The Zennist

The transition from the exoteric to the esoteric

It may be true that Zen Buddhism is something that we can teach ourself but that doesn’t mean it is easy to learn.  It’s like teaching oneself mountain climbing.  The transition from reading about mountain climbing to actually climbing a mountain can be very dangerous.  In fact, the odds are that our big climb will only be a foothill.

The greatest risk that a person encounters in Zen Buddhism is their innate capacity to delude themselves about its meaning.  This can be accomplished in a number of different ways from going to a bad teacher, to listening to bad advice or misreading Zen literature recontextualizing it to meet with our expectations.  But with any learning curve there is difficulty, this means failure is always more likely than less likely.

Add to this the fact that many of us don’t have the ability to rise up from our failures.  Instead, we hunker down and try to make the best of our failures.  But at the back of our mind we know that we haven’t got what it takes to overcome our setback.  We want sympathy from others knowing full well that we cannot sympathize even with our own reasons for the setback. 

Most of us hope that with a minimum of effort we can accomplish the goal of Zen being satisfied that we have completed its path.  But this is little more than wishful thinking — enlightenment on the cheap.  Zen requires much more of us if we are going to overcome the barriers which keep us from enlightenment.  The real problem then becomes not so much from the outside (exoteric) but our own ability to take a profound look at the inside (esoteric).  It is really on the inside that the path of Zen begins.  This is not to say that the path is only subjective but rather it is to say to the Zen student, Zen is intuitive.      

The Zennist

Author of The Zennist blog since 2007.