The Way Of Zen


This book has three great ideas that have changed my thinking:

  1. Spontaneity
  2. Goallessness
  3. What is real
  4. What is control

The Principle of Spontaneity

The baby looks at things all day without winking; this is because his eyes are not focussed on any particular object. He goes without knowing where he is going and stops without knowing what he is doing. He merges himself with the surroundings and moves along with it. These are the principles of mental hygiene. - Chuang Tzu

For it is really impossible to appreciate what is meant by the Tao without becoming, in a rather special sense, stupid. So long as the conscious intellect is frantically trying to clutch the world in its net of abstractions and to insist that life be bound and fitted to its rigid categories, the mood of Taoism will remain incomprehensible; and the intellect will wear itself out.

CONTRAST: The conventional relationship that the knower of the known is the controller of the controlled. The man as the absolute dictator of his own mind and body and the conscious ruler and controller

无为 Wu-wei. State of relaxed and deep engagement. In the way we no amount of exertion can enable us to taste our food more acutely or no amount of squinting will make you see more detail. The eye and the mouth must be trusted to do the work by itself.

Move to an innate and spontaneous intelligence by using it without force.

  • Mind-listening without straining
  • Smelling without strong inhalation
  • Touching without pressing

The centipede was happy, quite, Until a toad in fun Said, “Pray, which leg goes after which?” This worked his mind to such a pitch, He lay distracted in a ditch, Considering how to run.

Two: The Origins of Buddhism

The Four Noble Truths:

  • Life as we usually live it is suffering is bedeviled by the frustration which comes from attempting the impossible. You could also say that life is frustration, not suffering. Reality isn’t permanent nor impermanent, it cannot be categorised. but when we try to hold on to it, change is everywhere apparent, since like your shadow the faster you pursue it the faster it flees.
  • The cause of frustration, trishna, is a distrust of the controller. you can try to control everything, but eventually you must also control yourself. The pattern of life that follows this frustrating grasping is samsara, the round of birth and death. Karma affects the outcomes of this cycle. It can be taken literally as life and death, but it can also be interpreted as moment to moment, so that one is being reborn so long as one identifies themselves with the continuing ego which reincarnates itself afresh at each moment in time.
  • The ending of self-frustration and the whole karmic circle is called Nirvana. It can be described as becoming one who has seen the futility of trying to hold his breath or life indefinitely, thus nirvana is the equivalent of moksha, or liberation.
  • The eightfold path of the Buddha’s Dharma, the method or doctrine through which self-frustration comes to an end:
    • Complete view
    • Complete understanding
    • Complete speech
    • Complete action
    • Complete vocation
    • Complete application
    • Complete recollectedness
    • Complete contemplation\

Spoken Language as an Accepted Convention

What happens to my fist when I open my hand?

In Chinese, we have less difficulty in seeing that objects are also events and that our world is a collection of processes rather than entities.

Codes as an Accepted Convention

Between me at the present moment and the idea of ‘me’. The idea is built on societal constructs, my need to be consistent with my past self in the eyes of society and how I think other people think that I should be.

In my day to day, I become stressed when I cannot cope with technology or finances. Because I imposed on myself the role of a product manager that imposes those competencies on me. In my day to day, I become stressed when I meet attractive women. Because I imposed on myself the role of a boyfriend, and any mild form of attraction is contrary to that position, albeit natural. In my day to day, I become stressed when I do not come across as aspirationally successful. Because I impose on myself a need to look competent.

We accept the codes of law and ethics, of etiquette and art, of weights, of measures and numbers, and of role.

We have difficulty communicating with each other unless we can identify ourselves in terms of roles - father, teacher, worker, artist, “regular guy”, gentleman, sportsman, and so forth.

To the extent that we identify with these stereotypes and the rules of behavior associated with them, we ourselves feel that we are someone because our fellows have less difficulty in accepting us, In identifying us and feeling that we are “under control”

According to the convention, I am not only what I am doing right now. I am also what I have done and my conventionally edited version of myself is made to seem the more real “me” than what I am in this present moment.

Past events and memories which make up the historical identity of a person are no more than a selection from which we abstracted as significant, and this significance is defined by conventional standards.

Abstraction as a Necessity of Communication

The nature of conventional knowledge is a system of abstraction. We need abstraction to represent our experiences with simple and rapidly made “grasps” of the mind. Conventional signs give us an abstract, one-at-a-time translation of a universe in which things are always happening altogether-at-once whose concrete reality always escapes the perfect description in these abstract terms.

Four: The Rise and Development of Zen

Zen has always attached importance to expressing Buddhism in secular terms, in art of every type, in manual labour, in the appreciation of the natural universe

Nirvana cannot be approached, grasped or pursued. It must be realised in an instant, which is satori.

The attempt to work on one’s own mind is a vicious circle. To try to purify it is to be contaminated with purity.

Hui-neng’s teaching is that instead of trying to purify or empty the mind, one must simply let go of the mind - because the mind is nothing to be grasped. If you start concentrating the mind on stillness, you will merely produce an unreal stillness…

Our true nature s no (special) nature. If one has this knowledge, it is contemplation without contemplating, wisdom without wisdom, practice without practising. All cultivation of concentration is wrong-minded from the start. For how, by cultivating concentration, could one obtain concentration? If we speak of working with the mind, does this working consist in activity or inactivity of the mind? If it is inactivity, we should be no different from vulgar fools. But if you say that it is activity, then it is in the realm of grasping.

When hungry eat, when tired sleep. - matsu

Principles and Practice

Life is not a situation to be grasped or gained. To have a goal is an antipattern. To define good or beauty; necessitates defining bad and ugly. - Watts

The duality of the subject and the object. To be the knower and the known. The self is just an idea, useful and legitimate enough if seen for what it is, but disastrous if identified with our real nature. The unnatural awkwardness of a certain type of self-consciousness comes into being when we are aware of conflict or contrast between the idea of ourselves and the immediate concrete feeling of ourselves. Subjective isolation

We feel that our actions are voluntary when they follow a decision, and involuntary when they happen without decision. But if decision itself were voluntary, every decision would have to be preceded by a decision to decide-an infinite regression which fortunately does not occur. Oddly enough, if we had to decide to decide, we would not be free to decide. We are free to decide because decision “happens.” We just decide without having the faintest understanding of how we do it. In fact, it is neither voluntary nor involuntary.

The point is not to make an effort to silence the feelings and cultivate bland indifference. It is top see through the universal illusion that what is pleasant or good may be wrested from what is painful or evil.

When Everyone recognizes beauty as beautiful, there is already ugliness; When everyone recognizes goodness as good, there is already evil. “To be” or “not to be” arise mutually; Difficult and easy are mutually realized; Long and short are mutually posited; Before and after are in a mutual sequence.

The temptation is all the stronger because it upsets the fondest illusion of the human mind, which is that in the course of time everything may be made better and better. For it is the general lack of opinion that were this not possible the life of man would lack all meaning and incentive. The only alternative to a life of constant progress is felt to be a mere existence, static and dead, so joyless and inane that one might as well commit suicide. The very notion of this “only alternative” shows how firmly the mind is bound in a dualistic pattern, how hard it is to think in any other terms than good or bad, or a muddy mixture of the two.

Life is not a situation to be grasped or gained - as if it were something which one approaches from outside, like a pie or a barrel of beer. To succeed is always to fail - in the sense that the more one succeeds in anything, the greater is the need to go on succeeding. To eat is to survive to be hungry

Yet Zen is a liberation fro this pattern. To understand the absurdity of choosing, of the whole feeling that life may be significantly improved by a constant selection of the “good”.

Like turning on a bed, the new position is “better” so long as the contrast remains, but before long the second position begins to feel like the first. So one acquires a more comfortable bed and for a while, sleeps in peace.

“Fleas on a hot griddle”. The flea who falls must jump and the flea who jumps must fall. Choosing is absurd because there is no choice.

But he viewpoint is not fatalistic. It is not simply submission to the inevitability of sweating when it is hot and shivering when it is cold. rather, submission to fate implies someone who submits, someone who is the helpless puppet of circumstances, and for Zen there is no such person. The duality of subject and object, of the knower and the known is seen to be just as relative as mutual and as inseparable as every other.

moon in the water. The water is the subject and the moon is the object. However, when there is no water, there is also no moon in the water. Likewise, when there is no moon.

Human experience is determined as much by the nature of the mind and the structure of its senses as by the external objects whose presence the mind reveals.

There is no myself apart from the mind-body.

Our problem is that the power of thought enables us to construct the symbols of things apart from the things themselves. This includes the ability to make a symbol, an idea of ourselves apart from ourselves. Because the idea is so much more comprehensible than the reality, the symbol so much more stable than the fact, we learn to identify ourselves with our idea of ourselves. Hence, the subjective feeling of a self that has a mind, of an inwardly isolated subject to whom experiences involuntarily happen. Zen points out that the concept of “self” is just an idea, useful and legitimate enough if seen for what it is, but disastrous if identified with our real nature. The unnatural awkwardness of a certain type of self-consciousness comes into being when we are aware of conflict or contrast between the idea of ourselves and the immediate concrete feeling of ourselves.

I have no other self than the totality of things of which I am aware.

When we are no longer identified with the idea of ourselves, the entire relationship between subject and object, knower and known undergoes a sudden a revolutionary change. It becomes a real relationship, a mutuality in which the subject creates the object as much as the object creates the subject. The knower no longer feels himself independent of the known. experiencer no longer apart from the experience.

The sense of subjective isolation is also based on a failure to see the relativity of voluntary and involuntary events.”I breathe” rather than “it breathes me” (involutary).

We feel that our actions are voluntary when it follows a decision. But if decision itself were voluntary, every decision would have to be preceded by a decision to decide - an infinite regression which fortunately does not occur. Oddly enough, if we had to decide to decide, we would not be free to decide. we are free to decide because decision “happens”. We just decide without the faintest decision of how we do it. In fact, it is neither voluntary nor involuntary. I feel that I am deciding everything that happens. or. I feel that everything, including my decisions, is just happening spontaneously. For a decision - the freest of my actions - just happens like hiccups inside me or like a bird singing outside me.

One day I wiped out all notions from my mind. I gave up all desire. I discarded all the words with which I thought and stayed in quietude. I felt a little queer 0 as if I were being carried into something, or as if I were touching some power unknown to me and Ztt! I entered. I lost the boundary of my physical body. I had my skin, of course, but I felt I was standing in the center of the cosmos. I spoke, but my words had lost their meaning, i saw people coming towards me, but all were the same man. All were myself! I had never known this would. I had believed that I was created, but now I must change my opinion: I was never created; I was the cosmos no individual Mr Sasaki existed.

The illusion whereby we are unable to be happy without a promising future for the symbolic self. There is never anything in the present, and if one cannot llive there, one cannot live anywere. (On the insistent demand for assurances of future promises.

The difficulty of Zen is to shift ones attention from the abstract to the concrete, from the symbolic self to one’s true nature. So long as we merely talk about it, so long as we turn over ideas in our minds about symbol and reality, or keep repeating: “I am not my idea of myself”, this is still mere abstraction.

When reading, it doesn’t help to say “I must concentrate”.

Sitting Quietly, Doing Nothing

We are like machines that have feedback loops that have feedback loops that have feedback loops. Having too many layers of looping prior to decision could take too long. Or create inaction and anxiety.

In acting, just act. In thinking, just think. Above all, don’t wobble.

Like a sword that cuts, it cannot cut itself

Like an eye that sees, it cannot see itself.

In walking just walk. In sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.

The illusion of the split comes from the mind’s attempt to be both itself and the idea of itself.

Feedback. The proper adjustment of a feedback system is always a complex mechanical probl.e For the original machine, say the furnace is adjusted by the feedback system, but this system i turn needs adjustment. Therefore to make a mechanical system more and more automatic, will require the use of a series of feedback systems. 2nd to correct the 1st, 3rd to correct the 2nd and so on. It might take so long for the series of feedback to arrive at the original machine to be useful.

Similarly when a person thinks too much into it every action to be taken, they cannot make up their minds in time to act. In other words, one cannot correct one’s means of self-correction indefinitely. There must be one source of information at the end of the line which is the final authority. Failure to trust its authority will make it impossible to act and the system will be paralyzed.

Every system needs a margin of error or lag. If we bring the upper and lower limits very close together, the system will tremble. The system is too sensitive and shows symptoms like anxiety.

The effort to always remain good or happy is like trying to keep a thermostat at 70 constantly.

Zen: always takes the side of action as against reflection.

In acting, just act. In thinking, just think. Above all, don’t wobble. - Watts

Don’t reflect on reflecting.

Brushing off thoughts which arise is just like washing off blood with blood.

Spontaneity in replying. to eliminate blocking in both action and thought, so that the response of the mind is always like a ball in a mountain stream: one thought after the other without hesitation.

Zazen and the Koan

There is a saying in Zen that “original realisation is marvelous practice” (Japanese, honsho myoshu). The meaning is that no distinction is to be made between the realization of awakening distinction is to be made between the realisation of awakening and the cultivation of zen meditation and action.

For the practice of Zen is not the true practice so long as it has the end in view, and when it has no end in view it is awakening - the aimless, self-sufficient life othe the eternal now.

In the two preceding chapters we discussed the original realisation

To a yong Zen monk the roshi therefore stands as a symbol of the utmost patriarchal authority, and he usually plays the role to perfection - being normally a man advenced in years, fierce and tigerish in aspect and when formally robed and seated for the sanzen interview, a person of supreme presence and dignity. In this role he constitutes the living symbol of everything that makes one afriad of being spontaneous everything that prompts the most painful and awkward self-consciousness. A Upaya

It is always possible to go around for some time wiht lead in one’s shoe and then take it off. The sense of relief is proportionate to the length of time and to the weight of th elaed. This is equivalent to the old trick of religious revivalists who give their followers a tremendous emotional uplife by first implanting an acute sense of sin then revinin git through faith in Jesus.

Awakening is to know what reality is not. It is to cease identifying oneself with an object of knowledge whatsoever.

man’s tacit assumption that he is something

Tea ceremony: strangely relaxed and yet fomrla occasion.

The Orignal Mind