Back to Basics: What is Zen?

Zen, Chan, Seon, or Thien is a way of doing things.

It’s a way of walking, talking, eating, sleeping, drinking, laughing, listening, feeling and fucking that reflects the way things are.

I could go into Buddhist philosophy here, but I’m won’t, because philosophy tends to fill our heads with bullshit to the point that we’re bogged down more than ever. I’m also not gonna go into the lineage or traditional aspects of it.

All I’ll say of it is, “Shhh.” Hush is the way things are, our true nature, original mind, or Buddha. Hush. That’s who we are when we stop circling around things.

When we dam up our minds, we end up with whirlpools. One thought, feeling or impulse ends up spinning around and around, picking up speed and transforming into uglier and uglier versions of itself. And when we let the closed, circling mind make our decisions for us, we end up reinforcing it and causing suffering and confusion.

An open mind doesn’t have that problem. Since it isn’t dammed up, it experiences things as they are in the moment, not as they are after they’ve been twisted into extreme images of themselves.

When there’s pain, there’s pain. For most of us, when there’s pain, there’s agony. There’s anger, bitterness, or misery. Usually, when there’s pleasure there’s striving, greed, or jealousy. Not for the open mind—pain is just pain, and pleasure is just pleasure. When they’re felt, they’re felt; when they’re not, they’re not.

So in practice, when we’re walking, we’re walking. We’re not walking and pondering or planning—that’s for pondering and planning time. We’re walking and partaking in everything related to walking, immersing ourselves in the action to the point that self-consciousness seems to disappear.

Then we’re not walking. Walking is walking, we’re not doing anything.

The closed mind gets everything mixed up together, it associates A and B to such a degree that we identify them with each other. But no, A is A, and B is B. Walking is walking. It isn’t running, it isn’t skipping or thinking, or feeling. It isn’t you or me. Walking is just walking.

That’s why one of the most popular forms of Zen meditation is Shikantaza, which means “Just Sitting.” During Shikantaza, we sit down, take a meditation pose, and then just sit there in that pose—nothing else. We sit like that until we’re not sitting anymore, until sitting is sitting.

All of this opens up a clear, clean perception of the world and our lives. We learn all the things we thought we already knew. We learn how to walk, eat, drink, think, and love. We learn to live without confusing one thing for another.

The Buddhist philosophy is secondary to this, it’s something we approach with this open mind, because only an open mind can really grok it. The open mind can study it without collecting it. The closed or circling mind collects. The open mind has nothing.

Without anything, it can travel wherever it likes, wherever it needs to and it can do it confidently, competently, and without fear. It’s the master of all circumstances, and anyone can uncover it.

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