At this particular time with the Faith trust report due it is a sad time, because even to have them involved means things have not gone to plan, there are issues and problems,people have been hurt. Mark Bill and I left Shasta somewhere around 1976 I asked Bill to write for a booklet I produced at that time on Zen Buddhism. I think Bill would have liked to share in the current discussions and join the party with solidarity and love. So on Bill's behalf I submit the article
What is Zen? This question could be better answered if it were changed to 'show me zen', for to try and say what is zen, is at once to fly far from the place of zen, and get lost in everything that zen is not. But this problem has faced all who have been asked this question,so I shall add to the spate of words and thereby obscure the situation even more.
The Indian monk Bodhidharma, who brought this particular form of Buddhism from India to China about 520A.D., is reported to have said that Zen is:-
A transmission outside the scriptures
Not relying on words or letters.
Directly pointing to the mind
Seeing into ones own Nature so as to realize Buddhahood
He also said on another occasion when someone came to him for instruction in Zen; 'I am happy to see you, but have nothing to say!' which may seem less than helpful.
I can give a list of facts about the doctrine of Buddhism,the development of the various schools and sects, quote passages from the scriptures, but none of this will tell you what Zen is either: and it certainly will not be in the spirit of Zen. But can we perhaps 'see' what Bodhidharma is getting at if we start with Sakyammi and his attaining to enlightenment under the Bodhi tree? He spent forty years after he became Buddha in traveling around India and teaching all who would listen,yet it was also said of him that he never uttered a word;but Zen was transmitted by a smile to Mahakashyapa when the Buddha held up the flower of wisdom. And so it has been, from Patriarch to Zen Masters down to our own times.
This experience of Sakyammi then is the heart of Zen; and the realization of experience, by each one who awakens to it,is the transmission of Zen. Does this get us any nearer to what is Zen? And what does the patriarch Dogen mean when on his return from China to Japan, after years spent with teacher Ju-Ching,and he is asked the question: 'What kind of teaching have you brought back', replies' that I have horizontal eyes and a vertical nose,otherwise I have come home empty handed'?
To ask this question ,What is Zen, shows that there is something that we lack which we suspect may be Zen, But it soon appears that it is not something that can be acquired in the usual way, by means of ideas,knowledge or concepts: for it is not something to be acquired at all,in the normal way of learning. Not relying on words or letters Bodhdharma said; so we must look to the direct pointing to the mind for our answer.
In the scriptures,which are descriptions of the Buddha's experience,we are given in many words,pictures,symbols and concepts,knowledge about the teaching; but none of this is Zen. The knowledge is only about Zen or Buddhism; while only actual experience is the life of Zen. So we see the impossibility of attaining to enlightenment by reading about it; though it can be said that the scriptures affirm Zen; not a word of them is Zen.
Pointing directly to one's own mind. This suggests something direct and immediate; something we must do rather than think about. But where is this mind,and what does pointing directly mean? To this question we are told in Zen, that it means doing away with thoughts and speculations about the reality of our existence, and so being at one with it. It means living without the duality our mental habits normally impose on us; so it requires of us a special kind of attitude and attention towards each moment; a new way of seeing things.
This does not sound like giving an answer to our question of what is Zen though,Conditioned to expecting conceptual answers to our questions. It comes as a shock to discover that Zen is not going to give us anything. What not a whole lot of new exciting ideas to fill our heads with; no great secret to be imparted to us with due pomp and ceremony?
What does Dogen mean by his cryptic reply? That he carried no theories or concepts or teachings,but to the Zen sense that he had awakened to his real nature and realized what he had always been, and so came home empty handed. He had acquired nothing,how rich he was knowing now he could never be poor. Zen has nothing to add to what we are.
So zen isn't going to give us anything;not even an answer to our question What is zen. In fact the kindness of the Zen masters is that they will try and takeaway from us not only our cherished illusions and dreams but even our last and most precious treasure; our idea, founded on habit since birth, of who and what we think we are. For Zen isn't sentimental about this, our very sense of being and identity,our ego or self, must be seen for what it is, the greatest illusion of all. No wonder Bodhidharma had nothing to say.
Which brings us to seeing into our own nature so as to realize Buddhahood; but perhaps we will not dangle the carrot of Buddhahood, which sounds rather grand, and simply try seeing into our own nature. He says seeing and not thinking about our own nature; so how do we go about it? This of course brings us to methods and training, and we are on firmer ground. But just to rid our minds of the last lingering expectancy that if we train there will be a reward called Buddhahood at the end, let us look at Hui-nengs well know lines;
Fundamentally there is no tree of wisdom.
Nor has the bright mind mirror any stand.
Since from the first not a thing is,
Where can the dust alight
Outside our own nature (or mind) it is pointless to search,for there are no things to be found;no bright mirrors,no wisdom trees,certainly no Buddhas,Gods or Heavens,for all these are simply symbols,concepts,words and since Bodhidharma Zen has taught that we must not mistake these for Zen. Since from the first not a thing is;this is the very essence of the Heart Sutra . So we shall not find such things when we look into our natures;nor is there any point in asking what we will find,for any description could not be it, Where the dust of thought and concept cannot alight,there can be no knowledge to be acquired; but to 'see' is direct and down to earth unlike the expression 'to know'.
Does this bring us closer to our original question, What is Zen? Only if we now realize that to answer it from the Zen point of view, is to know that it requires that we see the answers rather than know the answers, Zen demands that we experience for ourselves, not simply acquire knowledge or ideas about Zen or Life or our original nature. We must return to the concrete and actual and give up what are inadequate mental projections.
The means of training that brings about this seeing into our original nature,is what we can put into practice. We can start by being present every moment; that is to attend fully, to see, what we are doing, rather than be partly away in some private mental world,dreaming. Let us try and live every moment; awake here and now. After all it is the only place and time where, concretely, we can be. No idea or mental fabrication is it; all such mental projections onto the film of the mind will naturally be illusions and false, simply because they are fabrications of the mind, and not the actuality of what they are trying to represent, This goes for all thought and activities. So, not depending on words or thoughts we have to live, moment by moment , attentive to experience. The zen way is to know through experience, by seeing directly, for Zen is not to be understood but lived.
Which brings us to the realization of our true nature. This attainment will be waking up and seeing each moment,and each particular thing, in its relationship to the totality of the universe; and the realization that totality is what we are. But this perception is one that is without concepts, images or thoughts,and reveals itself from moment to moment. So there is no past or future, no memory, no sense of acquiring something that we did not have all the time, or a knowledge of something. It is a realization that here and now is always the only place we can be, but it is seeing this in a particular way, the zen way.