The Impossible Path Of Zen

Firstly, and before we start — let’s acknowledge the humorous paradox in even trying to explain something ‘impossible to understand’ at all.

Zen is mysterious and deeply misunderstood all the world over. The word Zen even seems to have suffered one of those modern ‘urban-dictionary’ style hijackings; where it’s more often hash-tagged in Instagram pictures of poolside recliners and vegan cafe food. So here I am to the apparent rescue Mr. Zen, to reaffirm your status for what you really are — and what you are, unfortunately, is impossible to describe! Not scared of a challenge, let’s turn the conversation serious. And to get started we’re going to need the help of some rather important observations we all take for granted in our everyday lives:

SEE ALSO: The 12 Laws Of Self-Realization

Firstly, life happens regardless of any conscious choice for it to be so.

That includes your heart beating without effort or a seed germinating at the precise time it is right and ready. Nature is functioning automatically, or perhaps a better word might be spontaneous. Closer to the point — it happens without a purpose — i.e. it is still occurring whilst being void of reason and purpose, contrary to what science is otherwise hellbent on proving. Life just happens by its own accord without reason. That includes everything from a heart cell to a virus, from the rainforest to even the great barrier reef. You might be tempted to state the reason a river runs is because it rains, but then you ask why it rains, and why there are clouds, and why there is evaporation or oceans — to eventually end up back at your river. Our ‘reasoning’ is more a function of arbitrarily isolating things than it is an understanding any bigger pictures of their existence.



And in regards to this article — our so-called ‘reasoning’ is itself what Zen will prove to you is irrelevant. Let’s move on with another observation,

Most of our ‘conscious living’ is also done in an automatic/spontaneous way.

That includes many of the things that we do supposedly on purpose. Let’s use a couple of examples: how much of our lives is spent daydreaming — who has been driving along a boring highway for a while, and all of a sudden you realize you ‘lost’ the last 20 minutes of your recollection? Another example: a simple question of yourself — is breathing a conscious activity or not? If you are tempted to say that some breaths are, and some aren’t — then I have one more question: is the thought itself to take a conscious breath, coming spontaneously or you created it? Anybody who has experience meditating might be able to tell you that thoughts seem to just happen of their own accord.

One last example: imagine a professional interpretive dancer, or equivalently, even a young girl in her bedroom — dancing completely in the moment, absorbed in what is happening, right there, right then. You might agree that there is no space for thinking/conscious direction when a person is in this sort of flow; for it would only ruin their absorption and fluidity at the moment. These are just examples of apparently ‘conscious’ parts of our lives that are also happily lost to automatic (or spontaneous) functioning. Furthermore, we can’t even prove our intentional thoughts and actions aren’t arising still from a spontaneous place too! My goal here, therefore, is to bring your attention to both these notions: spontaneous and automatic (like the actions required to keep a bike upright) — and regardless of our typical scientific explanations, such as our subconscious or unconscious minds.

Okay, another observation:

Nature has no need for the human point of view (that includes our science).

Long before humans existed and held theories about the universe, nature was doing its thing — as it still does today. And as you’d expect, nature will survive and endure past the human race regardless of all the theories and rationalizations we hold about it. Please note: when I refer to ‘nature’, I don’t just mean a stereotypical image of green forests and rivers — I refer to nature more in the idea of Mother Nature — i.e. the driving, underlying (and indescribable) creative essence that somehow animates us all.

In greater truth, science itself is only an attempt to validate certain points of view; subjective points of view that will one day be updated with the new findings of the most up-to-date science. And science is only for our own sake — nature has no need to be self-assured through such minor efforts as our science. One day our theories about life will eventually disappear and become irrelevant. They only seem important to our current human race, right here and now. In fact, our perspectives won’t even be relevant in a few short years time.

And finally;

Your mind is automatically filtering your life into your ‘own’ way of seeing things.

You and I both know that our perspectives on the world are entirely our own, and we will take them with us to the grave. After we are gone, our unique way of looking at the world disappears, as well as our beliefs systems that made up that point of view. Your mind has fleeting thoughts, dreams, worries, expectations — all sorts of things that we know are not real in the same way that a table or a glass of water is. They are entirely subjective and also subject to change.

Now before I talk about this any more— let’s just address a very important matter —Zen itself does not care about, nor have any necessity for the points I mentioned above. Zen is not a reasoning for any metaphysics, is not a definition of how to live, it is not in any way concerned with anything you should know or learn about the world. It is not even a religion. These points above are merely for you and I to start walking in the right direction in regards to Zen.

Zen does not care about, nor have any necessity for the points I mentioned above.

And so here we go:

What if, through some clever means — you were to see beyond any doubt; that all of life is running in this spontaneous, purposeless and natural manner — including the things you thought were your own choice and doing?

What if, through these ‘clever’ means (such as intense meditation or trick questions called koans), you see that with an occasional empty and thoughtless mind — you never stopped existing or functioning perfectly?

And what if, you even find that your efforts to make this shift in perspective happen, were themselves to be the only major obstacle in the way of perceiving it already?

What if indeed!

Zen monasteries, therefore, are built to act like an incubator, where eager seekers come to meditate and work towards a freedom they think they need to achieve — until the time comes that they finally see through their own illusion. So for many years they stay within the confines of the monastery walls, carefully being groomed by the incredible expertise of their Zen masters — who cleverly lead these mental warriors to a point where they catch on to the automatic, spontaneous, and purposeless functioning of life itself. They lead them towards their ‘awakening’ or insight — known in Japanese Zen traditions as a moment of Sartori or Kensho.

And then…..?

Well, let’s just explore what this means for a moment. With the discovery that your mind is not in charge here, you might start to see your life in a very different light. For example, consider the following: What if, you’ve freed yourself from the pressures of thoughts, dreams, guilt, and expectations? What if, you finally understood how your thoughts about who you are, we’re just limited abstractions, and certainly not relevant to your spontaneous living and happiness in the present moment? What if, you finally understood that the collective thoughts of society are also just abstractions — including science?

Actually, to be freed of the apparent limitations that our mind imposes on us has a much further reaching impact than you might first perceive:

Firstly, you would find yourself back in your natural state, living in and as Zen; finally understanding life as it is, as you already are.

You would find yourself living without any internal or external ‘existential’ conflicts— for you to see that you are already the only organism there is: the whole organism called the universe. You would find that your thoughts about life are only obstacles to feeling that you are the perfectly complete, ‘simple-complexity’ that is life already. And, you would also find that there is nothing more to be done, nothing more to achieve because you are already the achievement, called life!

You are alive, and there is nothing else to fundamentally do or know. Like a baby animal instinctively knowing where to feed — you are the automatic, spontaneous, purposeless process already happening — you just didn’t ever realize because you spent too much time thinking about it. When your mind and science is trying to win through understanding, Zen is to simply dissolve into it. There is nothing to learn. And so with Zen, if you can’t beat nature, then join it. And how does this benefit you?

Well if I have to explain it again, you will never hope to understand.

(Please be my guest to start the conversation about Zen below)

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Ash Craig

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Minute by minute, hour by hour – time rolls by, seemingly getting faster and faster as we age. It presents…

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