Lesson
1

The Essence of Zen

2 of 8

Just don't seek from others,
Or you'll be far estranged from Self.
I now go on alone;
Everywhere I meet It:
It now is me; I now am It.
One must understand in this way
To merge with thusness.

Dongshan Liangjie

At the end of these means is an intuitive realization of a single great insight that we and the world around are one, both part of a larger encompassing absolute. Our rational intellect merely obscures this truth, and consequently we must shut it off, if only for a moment. Rationality constrains our mind; intuition releases it.

The irony is that the person glimpsing this moment of higher consciousness, this Oneness, encounters the ultimate realization that there is nothing to realize. The world is still there, unchanged. But the difference is that it is now an extension of our consciousness, seen directly and not analytically. And since it is redundant to be attached to something already a part of you, there is a sudden sense of freedom from our agonizing bondage to things.

Along with this also comes release from the constraints of artificial values. Creating systems and categories is not unlike counting the colors of a rainbow—both merely detract from our experience of reality, while at the same time limiting our appreciation of the world's richness. And to declare something right or wrong is similarly nearsighted. In Zen all dualities dissolve, absorbed in the larger reality that simply is.

None of these things are taught explicitly in Zen. Instead they are discovered waiting in our consciousness after all else has been swept away. A scornful twelfth-century Chinese scholar summarized the Zen method as follows:

Since the Zen masters never run the risk of explaining anything in plain language, their followers must do their own pondering and puzzling—from which a real threshing-out results.

In this course we will watch the threshing-out of Zen itself—as its masters unfold a new realm of consciousness, the Zen experience.

The question "What is Zen?" and the presentation of instruction in Zen meditation practice are treated in the the Ashoka course Zen Meditation: Entering the Path..

If you would like to read a few words on what is Zen, we offer some a few choice insights from Thomas Merton >>>

By studying the stories of Zen and its teachers and practitioners, we hope you will come to a deeper understanding of and connection with Zen. Before we begin our story of Zen, in this lesson we look briefly at some issues basic to Zen.

  • Buddha-mind, Buddha-nature
  • Essential nature and self
  • Zen and meditation
  • Zen and enlightenment
  • Words, anecdotes, stories and legends