What is “Zen” It is a conservative view of some, that the world is a verystrange place. Once upon a time, four men and a woman all wished they could meetthe perfect person. Each in his or her own way received a message to be at acertain bar at a time and at the third stool from the left, the perfect personwould be sitting. The woman got there early, and sat down in the fourth seat towait. As the time grew closer, she decided it wouldn’t hurt to “freshenup” and popped into the bathroom. Just as the door to the bath room closed,the first man a Priest, came in.
He looked wildly around the room for a second,and then gazed toward the third seat. Seeing no one there, a look of reliefcrossed his face. “Thank you, Lord! I fell to a temptation to sin. And youallowed me to see the error of my ways. ” he muttered. Just as the priest wasleaving, the second man a Buddhist, came in.
He looked serenely around the roomfor a moment, the then gazed upon the third seat. Seeing no one there, a look ofamazement crossed his face. “Thank you, Lord! I failed to realize thenature of things. And you allowed to see the error of my ways,” hemuttered. Just as the Buddhist was leaving, the third man a Zen Poet, came in.
He slowly look around the room, and the gazed toward the third seat. Seeing noone there, he sighed. And went to sit at the third seat of the bar. Just afterthe Poet had sat down, the fourth man stumbled in. He looked right at the thirdseat.
Seeing the poet, a look of horror crossed his face. “I’m not gay! I’mnot gay! he muttered as he stumbled back out the door. Just as the fourth manleft, the woman returned. Seeing the poet, she wondered, “This is theperfect guy?” Uncertain, she sat down at her seat and began to talk to him. The question of “What is Zen?” is the best answer to itself. The commonsense point of view that it’s a sect of Buddhism based upon the Buddha’s mythic”Flower Sutra” is not wrong.
Many point toward that exchange as thestart of what is Zen. A more scientific view might be to consider Zen as asocietal extension of Bodhidharma’s four assertions. This is not incorrecteither. At this moment, I think the best view is to consider Zen as the skillfulmeans of skillful means.
Those who have come to intuitively understand theBuddha’s enlightenment use it. Seeing directly into their answer, they see thesource of their self-nature, and seek to share the vision with anyone whorequests it. We can talk of the various schools and their ways of demonstratingthe fundamental truth of reality. But such talk is really only the constructionof a gate for those of an intellectual bent.
The essence of Zen is nothing moreor less than directly perceiving the world around us without the blinders of ourown thoughts and opinions. Reach into that moment of understanding, and all ofZen flows forth. Pause for a moment to believe it, and all the oceans of theworld turn into deserts. The western mind likes metaphors as points. Recently, Iremembered one that was told to me long ago. I will relate it, in hopes that itmight shed some light upon this serious issue.
The essence of Zen is much likethe nature of any computer system. When you get right down to it, “It’s allzeros and ones!” See the Zeroes and ones as you like. Try to understand wherethe software ends, and the hardware begins. Try to follow the chain of historyof ideas. Look into the various events, which led to the reception of thisessay.
All these people, things and events are a useful, if you want tounderstand the device known as a computer. All their events, people and thingsare useless, if you don’t care about it. Either way, it all comes down to apattern of zeros and ones interacting with other patterns of zeroes and ones. Tosee into the essence of the problem of Zen, just ask ten people what computer’sare and how they work. Most people will admit, they don’t know. A few will offervery different distortions of it, each from their relative point of view.
Itwould be a rare person who would point right toward Turing Machines and say thatis the device. But again we would face the same problem, though in reverse. Afew would say they don’t know what one is. And almost everyone would offer adifferent distortion of it, each from his or her relative point of view. It’svery hard to get past the preconceptions that we base our views of reality upon.
The language we describe it, limits what we can say, and often the way that wesee it. To know that anything that can be done with computers can be emulatedusing Turing machines is a pointless point for most people. To point that thereis a correspondence between this essence of computing and the essence of mind, afact very few can grasp at the time of this writing. But if we dig deep into thewhole of western knowledge we will come away with a sense of interconnectednessand a sense of emptiness of all that we know.
If we are brave enough to lookopened eyed into our own lives we will find the exact same structures ofpatterns. This does not occur because of some mystical understanding. It comesbecause it is present in our minds, people do not sense things they do notsense, just as people will not know the debt they owe to Alan Turing and hissolution of a mathematical problem. It takes a far-reaching mind to step intothe events, which led up to his solution, and the various implications of asimple bike ride. The facts and knowledge are present, but people as a whole donot want to know. This not wanting to know about computers and the societalforces that gave rise to it and that it causes, is the same not wanting to knowthat blocks most people from ever getting more than a hint of what Zen is.
Weare much more content to believe in safe illusions, than to stare deep into anywhere and see the simple binary pattern which is the primary manifestation ofthings. And we certainly do not wish to transcend that, to gaze directly at thatwhich is, zero and ones, infinitesimal and infinity, being and nothingness,emptiness and Form, self and no-self, it is all the same. We look upon an appletree heavy with autumn fruits and see the disjointed apples hanging from a tree,waiting to become pies, cider and sauce. We don’t see the collective applehanging in the tree, because we have no word for it. We do not sense thefundamental unity of everything because we have no conception of it. We usepatterns of words like, “when you drink the cider, you drink the tree.
” Asimple point, but everyone gets hung up on their conceptions of the meanings ofthe words. See past the words, see the meaning, and experience the thingdirectly. The apple seed is no different from you. See the totality of beingfrom the point of view of the apple seed! Again, everyone who doesn’t alreadyunderstand misses it again! And even those who think they understand miss itagain! What is Zen? Zen is NOTHING. It is an illusion of skillful means.
Butwhat an illusion of nothing! With this existing non-existent thing we can talkabout a non-existing nonexistence. What a useful pointlessness. An absolute thatcannot exist, creating a bridge and foundation for things to exist. Which allowus to clearly communicate about them with complete certainty.
Look at yourcomputer! How is it any different from the one that was produced before it, orthe one that was produced a week later? If we load the exact same software, willthey process any differently? All computers process the same way when they arein the Zero/off state. It just doesn’t matter, from the smallest palm help tothe largest super computer; the processing of all computers is the same whenthey are turned off. When you turn them on, the illusion they are doingdifferent things, is just a matter of the pattern of zeroes and ones it canallow to transform. A palm top can run a modified version of any program run ona super computer, it will just take longer because it transforms the zeros toone slower and it has a much smaller space of to do it in. Something is either acomputer or not, but what is a computer and what is not is as easily answered asthe original question. Western science has sought for over fifty years to find amodel of the human mind.
This quest is called Artificial Intelligence. For over1000 years, the East has had the solution. But science is just as blind asindividuals when it comes to Zen. Neither science nor most individuals havegrasped the essence of the mirror of Zen. What a pity! A thousand years ofdifferent solutions to all the problems that beleaguered western society and ourtransliterate society can’t read the crude scrawled solutions upon a cave wall.
What is the answer? Zen. What is the question? Zen? What is everyone’s problem?Zen! It’s no wonder that the stories of Zen are filled with laugh andsorrowfully Buddha. Half of them have to treat human stupidity as a joke playedupon mankind. And the other half can sense the sweet sorrow if it, and feelcompassion for our ignorance.
The other halves are silent or talk too much aboutnothing. What a pity. Science and Zen, each having half an answer. Eachscreaming, I am the only one that knows, each seeming to be unable to hear theother.
And the only looser in this non-war is the human race, which manifestedthem both.