What’s called Zen, which is C’han in Chinese tradition and Dhyan in Sanskrit, is no longer Zen once you call it Zen. This is the problem with words and thinking. I can only say this in words. And you can only understand the words, and the thoughts around these words. But these words and thoughts are only signposts, and not even good ones.
Zen is a rather fashionable word these days. The ancients in India called it tathata. It means that-that, and connotes “what it is.” Tat tvam asi, means That I am. These words, tathata and Zen and Truth, and others, point to that which no word can point to. Spiritual people make a big deal out of this. It isn’t really. Spiritual egos, ironically-well maybe it’s not ironic-are not humble. It’s really not a big deal. It’s rather simple. It’s so simple that the mind rebels.
“Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen.” – Boddhidharma
Zen, Advaita, Tao, Non-duality are similar in that they try to avoid the obstacle of beliefs and conceptualizing, that’s why they are sometimes called the pathless path. “If you see Buddha, kill him.” The blasphemy in this is purposeful, and too cute as Zen sayings try to be. It is to help us see the danger of clinging to idols, traditions and ideology.
These pathless paths, however, are not free of dogma. Krishnamurti told a story of a devil and his friend walking behind a man. The man stooped down to pick something up. The devil’s friend asked the devil, “What did he pick up?” The Truth, the devil replied. The devil’s friend said, well, that’s not good news for you, is it? The devil replied, not to worry, when the man takes it to his people, they will help him organize it.
This is the “stinking of Zen.”
The point is that the tendency to conceptualize and form ideas is very strong in the mind, and it is the only obstacle to awakening.
Awakening is easy, as easy as opening a fisted hand. If you’re banging your head against the wall, it’s easy to stop, isn’t it? But the ease of this torments the mind, and so the mind makes it a path, and a very complicated one, full of ideas and concepts and desires.
Zen is simple. Awareness is already here and now so there is no place you have to go. There is no road to it. There is nothing you have to do. There is no path, no dogma, no knowledge that will lead to it. Just shift attention to awareness and allow. Yes, there are techniques to help us, but all techniques start and stop in the mind, and awakening is awakening out of the mind.
Awakening is a process. It’s just very unlike the processes we’re used to. The mind knows the process of learning something or becoming this or that. The mind knows how to visualize something and go after it with effort and discipline. The mind knows how to desire and acquire. But the mind cannot know what it means to be awakened-so let’s be comfortable with that. We don’t understand the process of awakening-so let’s be comfortable with that. We don’t even know what Awakening feels like, or if there really is such a thing as Awakening. All we know is Awareness Now-we know there is awareness, and we know all experience is always in the Now.
Not understanding this process feels daunting, but not understanding is something we’re used to. Nobody understands where a thought comes from. Nobody understands the energy that drives the universe. Nobody understands love. Nobody understands why you are born who you are. Nobody understands death and thereafter. So don’t worry about understanding. Don’t understand for now. It makes That no less true.
You want a recipe? Here it is: Adapt a release technique you resonate with. Often, when we come to awakening, we are in misery. There is no need for this. Just learn to release. Then, intend to awaken (whatever that is). Use any of the awareness techniques, but don’t get attached to any particular one. “Cease to cherish opinion,” and instead rely only on direct experience. Be comfortable with the emptiness of not knowing and not believing and not wanting. Understand the delusions of the mind. Rest attention on effortless Awareness. And relax.
Or, come up with your own recipe. The essential ingredients are Now and Awareness. Reliance on direct experience and some understanding of the mind are tasty additives. The spice in the recipe is Life itself. Releasing will keep the whole thing simmering. Throwing beliefs or concepts in the mixture will sour the whole thing.
The process does seem to cause some emotional turbulence, but it is also fun and interesting. And that squirrelly thing we call life-well, it can become a fun, effortless, flowing game. Life indeed is a game; we just don’t know it, and of course people get mad when they hear someone say it’s a game, because things like loneliness and leukemia and death and poverty don’t seem like a game.
Here’s what can happen: when you practice stilling the mind, at first, it may seem impossible. It’s of course not only possible, but natural and beautiful. You don’t have to learn to still the mind, you have to unlearn the habit of putting forth the effort of thinking and analyzing. So it may seem hard at first. There is emotional turmoil, as the mind resists and cleans itself.
The only obstacle is your own fixed ideas.
When we are awareness–the gentle, unoccupied, passive watchfulness–that is it!
In Awareness, whatever you do, or don’t do, is Zen.