WHAT IS ZEN?

 

It is generally accepted in most Zen schools that in order to go beyond the emptiness of human-made concepts and theoretical musings to experience “reality,” one has to go through consistent meditative practices. This is of course the middle way (the way of the Zen). But this statement begs a philosophical question. And that is, “What constitutes ‘consistent meditation’?”

Many people around the globe are familiar with the image of a Zen practitioner sitting quietly for hours and ridding him or herself from anxieties, convoluted thoughts, and obsessions about desire and material wants. This is known as one technique to help one empty his or her mind. But what about the following activities:

  • walking for hours in a forest
  • Biking in the mountains or streets of Manhattan
  • Washing methodically one’s dishes in the kitchen for an hour or two
  • Lifting weights for an hour or two in a gym
  • Performing methodically martial arts kata (i.e., form) for an hour or two
  • Quietly watching the waves at an ocean beach

Are the above activities not meditative?  I contend they are and can be just as effective as meditation in its technically classical form at a Zen temple.

What can we achieve with the above? That is an irrelevant question, a Zen practitioner might say. To achieve? Zazen is not interested in achieving. What Zazen is for is to reveal the destination we have already arrived at. The past does not cause the future, because there is no future. The ultimate is found in the ordinary and we are all dependent on each other without depending on one another. Is the ultimate part of the ordinary? Indeed, the ultimate cannot be separated from the everyday life. The Daoist teaching along with Zen philosophy teach us that when properly seen, the supreme reality, the one Immanuel Kant called the unreachable can in fact be experienced. That we may call “enlightenment.” And I argue that certain martial arts masters and mystics may have actually experienced this true reality. Did the Buddha?

Leave a Reply