-washy because they have to have some thing, such as a supreme being, to lean on. To create in one’s imagination a place, or an artificial being you can dump all your troubles onto, is easy.
Practicing Zen is not easy.  But being Zen is effortless because it is nothing more than unconditional living.
Still, Zen is not for everyone. Not everyone can let go.
Another quotation, this one from the 11th century Persian poet Omar Khayyam.
“I myself am heaven and hell.”
If you see that, you have a handle on Zen.
Zen confirms that you are not this or that, or something else. Zen says you are the enlightened mind. You are your own true nature.
Do you know what a flimflam man is?
A flimflam man is a con artist, a snake-oil salesperson.
I hope I don’t sound like a flimflam man. I’m not trying to peddle anything to anyone.
Zen people are not evangelists.
As I said, terrific as Zen is, it’s not for everyone.


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