Quite simply, Zen is the direct path of transcendence beyond affliction, birth, rebirth and death.
In short, it’s The Way beyond suffering.
Given the nature of life, The Way beyond suffering is something deeply craved with a value far surpassing gold.
The way beyond suffering is self-evident when we realize that this life is defined and generated by suffering. If we aren’t aware of our suffering which includes the suffering of others, then we are content to stay as we are. The only problem with staying as we are is that life itself is impermanent. We must move on through aging, sickness and death whether comfortable now or not. So, even the most encrusted safety cocoon is predicated by suffering.
As such, Zen is always beyond what is called real in this world when what is accepted as being real is clung to.
I really don’t know what Zen is.
The Truth of this statement is found in realizing for ourselves The Four Noble Truths as being self-evident.
Zen is The Buddha’s Dhyana.
It is most sought for yet rarely realized, even within institutions calling themselves “Zen Centres” as well as their anointed teachers.
The first three Noble or Aryan Truths naturally lead to The Fourth Noble or Aryan Truth containing The Eight-Fold Path.
The Eight-Fold Path is the conscious spectrum of all human inward and outward manifestations.
These inward and outward manifestations are Resolve, Meditation, Speech, Intent, Mindfulness, Action, Concept, and Livelihood.
Because these manifestations are the sum-total of our conscious being, how they change through conscious choice directly changes our being along a timeline. This action/reaction coupling is called “karma”.
There are three forms of manifestation associated with karma. The first is positive evolution departing from a vexed, troubled state. The second is remaining neutral suspended within whatever state we find ourselves in. The third is devolving into a more troubled and afflicted state.
Thus, all conscious manifestations emerging from choice leading from affliction are qualified with the word “Right”.
The Eight-Fold Path is the Meditation of Enlightened Beings called Buddhas.
In being a Path beyond delusion, these conscious manifestations become Right Resolve, Right Meditation, Right Speech, Right Intent, Right Mindfulness, Right Action, Right Concept, and Right Livelihood.
This Meditation is given the Aryan Sanskrit name Dhyana from which Chinese Chan and Japanese Zen originate.
Thus, The Eight-Fold path is Dhyana.
But know that of all these Right Manifestations of conscious choice, not one is singled out as being the source of ongoing Enlightenment. They are not mutually exclusive. Instead, the aspects of The Eight-Fold Path are mutually inclusive and by their nature, overlapping.
There is nothing within The Buddha’s Dhyana that says that sitting meditation alone is the source of Enlightenment.
Zen sitting meditation is called “Zazen” in Japanese. It is understood that ‘za’ means to sit or be seated rather than the more inclusive interpretation of the prefix referring to a perceived entity in counterpoint with consciousness to be fused with our consciousness.
The idea derived from the popular loose poetic English translation of Hakuin Zenji’s Chant in Praise of Zazen states “…the gateway to freedom is zazen samadhi.
Well, we might challenge the assertion that zazen samadhi means sitting meditation, and not Right Resolve, Right Concept, Right Action… by saying “Prove it!”.
Sadly, the abject failure of this mental fishbowl of brushing off concept as secondary has already been proven in spades. Within Zen and Tibetan Centres focusing on sitting meditation with the belief that enlightened wisdom and living emerge from sitting meditation, enormous transgressions from Buddhist Concept/Universal Decency (called “The Precepts”) flow like a river of puss.
The Buddhist Precepts are forms of conduct in harmony with universally held positive and cherished human attributes.
The scandalous actions of many teachers and practitioners with thousands of hours logged over decades sitting on a meditation cushion is more than enough proof. However, many of these transgressions have been swept under their sitting mats, and the public is left none the wiser while being presented with the ever-glowing carrot of name-brand enlightenment.
These centres are so “left wing” they are incapable of using Right Mind.
I can attest to this through direct personal experience.
The Rochester and Toronto Zen Centers are unrepentant prime examples of this sanctioned delusion.
And left in their wake are countless ex-practitioners who once believed there was a Way Beyond Affliction.
However, this narrative is dimming with the passage of time and the illumination of political and historic truths.
And so, they become useful idiots ushering murderous Communism with a declared supreme leader (Lenin, Stalin, Mao, Their Roshi) while everyone else is “equal” locking our mental and physical state into their meat freezer under the guise of Universal Buddhist Compassion.
The Eight-Fold Path is The Path of Zen.
It is continual entering and re-entering what is Right.
Well, “What is Right?” we might ask. “Is it a thing determined by God…a Commandment?”
It is determined by our ever-changing living circumstances relative to the heart-felt calling of our True Nature beyond affliction.
This is called Realizing Buddha Mind.
This Realization has no beginning or end. It is beyond time and space.
Because it has no beginning or end arising from a heart-felt will to transcend the condition we are born into, it must be practiced.
Thus, Zen must be practiced, and is itself not a thing attained but a Path of Practice.
It is no different than riding a motorcycle.
We are on a path called a highway with innumerable events happening along the timeline we ride. Nothing is certain, but quantum in nature. Lose concentration, and life becomes painful and/or discontinuous as we end up with road rash or wearing a tree.
The same holds true when at the key and pedal boards of an organ. If you want to have a death experience, lose your concentration while playing a Bach fugue. Life will never be the same if you wipe out.
The sword edge Fusion with the ever-unfolding event horizon of the highway, or the fugue you are hopefully mastering, makes this ongoing practice look like a performance art to the casual observer. And, superficial people are aware of casual observers as being a source of income. Those harbouring such views are themselves casual observers atop a sport bike, or at the keyboard. Thus, whatever they do is a performance rather than fusion.
They become “Rock Stars”.
So, they leave the heart of motorcycle riding and organ performance and make it a spectacle of self edifying grandeur by popping wheelies to impress the bikini-clad, or whatever dazzles church denizens.
The same applies even more to what is supposed to be the Heart of Transcendence called “Zen Practice”.
It becomes a performance art complete with special costumes, minimalist haircuts, practiced gestures, bell ringing, and, of course, recited phrases that were, until performed by a rock star performer, great wisdom.
Speaking for myself, I always keep practicing while on the road, or faced with organ or clavichord keyboards.
Because the consequences of failing due to sloppy neglect of practice, “Scares The Living Shit Out Of Me!”
Same holds when I sit on a meditation cushion.
Now, all this said, the performance crowd following the rock star of their choice will attack with, “Zen is beyond words and letters. All of this writing you do is just words and letters!”
They then go onto pushing this affront stating, “The Sutras are only words and letters. We practice just sitting or, we practice just sitting koan practice.”
And of course, when Master Lin Chi was asked “What is the use of Sutras?” he replied, “They are useful for wiping puss from ulcers.”
Zen performance artists, after passing a long list of koans, figure themselves to be the equivalent of Lin Chi.
I share Lin Chi’s Practice, having been clobbered countless times in different forms for no gain. For this, I am not a performance artist.
Performance artists relegate Buddhist Concept as foreign to their most spectacular minds embalmed in the mummy case of “just sitting”, or just sitting while “working on a koan”.
They throw out Western scientific/engineering achievement without realizing its nature, and even worse, throw out Western art and music in ignorance of where it keeps emerging from, turning themselves into Japanese or Chines cyborgs farting what they believe are pink clouds into 50 calibre meditation cushion/muzzle suppressors.
And they end up hating themselves.
Let’s look at koan practice.
Master Sheng-yen once said, “A koan is alive only once.”
However, Zen performance artists think that they, from the perspective and relative comfort of their sitting cushions, enter the mind of teacher-protagonist.
So, I’ll offer as an example one of my most loved Zen koans, the story of Chinese monk Lin Chi, who after the passage of time somehow morphed into a Japanese monk named Rinzai.
He became a student of Great Master Huang-po who also, after the passage of time, morphed into a Japanese known as Great Master Obaku.
Lin Chi was very sincere. Huang-po and his head monk saw this.
And so, the setup began.
The head monk privately told the sincere and shy Lin Chi to ask the Great Master seated upon his teaching chair/throne above and facing an assembly of hundreds of monks the question, “What is the fundamental teaching of Buddhism?”
When the time came and he did so, Huang-po clobbered him with his teacher’s stick in front of everybody!
A shaken Lin Chi silently bowed and returned to his seat.
Filled with questioning why he was treated so in front of the assembly along with emotional and physical pain, due to his sincerity, when the next assembly came about, Lin Chi once again bravely asked the same question and was once again clobbered by Huang-po.
This happened a third time leaving Lin Chi a mass of hurt and questioning.
He decided to leave Huang-po not because of his treatment, but because he couldn’t understand it.
And this all centred on “What is the fundamental teaching of Buddhism?”
Out of consideration for Huan-po, he announced his leaving and was told to stay with another master living elsewhere.
After arriving and staying with this other master, Lin Chi recounted what had happened to him – how he suffered humiliation and physical violence at the stick of Huang-po.
The master laughed. “That old grandmother Huang-po. He taught you everything out of kindness and you didn’t even know it!”
Lin Chi suddenly became Enlightened, burst out laughing and said, “Well! There’s not much to Huang-po’s Buddhism after all!”
The master grabbed him.
“You bed wetting little shit! What is it you realized?”
Lin Chi punched the master in the stomach.
The master after regaining his breath replied, “After all, you’re Huang-po’s student and not mine. Why don’t you go back to him?”
Upon arriving back at Huang-po’s place, Huang-po stated to the assembly, “We have a tiger in our midst!”
Lin Chi became Great Master Lin Chi or Rinzai, and as a method of teaching decimated his student’s attachments with punches, hits and powerful yells.
He freely bestowed suffering as a portal to Enlightenment.
Here still lives The First Noble Truth for those who can use it by living and proving for themselves all Four Noble Truths.
Life is Suffering.