What is Zen?

by Derek Lin

"Zen" is the Japanese pronunciation of the Chinese character "chan," which is in turn the Chinese translation from the Indian Sanskrit term "dhyana," which means meditation.

Zen, like Tao, cannot be totally explained in words. Much of your grasp of Zen must necessarily depend on your own intuition. Bodhidharma (528 A.D.) had this to say about it:

Not dependent on the written word,
Transmission apart from the scriptures;
Directly pointing at one’s heart,
Seeing one’s nature, becoming Buddha.

Given that’s the case, the closest we can come to describing Zen in words may be as follows:

  • Zen is more of an attitude than a belief.
     
  • Zen is the peace that comes from being one with an entity other than yourself.
     
  • Zen means being aware of your oneness with the world and everything in it.
     
  • Zen means living in the present and experiencing reality fully.
     
  • Zen means being free of the distractions and illusory conflicts of the material world.
     
  • Zen means being in the flow of the universe.
     
  • Zen means experiencing fully the present, and delighting in the basic miracle of life itself.

Paradox is a part of Zen and the teaching of Zen. A paradox nudges your mind into a direction other than the routine. It helps you disengage the rational mind and free up the intuition. It also points to a truth that cannot be rationally derived through the use of logic. Therefore:

  • Zen is nothing and yet everything.
     
  • Zen is both empty and full.
     
  • Zen encompasses all and is encompassed by all.
     
  • Zen is the beginning and the end.

It's easy for some to dismiss Zen as a bunch of mumbo-jumbo, devoid of real meaning. These would be the people who aren't yet ready to move up to this particular level of spiritual development. That's alright. Such things should not and indeed cannot be rushed. Michael Valentine Smith, the main character from Stranger in a Strange Land, would say that one must "wait for fullness" and that "waiting is."