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Reflections on Zen
Category: Core Paradigm
Last Updated: October 2010

I guess I should preface this article by stating that I am not a Zen Master, I have never called anybody 'Grasshopper'* - neither have I spent much time looking for the perfect Cherry Blossom.

I am just a guy who has 'done the exercises' and come to my own conclusions.

All I can say is: do the exercises yourself and then, as The Oracle said to Neo, "make up your own damn mind."

Ideally you should have read the other articles in the 'Core Paradigm' category - This one is the most important.

What is Zen?

It seems to me that the answer to that question is non-verbal - i.e. it does not consist of words.

The problem here is that I am forced into using words to explain this. Then you need to read these words, and possibly you might use yet more words to have a mental discussion about what you're reading.

... and at every stage there is a greater and greater risk of moving further and further away from the answer.

If the question is 'What is Zen?' - the answer is non-verbal.

Actually this is a point that I am going to make again and again and again. (Mostly because it is crucially important, but also because it pads out an otherwise very short article.)

... but this is so difficult for us. We like our networks of 'labels' to be neat, tidy and to make sense so we can explain it to Teacher and avoid being put in the corner wearing the Dunce's Cap. "Oh! Little Tommy cannot explain himself! The shame! How disappointed Mummy would be if she knew."

We want someone to explain 'Zen' to us in words so that we can put it in the little box in our head labelled 'I know all about this' - and then the mystery will be 'solved' and we can be happy and get our Gold Star.

This 'Teacher in our Head' needs evicting.

What is Zen?

There's a nice story about Bruce Lee explaining that trying to 'understand' the philosophy of Zen is like pouring tea into a cup that is already full - the cup must be emptied first.

As a metaphor it fits what we are looking for - you need to temporarily suspend, or 'empty out', this habit of over-intellectualising everything. And then approach life without the burden of trying - or needing - to intellectually understand things.

Somebody once asked me "What's the sound of one hand clapping?"
So I demonstrated an answer.
"Oh I see," he said. "You just.. " and then described what I'd done.
"No," I said. "It's this," and repeated the demonstration of this answer.
"Uh, yeah," he said and then repeated his description of what I'd done.
"No," I said. "It's this," repeating the demonstration.
"But that's what I said," he protested.
I repeated the demonstration of the answer once more.
... and that was the end of that conversation.

Maybe I was labouring the point, but in the absence of a staff to whack this guy over the head with it'd have to do... The verbal description of the act is not the same as the actual act itself, right?

What is Zen?

So now you might be saying to yourself, "Aha! I know the answer to this one - it's non-verbal!"

Well yes, and no. Because what you've done here is to intellectually understand that 'it is non-verbal' - using words!?!

What we need to do is to condition our subconscious mind to be more aware of the world on a non-verbal level - so that it happens as an automatic part of normal mind functioning.

Okay, so how do we do that?

Well, like I said, do the exercises - at the bottom of the page. And then do them again and again and again until it becomes habitual.

* Well, maybe just the once.