Sunday, November 6, 2011

What is Zen?

Zen is not complicated. It doesn’t involve any special knowledge. It doesn’t involve equipment. In fact, in its way, Zen is anti equipment. Zen is like cleaning out your attic and dropping off all the stuff you don’t need—your worries, fears, opinions, preconceptions, attachments—at the recycling bin. Because you really don’t need them!
Zen is for anyone, no matter his or her religious beliefs, country of origin, or lifestyle. Living Zen is simple. In fact, although many say Zen defies all definitions, we would define it with one simple, short word: now.
„Now? What about it?“ you ask.
If you are thoroughly confused, don’t worry. Zen is already beginning to work its magic. Zen is a practice full of surprises, enough to fill volumes. Yet despite the wealth of guidance, inspiration, and philosophical suppositions Zen has inspired throughout history, it still comes down to this: now.
The simplicity behind Zen is deceptive, however. It is one thing to tell someone, „Now is all that matters. Live in the now.“ It is quite another thing to actually do it, to step back from that captain’s wheel and say, „Ship, go where you will.“
Humans are programmed to think, interpret, analyze, examine, define, and think some more. We can’t help it! It is one of the side effects of having such big, complex brains. Our lives are so busy and complicated that we have to think to keep everything in order. If we didn’t think, we’d be in big trouble. And thinking makes us who we are.
Before you start thinking that we’re going to tell you to stop thinking, turn that mental chatter down to a dull roar and listen up: Zen is not about obliterating your thoughts, your feelings, your personality, or any other aspect of you. On the contrary. Zen helps you to unclutter you so you can think more easily, see more clearly, understand more readily, and know yourself more intimately.
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That sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? We think so.
But first, something else to throw into the mix: Zen isn’t about end results. „Huh? Then what’s the point?“ There is no point to Zen.
„What? No point? Then why am I wasting my time?“
We Westerners are very goal-oriented, aren’t we? We go to school to get a job. We get a job to make money. We make money to buy stuff. We work harder to make more money to buy more stuff. It is easy to get seduced into thinking that everything should be goal-oriented. How else would you ever get anywhere? How would you get ahead? How would you succeed?
One Hand Clapping
One day, Baso, a Zen monk, was sitting in zazen (meditation). His teacher passed by and asked him what he was doing. Baso replied, „I want to become a Buddha.“ The teacher immediately picked up a tile and began to polish it vigorously. „What are you doing?“ Baso asked. „I’m polishing this tile to make it a mirror,“ replied the teacher. „What? How can polishing a tile make it a mirror?“ asked Baso. „How can zazen make you a Buddha?“ the teacher answered. Just as Baso mistakenly believed the point or goal of zazen was to become a Buddha, so we may mistakenly believe Zen, or zazen, has a goal. Zen itself is the already-achieved goal. This moment is your life, so wake up and start living it.