It is a conservative view of some, that the world is a very strange place. Once upon a time, four men and a woman all wished they could meet the perfect person. Each in his or her own way received a message to be at a certain bar at a time and at the third stool from the left, the perfect person would be sitting.
The woman got there early, and sat down in the fourth seat to wait. As the time grew closer, she decided it wouldn’t hurt to “freshen up” 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 relief crossed his face. “Thank you, Lord! I fell to a temptation to sin. And you allowed me to see the error of my ways.” he muttered.
Just as the priest was leaving, the second man a Buddhist, came in. He looked serenely around the room for a moment, the then gazed upon the third seat. Seeing no one there, a look of amazement crossed his face. “Thank you, Lord! I failed to realize the nature of things. And you allowed to see the error of my ways,” he muttered.
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 no one there, he sighed. And went to sit at the third seat of the bar.
Just after the Poet had sat down, the fourth man stumbled in. He looked right at the third seat. Seeing the poet, a look of horror crossed his face. “I’m not gay! I’m not gay! he muttered as he stumbled back out the door.
Just as the fourth man left, the woman returned. Seeing the poet, she wondered, “This is the perfect 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 common sense 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 the start of what is Zen. A more scientific view might be to consider Zen as a societal extension of Bodhidharma’s four assertions. This is not incorrect either.
At this moment, I think the best view is to consider Zen as the skillful means of skillful means. Those who have come to intuitively understand the Buddha’s enlightenment use it. Seeing directly into their answer, they see the source of their self-nature, and seek to share the vision with anyone who requests it.
We can talk of the various schools and their ways of demonstrating the fundamental truth of reality. But such talk is really only the construction of a gate for those of an intellectual bent. The essence of Zen is nothing more or less than directly perceiving the world around us without the blinders of our own thoughts and opinions. Reach into that moment of understanding, and all of Zen flows forth. Pause for a moment to believe it, and all the oceans of the world turn into deserts.
The western mind likes metaphors as points. Recently, I remembered one that was told to me long ago. I will relate it, in hopes that it might shed some light upon this serious issue. The essence of Zen is much like the nature of any computer system. When you get right down to it, “It’s all zeros and ones!”
See the Zeroes and ones as you like. Try to understand where the software ends, and the hardware begins. Try to follow the chain of history of ideas. Look into the various events, which led to the reception of this essay. All these people, things and events are a useful, if you want to understand the device known as a computer. All their events, people and things are useless, if you don’t care about it. Either way, it all comes down to a pattern of zeros and ones interacting with other patterns of zeroes and ones.
To see into the essence of the problem of Zen, just ask ten people what computer’s are and how they work. Most people will admit, they don’t know. A few will offer very different distortions of it, each from their relative point of view. It would be a rare person who would point right toward Turing Machines and say that is the device. But again we would face the same problem, though in reverse. A few would say they don’t know what one is. And almost everyone would offer a different distortion of it, each from his or her relative point of view.
It’s very 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 we see it. To know that anything that can be done with computers can be emulated using Turing machines is a pointless point for most people. To point that there is a correspondence between this essence of computing and the essence of mind, a fact very few can grasp at the time of this writing. But if we dig deep into the whole of western knowledge we will come away with a sense of interconnectedness and a sense of emptiness of all that we know.
If we are brave enough to look opened eyed into our own lives we will find the exact same structures of patterns. This does not occur because of some mystical understanding. It comes because it is present in our minds, people do not sense things they do not sense, just as people will not know the debt they owe to Alan Turing and his solution of a mathematical problem. It takes a far-reaching mind to step into the events, which led up to his solution, and the various implications of a simple bike ride. The facts and knowledge are present, but people as a whole do not want to know. This not wanting to know about computers and the societal forces that gave rise to it and that it causes, is the same not wanting to know that blocks most people from ever getting more than a hint of what Zen is.
We are much more content to believe in safe illusions, than to stare deep into any where and see the simple binary pattern which is the primary manifestation of things. And we certainly do not wish to transcend that, to gaze directly at that which 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 apple tree 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 apple hanging in the tree, because we have no word for it. We do not sense the fundamental unity of everything because we have no conception of it. We use patterns of words like, “when you drink the cider, you drink the tree.” A simple point, but everyone gets hung up on their conceptions of the meanings of the words. See past the words, see the meaning, and experience the thing directly. The apple seed is no different from you. See the totality of being from the point of view of the apple seed! Again, everyone who doesn’t already understand misses it again! And even those who think they understand miss it again!
What is Zen? Zen is NOTHING. It is an illusion of skillful means. But what an illusion of nothing! With this existing non-existent thing we can talk about a non-existing nonexistence. What a useful pointlessness. An absolute that cannot exist, creating a bridge and foundation for things to exist. Which allow us to clearly communicate about them with complete certainty.
Look at your computer! How is it any different from the one that was produced before it, or the one that was produced a week later? If we load the exact same software, will they process any differently? All computers process the same way when they are in the Zero/off state. It just doesn’t matter, from the smallest palm help to the largest super computer; the processing of all computers is the same when they are turned off. When you turn them on, the illusion they are doing different things, is just a matter of the pattern of zeroes and ones it can allow to transform. A palm top can run a modified version of any program run on a super computer, it will just take longer because it transforms the zeros to one slower and it has a much smaller space of to do it in.
Something is either a computer or not, but what is a computer and what is not is as easily answered as the original question. Western science has sought for over fifty years to find a model of the human mind. This quest is called Artificial Intelligence. For over 1000 years, the East has had the solution. But science is just as blind as individuals when it comes to Zen. Neither science nor most individuals have grasped the essence of the mirror of Zen. What a pity! A thousand years of different solutions to all the problems that beleaguered western society and our transliterate 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 and sorrowfully Buddha. Half of them have to treat human stupidity as a joke played upon mankind. And the other half can sense the sweet sorrow if it, and feel compassion for our ignorance. The other halves are silent or talk too much about nothing.
What a pity. Science and Zen, each having half an answer. Each screaming, I am the only one that knows, each seeming to be unable to hear the other. And the only looser in this non-war is the human race, which manifested them both.
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