Sunday, January 05, 2014


Those of you who have done zazen with me for any length of time have heard me drone on about Insight, Renunciation Mindfulness, Empowerment, Transcendence, Blessings, Enlightenment, and Koans.

Such terms are part of the lingo of Buddhism and, unfortunately, of Zen. They are words that help describe things that are tricky to be put into words. They are tools, much as kitchen utensils, herbs, and ingredients are tools that are used in putting together a meal.

But a good meal is not created by tools. A good meal is shaped by the individual using the tools.

Read the blurbs about cameras. They promise a specific camera will produce amazingly good pictures.  However, a camera is a tool. It’s the individual behind the tool who creates the image.

Unfortunately, many people attach fact to tool-words rather than understanding the words are throwaways.

 Marshall McLuhan, a philosopher of communication theory, gained renown through his philosophy known as “The Medium is the Message.” Those words mean the form of a medium embeds itself in the message, creating a symbiotic relationship by which the medium influences how the message is perceived.

Now that is a persuasive string of words. I have never been quite sure what they hell they mean, so let’s stick to Zen.

An aside: McLuhan was known as an intellectual. That’s another fishy term that warrants a second or third look. Still, the man had the balls to say, “I don’t necessarily agree with everything I say.”

The French philosopher Albert Camus said “If you go around looking for the meaning of life you will never live.”

And a long time before Camus, Confucius said “Life is simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

For most people Zen is based on expectations, on hopes and beliefs.

Hopes and beliefs.

Sorry to say, most hopes and beliefs are groundless. As are most of the Zen buzz words.         

Koans are overrated. So is Enlightenment. So are such terms as Master, Roshi, and the like.

So what can be expected from the practice of Zen?

Not a lot.

We are often told what Zen is not.  That’s easier than saying what it is.

So, doubt everything and believe in nothing.

Also, don’t worry about expectations. Instead, keep busy. Live your life fully.

Great Expectations was Charles Dickens's thirteenth novel. It’s been given a tool word: bildungsroman. That means it’s a coming-of-age novel.

Never mind bildungsroman, or expectations great or small. Be aware of your life, whatever and however it is.

          We know nothing for sure, and that’s the way it is. That’s what life is all about. That’s the meaning of life, and the meaning of life is nothing but a word.

If this talk sounds radical, it possibly is. The tone may reflect the silliness of the recent holiday season.

Remember what Dogen referred to as “The Great Doubt.”

When Dogen entered a Buddhist monastery at the age of 13 he wondered why so much training and effort was necessary to attain awakening when, as he was taught, all beings have within them the Buddha-nature. This questioning caused him to leave the monastery and travel to China where he gained a better understanding of himself.

He wasn’t looking for answers as much as he was trying to fathom himself.

If you spend your time seeking answers, you might as well stare into a crystal ball.

You won’t find answers in Zen or anywhere else unless you look into yourself.

Free yourself of expectations because they are tools of the future.

The Buddha said, “Do not dwell in the past, and do not dream of the future. If you live in the present moment that is enough.”


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