Tuesday, July 10, 2007


Zen goes back a long way in time to Buddhism. Buddhism goes back a long way to Taoism. Taoism goes back a long way to a collection of ancient Hindu discourses called the Upanishads. The Upanishads go back to the oldest-known Hindu texts, the Vedas, which may date as far back as 1500 BCE.

What came before the Vedas? When was the first, faint beginning of what we know as Zen? When did existence commence?

No one really knows. No one is really concerned, except perhaps historians and astronomers.

Will there be some sort of ending to existence? No one really knows. No one really cares, except perhaps pious zealots.

If Zen or Buddhism has an icon, a visual representation, it’s a circle. A circle has no beginning, no ending.

What does past or future matter?

The past is gone. The future is yet to come, we like to think.

All that matters is right now.

Buddhism is not a religion, a belief, or a creed. It’s not a theory or a philosophy, or a doctrine.

Buddhism is a way of living right now.

To the Western mind, trained in reasoning, speculation, and logic, Buddhism is an anomaly:

1. Buddhism has no rules. There’s no “Do this,” or “Don’t do that.”

2. Buddhism’s understanding is self-knowledge. There’s no dependence on the written word.

3. Buddhism’s behavior is self-discipline. I am responsible for myself.

4. Buddhism is tolerant. It recognizes that what works for one person may not work for someone else.

After the Buddha found out what worked for him, he didn’t go around insisting that other people agree to his way. He essentially said, “This works for me. You are on your own.”

Most people are uneasy being on their own. They need something or someone else outside of themselves.

The Buddha didn’t talk in terms of rational matters or methodological issues, so his way can’t be called a philosophy or a science. He never mentioned a supreme being, so his way can’t be called a religion.

Humans like to name everything: dogs, trees, systems of thought, beliefs. And so on. And so on.

So what is Buddhism, and what is one of its paths, which we know as Zen?

A way of life.

Better yet, the way of life.

Never mind questions.

Buddhism—and especially Zen—offer silence to questions rather than answers.

Where did we, or everything, come from? What happens when we die? What is the purpose of life?

No one knows for sure, so there are no answers. If there are no answers to life’s little mysteries, why trouble ourselves over the questions?

We can’t do anything about what has already happened, and we can’t do anything about what might happen.

Right now is something we can do something about.

Buddha is known for his awakening to the fact that there is a lot we don’t know. He also realized that life is not all peaches and cream.

As wonderful as life is, it involves such uncomfortable events and processes as aging, and sickness, and death. Still, those things are part of being.

Enlightenment for the Buddha may have been sudden, but it came to him after many years of self-observation and the awareness of his relationship to all existence.

We read of self realization having occurred to someone when a pebble struck a stalk of bamboo, or when a frog hopped into a pond. These recorded happenings may seem instantaneous, but they came about after long periods of meditation.

A burst of lightening may look as if it’s sudden, but it’s a result of built-up atmospheric changes.

Awakening, that is, enlightenment is not a sudden flash but an evolutionary process.

The word “dharma” appears frequently in Buddhist readings and dialogues. It’s a term that means truth, path, or the teachings of the Buddha.

Dharma usually isn’t immediately perceived. Most individuals awaken to it gradually.

As you comprehend the teachings of the Buddha, your understanding of dharma fits itself to your individual character. It may take a while.

Be patient with yourself and with others.

So what’s the point of this talk?

That’s for you to comprehend for yourself.