Zen has nothing to do with seated mediation. On the contrary, Zen masters warned people against trying to engage in seated meditation for zen purposes.
The reason so many people believe there is a link between zen and meditation, for that “zen” means “meditation” (it doesn’t) is that there are churches out there that have been actively spreading these lies and co-opting the zen name for their own weird nonsense doctrines for the last 1000 years.
Unfortunately for them, despite much being lost and purposefully destroyed, we still have a few records left from the real Zen Masters.
WHAT IS ZEN, THEN, IF NOT MEDITATION?
Zen is the name for an enlightenment school/lineage which was started in China by someone now referred to as Bodhidharma in around AD500. Unlike the various religions, philosophies and cosmologies at the time, Zen was radically different.
Zen is not a religion or a philosophy or certain practices or knowledge. Zen is, in a nutshell, about seeing your true nature. It’s about recognising what “Buddha nature” means. The penny drops, the cat is out of the bag. This is something that occurs in an instant. You see your nature and become a Buddha. This happens when all beliefs, ideas, concepts and practices are seen through as mere fleeting elements of One Mind.
Zen dialogues are all attempts at demonstrations and explorations of the dharma, as it were.
Buddha means “enlightened one”. The zen masters saw their enlightenment as the only true enlightenment, and the exact same one the “O.G” Buddha/Siddarta/Gautama/Sakyamuni experienced under the Bodhi tree. They retained the essence of it in their teaching, but Buddhists misunderstood and made a complex and nonsensical set of religions out of it, deferring to practices and beliefs, morality and the casting of the Buddha as a supernaturally gifted messiah figure.
Zenlightenment isn’t like that though:
Enlightenment is always with people. But people objectively pursue things. Buddhism is an easily understood, energy-saving teaching – Foyan
Buddha nature is inherently always there. When we stop seeking, stop trying, stop fighting, stop needing to “know the truth”… we’re left with the fact of our so-called “Buddha Mind” (spoiler alert: it’s not Mind, not Buddha. Not things)
You have always been one with the Buddha – Huang Po
Don’t be mistaken, this isn’t spiritual, religious, mystical or gnostic stuff. All of those things are just inventions. Zen is not about religious or mystic experiences.
The way I see it, we should cut off the heads of the Bliss-body and Transformation-body Buddhas. Those who have fulfilled the ten stages of bodhisattva practice are no better than hired field hands; those who have attained the enlightenment of the fifty-first and fifty-second stages are prisoners shackled and bound; arhats and pratyekabuddhas are so much filth in the latrine; bodhi and nirvana are hitching posts for donkeys. – Linji ( “Rinzai”)
In fact, zen is kind of funny: you can’t just carry on the way you are and call it studying zen, and yet in studying zen no transformations occur. Almost the opposite.
Zen is not about any truths. No dharmas at all:
The fundamental doctrine of the dharma is that there are no dharmas, yet that this doctrine is in itself a dharma; and now that the no-dharma doctrine has been transmitted, how can the doctrine of the dharma be a dharma? – Huangbo
At a later time I’m hoping to have access to a group sourced wiki that explains in detail, with fully sourced evidence, how the Zen school’s supposed connection to sitting mediation came about, but for the time being please check out ewk’s excellent work on the subject.
Regardless of how we got to this point, which will be discussed another time, the fact of the matter is that zen has been completely misrepresented by a series of religious groups who have no legitimate connection to the zen/chan school.
So, what’s the evidence to back up these claims?
Let’s begin this with a series of quotes of zen masters discussing Meditation and its relationship to Zen:
ZEN MASTERS OVERTLY RENOUNCING MEDITATION
Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata.
Good friends, the deluded speak with their mouths, but the wise practice with their minds. Furthermore, there are deluded people who empty their minds and sit in quietude without thinking of anything whatsoever, claiming that this is great. You can’t even speak to these people, because of their false views!
Good friends, what is seated meditation (zuochan)? In this teaching, there is no impediment and no hindrance. Externally, for the mind to refrain from activating thoughts with regard to all the good and bad realms is called ‘seated’ (zuo). Internally, to see the motionlessness of the self-nature is called ‘meditation’ (chan)
You can sit [in meditation] without lying down from the day you’re born,
But when you die you will lie down and not sit up.
One always has this putrid skeleton,
Why should one set such a task?
Xie Jian said, “The virtuous Chan monks of the capital all say, ‘If you wish to understand the Way, you must sit in meditation and cultivate samādhi. It has never happened that anyone attained emancipation without relying on meditation.’ I wonder, what is the Dharma that you teach?”
*The master said, “*One is enlightened to the Way through the mind. How could it depend on sitting? A sutra says, ‘To say that the Tathāgata sits or lies down is to practice a false path. Why? Because he is without coming and without going.’ To be without birth and without extinction is the pure meditation of the Tathāgata. For the dharmas to be quiescent is the Tathāgata’s pure sitting. Ultimately there is no realization, so how could it possibly [depend on] sitting?
When I was traveling in the past, I called on the adepts in one or two places. They just taught sustained concentration day and night, sitting until you get calluses on your behind. Mouths drooling, from the outset they go to the pitch black darkness inside the belly of the primordial Buddha and say ‘I am sitting in meditation to preserve it.’ At such a time, there is still craving there –
There is no I and there is no other.How can there be intimacy or estrangement?
I recommend giving up trying to get there by meditation, But rather, directly seizing the reality at hand.
- Layman Pang
Enlightenment is always with people. But people objectively pursue things.
Have you not read how the Second Patriarch of Zen used to expound the teaching wherever he was, and everyone who heard him attained true mindfulness? He did not set up written formulations and did not discuss practice and realization or cause and effect.
At the time, a certain meditation teacher heard about the Zen patriarch and sent a senior disciple to spy on his lectures. When the disciple didn’t come back, the meditation teacher was enraged. When they met at a major convocation, the teacher personally said to his former disciple, “I expended so much effort to plant you; how could you turn your back on me this way?” The former disciple replied, “My vision was originally right, but was distorted by teachers.”
Buddhism is an easily understood, energy-saving teaching; people strain themselves. Seeing them helpless, the ancients told people to try meditating quietly for a moment. These are good words, but later people did not understand the meaning of the ancients; they went off and sat like lumps with knitted brows and closed eyes, suppressing body and mind, waiting for enlightenment. How stupid! How foolish!
If one is to speak about all expedient teachings of the Tripitaka that the Tathagata has expounded, even after innumerable kalpas one still will not be able to finish them all. It is like an endless chain. But if one can awaken to the holy Mind then there is nothing else to do. You have been standing long enough. Take Care!
So long as you are concerned with ‘by means of’, you will always be depending on something false. When will you ever succeed in understanding? Instead of observing those who tell you to open wide both your hands like one who has nothing to lose, you waste your strength bragging about all sorts of things. –
You have always been one with the Buddha so do not pretend you can ATTAIN to this oneness by various practices.
If you accept the orthodox teachings of the Three Vehicles of Buddhism, discriminating between the Buddha Nature and the nature of sentient beings you will create for yourself Three Vehicle Karma, and identities and differences will result. But if you accept the buddha Vehicle, which is the doctrine transmitted by Bodhidharma, you will not speak of such things; you will merely point to the One Mind which is without identity or difference, without cause and effect.
Only when you have rid yourself of the gamut of dualistic concepts of ‘ignorant and ‘enlightened’ will you at last learn the title of transcendental Buddha. Therefore it is written: ‘your prostrations are in vain. Put no faith in such ceremonies. Hie (flee) from such false beliefs.
Suppose a warrior, forgetting that he was already wearing his pearl on his forehead, were to seek for it elsewhere, he could travel the whole world without finding it. But if someone who knew what was wrong were to point it out to him, the warrior would immediately realize that the pearl had been there all the time. So, if you students of the Way are mistaken about your own real Mind, not recognizing that it is the Buddha, you will consequently look for him everywhere, indulging in various achievements and practices and expecting to attain realization by such graduated practices.
if you students of the Way are mistaken about your own real Mind, not recognizing that it is the Buddha, you will consequently look for him everywhere, indulging in various achievements and practices and expecting to attain realization by such graduated practices.
It is by preventing the rise of conceptual thought that you will realize Bodhi; and, when you do, you will just be realizing the Buddha who has always existed in your own Mind! Eons of striving will prove to be so much wasted effort
just as, when the warrior found his pearl, he merely discovered what had been hanging on this forehead all the time; and just as his finding of it had nothing to do with his efforts to discover it elsewhere.
Therefore the Buddha said, “I truly attained nothing from complete, unexcelled Enlightenment.” It was for fear that people would not believe this that he drew upon what is seen with the five sorts of vision and spoken with the five kinds of speech. So this quotation is by no means empty talk, but expresses the highest truth.
- Huang Po
So, pretty cut and dry. Its hardly ambiguous. You can’t make something “true” by having to do things to bring it out, or clarify it.
In fact, if you do those things, you’re obscuring your true nature by “riding the Donkey to seek the Donkey”.
This is why Huineng “won” the poetry slam with his Gatha: rather than seeing the kind as a mirror requiring polishing, he correctly identified that there is no mirror, no dust, no defilement and no mind. Therefore “polishing” is completely unnecessary. In fact, polishing the mirror in a zen context would be like trying to polish the reflection out of a mirror.
Once you see this, it becomes abundantly clear why Zen can’t be something based on relying on doing certain things. Anyone who believes, or claims, that there are “practices of zen” simply don’t understand the meaning.
But that won’t stop them lying to you….
“ZEN BUDDHISTS” PROMOTING ZAZEN MEDITATION AND THEIR CONFUSED MISREADING OF ZEN
On that note, next, let’s now look at what Modern day “zen Buddhists” have to say about their “zen” practice:
ZEN COMES FROM THE CHINESE WORD CHÁN (禪), WHICH IN TURN COMES FROM THE INDIAN (SANSKRIT) WORD DHYĀNA (ध्यान), MEANING “MEDITATION”. THE ZEN APPROACH EMPHASISES MEDITATION*, AND IN PARTICULAR, W*HAT YOU FIND WHEN YOU DEEPLY MEDITATE.
We have a 64 hour long (meditation) retreat to provide you with that first little taste of Nirvana..
Zen is strongly associated with group practice.
Zen is “sudden enlightenment***, gradual practice****”:* You can be enlightened in a matter of days*, but if you haven’t resolved suppressed childhood rage and fear you will use that enlightenment for less than positive ends. That’s why it’s important to work through these issues as part of your* zen practice.
- Daizan Skinner, Zenways London.
(Skinner is a yoga teacher and meditation instructor who offers “sanzen” interviews and is a well known figure in the UK. He has appeared on national radio many times, and has a series of YouTube videos in which he spreads his message. His website claims that “He has also undergone training as an enlightenment intensive master with Lawrence Noyes” although it’s not clear what is meant by this. For a sizeable fee, his organisation offers to train yoga and meditation teachers.)
With guidance from the teacher and through devoted practice of things like meditation, we may awaken to our intrinsic wisdom.
Through Zen, one’s entire life becomes the dojo: a place of enlightenment. Zen shows us that the path of wisdom and compassion, our true path, has always been right here
Rinzai Zen is an extremely direct path of enlightenment, quickly dissolving delusion. Its power to transform can seem almost shockingly strong. But those who practice it may attain profound wisdom within this very life. The authentic expression of such wisdom is compassion
- Meido Moore
(Meido Moore is a very well known American “zen teacher”, and author of a popular fake zen book called “Hidden zen: practices for sudden awakening”. His website claims: “In 2008 Meido Roshi received inka shomei (“mind seal”), designating him an 86th-generation Zen dharma heir and a 48th-generation holder of the lineage descended from Rinzai Gigen. He has completed the koan practice of his line and is empowered to transmit the full range of Rinzai Zen practice methods”
Check out this embarrassing video of Moore demonstrating outright racism by feigning an offensive psuedo-Asian accent in an interview. This in itself is a clear indicator of his dishonesty and fraudulent conduct.)
Religious apologetics and the counter-arguments from the Zen Buddhist church
From the blog of Brad Warner:
> But these masters that Pretty Flowers (Grass_Skirt) and Urp (ewk) quote aren’t saying we shouldn’t sit still and silent on a cushion. And they’re certainly not saying that we should pursue other more fun things if we want to be truly “Zen.” They said what they said in the context of a daily practice of silent, cross-legged practice. They weren’t saying, “don’t sit.” They were talking about the proper attitude for practicing zazen.
> Mumon says, “To unify and pacify the mind is quietism, and false Zen.” Again he’s talking about the difference between really doing zazen and sitting in meditation attempting to quiet the mind
> In the story in which Master Rinzai and Constant Attendant Wang are having that conversation while looking at the folks in the monks hall, what do you suppose those monks were doing? Hanging out? Chatting? Playing on their phones? No. They were sitting silently with their legs crossed waiting for the damned bell to ring!
> Zazen is a goalless practice. This is one of the most difficult aspects of zazen to explain.
Brad Warner is a world-famous spokesperson for the fake “Soto” zen school, in truth a Dogenist church hailing from Japan that misrepresents zen and is infamous for scandal and associated apologetics. Brad has a blog, plays in a band and makes many YouTube videos about his beliefs and zazen.
It must indeed be difficult to explain, because Brad doesn’t manage it despite waffling at length on his blog as he awkwardly tries to account for the dissonance between his church, his own views, and the true zen masters such as Linji and Wumen.
Note how he completely fails to provide any passages from the zen canon that back up his theories. He simply puts words in their mouth for his own convenience. He claims zen masters considered “zazen” to be of utmost importance, but doesn’t account for the complete lack of any instance when they mention this importance, or why it’s important, or how it’s connected to seeing ones true nature.
The only times zen masters mention mediation is to warn people that it’s not a path to realising true nature.
SUMMARY OF ZEN BUDDHIST MISINFORMATION CAMPAIGN
Please note that in lieu of any evidence whatsoever to back up their claims, these people are essentially claiming:
- Zen is all about meditation
- Zen is named after mediation
- Zen is all about practice
- But, its not meditation or a practice, but you should practice this mediation (?)
- When zen masters renounce meditation they are only talking about the kinds that aren’t “zazen” (in other words) their mediation techniques are implicitly (never explicitly!) endorsed by Zen masters
Please note that the onus is 100% on THEM to account for such a spurious and bold claim. They don’t ever do this, but demand everybody tow the line anyway and take their word for it.
In other words: they would say that, wouldn’t they?
Because, otherwise, they’d have to admit they were perpetuating a huge stupid lie, had no evidence, no argument, no understanding of zen and were a bunch of fakers and suckers who had made fools of themselves for centuries.
Well guys, if that’s not the case, then show us a Zen Master saying “of course, one still needs to sit and do our school’s special style of zazen. That’s really important. I’m not saying mediation isn’t important to zen, I’m just saying don’t do it wrongly”
They can’t show us, because it doesn’t exist. And if it was important, that evidence would be all over the zen canon.
No zen master ever endorsed any kind of “zazen” or seated meditation.
Because It’s pointless to seeing your true nature, which is always present whatever you’re doing.
OTHER MISCONCEPTIONS SURROUNDING THIS ISSUE:
- people on r/zen hate mediation and don’t think people should do it
- Many users on this sub, including ewk, do sitting mediation. I do it. In the past ewk has even given me mediation technique tips. Nobody here is against meditation, or thinks it’s a bad thing to do. Meditation can bring benefits to people. Just not in a zen sense. There are no things that “benefit” zen – zen masters don’t conceive of Benefits.
2. Zen communities never meditated, or forbade it
- this is almost certainly not the case. Going by the texts, if we are to trust the translations (and I see no reason not to on this issue) it does seem clear that zen masters and their monks did engage in meditation in some capacity. They clearly didn’t think it was very significant though, as they never discuss it (except to denounce its ability to do something) and they never once provide meditation instruction, or elaborate on what kinds of meditation practices go on in their monasteries.
- The zen cases are almost never about someone meditating, only question and answer sessions. There is also not one single case in which a monk mentions, or demonstrates enlightenment as having any connection at all to sitting.
- In fact, almost all monastic communities have meditated throughout history – including Christian and other Abrahamic monks, not to mention occultists, Yogis, Buddhists, Vedics, Philosophers, Humanists, self-help gurus, medical patients and the military. Meditation goes hand in hand with a monastic lifestyle, regardless of culture, era, beliefs or affiliations.
- It’s also established that many people in the Tang Dynasty and beyond engaged in “Jing zuo” seated mediation: especially Confucians and Taoists. So this was by no means a practice simply associated with even Chinese Buddhism, let alone the Chan (zen) school specifically.
- “Zen Buddhists” have lots of evidence to back up the relevance of zazen to zen: but they’re being suppressed.
- there is a standing open invitation for people to make their claims about zazen freely and backed up by evidence that would end the debate.
- This has so far never happened.
- On the contrary, people claiming to speak on behalf of “zen Buddhists” have engaged in alt account shenanigans, trolling, sexual insults and extreme foul language, religious delusions, NPD-like behaviours, compulsive lying, threats of violence, doxxing, posting of sexually explicit material and neo nazi memes as well as misinformation and targeted harassment of users on this sub. These behaviours automatically disqualify these users as spokespeople for their Buddhist religions, but nobody ever seems to notice this.
- No convincing argument, using sources from the zen/Chan canon have been provided, and they aren’t going to be – because such evidence simply doesn’t exist.
- The only people on r/zen with the power to suppress content are the mods. The mods expressly don’t consider Dogenism or pro-meditation content to be in violation of this subreddit, and they don’t remove OPs or comments on that basis.
- Zen Buddhism and Dogenism don’t promote zazen as a means to Buddha nature (or) Zazen doesn’t have any purpose whatsoever, (but you should still do it because it’s important and at the core of zen understanding!)
- this has been debunked over the course of this OP. Zen Buddhists and Dogenists contradict themselves to an astonishing degree. In all their meaningless jargon and failed apologetics, they still haven’t found any kind of convincing way to reconcile their beliefs with the words of the zen masters.
- It’s clear that the official “zen Buddhist” teachers spread their gospel of zazen and hold it as front and centre to the zen tradition.
- They also OVERTLY and REPEATEDLY claim that “practicing zen” helps to realise Buddha nature and enlightens people
- They claim that it’s so important than the zen school is actually named after sitting meditation (!)
- If zazen is “good for nothing” or “not done for a reason” them there is no need to talk about it or promote it at all , let alone make it the be-all and end-all of your faith system.
- Even as we happily accept these people to have their silly, delusional, contradictory beliefs, it still disqualifies them as ZEN teachings, by definition.
5. r/zen is a cult, and people who criticise Zen Buddhism and Dogenism have been Brainwashed by ewk, who is a cult leader
- People who say “there’s nothing to practice, no teachers, no authority, nothing to follow, no special club, no secrets and no dharmas” cannot be cultists by definition. Zen is the antidote to cult mentality. Zen masters chase their students from the hall, and rebuke and insult them for seeking instruction from another.
- Cults venerate specially gifted individuals, ensure everybody dresses the same, thinks the same and follows strict instructions. Cults teach special liberation through spirituality and “mind opening”. Cult leaders often sexually involve (or molest) their followers, and are proven to engage in dishonest and Financially motivated behaviour. All these things are in fact true of the Zen Buddhist and Buddhist churches, as has been well documented. None of these things are true of the unaffiliated people on Reddit who demonstrate that zen masters had no ties to anything.
- Ewk is an anonymous Redditor who has almost no connection to users outside of this subreddit, with the exception of the KnotZen podcast. There are no secret or private conversations with him happening outside of r/zen. Many of those accused of being members of his cult are users he overtly denounces and criticises, and frequently argues with, and vice versa.
- Those accused as being member of ewk’s cult (including myself) rarely actually speak with him in any capacity, and certainly don’t defer to him for instruction on some kind of ‘spiritual matters’
The “zen Buddhist” and Dogenist churches unquestionably still have the monopoly on the global conversation and scholarship surrounding zen, and that’s not going to change anytime soon. All you can do is read the zen texts and decide for yourself.
It’s always your choice though: step through all of it and give up your delusional “karma” (mirror polishing) or keep deferring to the muddled lies and delusions of anti-historical, racist, monetised, disgraced, zen-hating, practice -forcing, history denying, evidence-free churches, “because they say so”.
Your Mind is the Buddha. End of story. If someone comes to you trying to sell you The cult powers of Zazen, squeeze their head and kick them up the arse.
Ultimately though, don’t take my word for it. Don’t take anybody’s word for it. Research yourself, and keep an open mind. If you can do this, the rest will fall into place.
Have a blessed day 🌸