A student said to master Yuanwu, “How could the Way be cluttered with so many words?”
“The Tao is originally without words, but we use words to reveal the Tao. People who truly embody the Tao penetrate it in the mind and clarify it at its very basis. They strip off thousands and thousands of layers of sweaty shirts sticking to their skin and open through to awaken to the real, true, immutable essence, which is just as it is: originally real and pure and luminous and wondrous, wholly empty and utterly silent.
“When you reach the point where not a single thought is born and before and after are cut off, you walk upon the scenery of the fundamental ground. All the wrong perceptions and wrong views of self and others and “is” and “is not” that make up the defiled mind of birth and death are no longer there. You are completely cleansed and purified, and you have complete certainty. Then you are no different from all the other enlightened people since time immemorial.
“You are at peace, not fabricating anything, not clinging to anything, freely pervading everything by being empty, perfectly fused with everything, without boundaries. You eat and dress according to the time and season and have the integral realization of true normality. This is what it means to be a true non-dong, unaffected Wayfarer.”
(Yuanwu quoted from the book, ‘ZEN LETTERS - Teachings of Yuanwu’ - translated by J.C. Cleary and Thomas Cleary)
Hmm. I continue to be iffy on Zen (vs. traditions like Theravada Buddhism). Putin, for example, with his love of Judo, is very Zen. Other practitioners include Steve Jobs and Larry Ellison (great visionaries, kind of horrible people at a personal level if the reporting about them is to be believed). I find much to admire in some of that mindset, but do you really want to live in a reality where you are completely dispensable if you conflict sufficiently with collectivist visions? And where that’s actually a kinder gentler version of earlier Zen traditions, like harikari? There are no individual boundaries in truly Zen-ified groups because there are no individuals.
Granted, I appreciate old school Zen attitudes because I think they are a corrective for some of the more flowery excesses of Buddhism that have taken a new age, westernized turn. Quite frankly, lately I’m getting sick of hearing Buddhist deepities from coffee mugs and refrigerator magnets and Facebook memes in a way that renders them almost meaningless. So I appreciate the often more no-nonsense, “Just Do It” “a little less conversation a little more action” approach of Zen. Even so, it’s a cold tradition. Experiential love comes from some sense of division, some sense of me over here and you over there. You trade that for total peace and safety when you dispense with a sense of self - but that’s not a trade I would want to make. As Sri Ramakrishna said:
In samadhi I lose outer consciousness completely; but God generally keeps a little trace of ego in me for the enjoyment of divine communion. Enjoyment is possible only when ‘I’ and ‘you’ remain.
Zen thinking is an important ‘wing’ of understanding to my mind (the two wings of Buddhism being compassion and wisdom, where wisdom generally means insight into emptiness and lack of a reified self or any permanence). And I have no doubt that some Zen practitioners are more faithful to the roots of Buddhism as practiced by Buddha thousands of years ago in India than others. But my general impression of it is that it often focuses greatly on the development of one wing, and so care needs to be taken to develop the other if Zen is one’s primary practice.
And I have no doubt that some Zen practitioners are more faithful to the roots of Buddhism as practiced by Buddha thousands of years ago in India than others.
Theravada predates Zen and is probably closer to what the Buddha actually taught.