Among the many Buddhist sects, especially those that grew up in China and Japan, a unique order can be found, which claims that it captures the essence of the spirit of Buddhism directly from its author, without the aid of a secret document or mysterious rite. This order is one of the most significant in Buddhism, not only in terms of its historical importance and spiritual vitality, but also in terms of unsurpassed originality and force of attraction. The scientific name of this way is "The Heart of the Buddha" ("Buddha-hridaya"), more popular as "Zen" (Kapleau 32).
In the history of religion, this school is unique in many respects. Its doctrines in theoretical form may seem a speculative mysticism, but they are presented in a way that only the initiated, who attained enlightenment through a long practice, indeed, are to understand their true meaning.
For those who have not acquired this profound knowledge (for those who do not experience Zen in daily life activities), its teaching (or rather, its sayings) acquire strange and even mysterious meaning. Such people, regarding Zen in terms of concepts, consider it absolutely absurd and meaningless, or deliberately confusing, with a view to hide its deep truths from the uninitiated (Kapleau 37).
However, the followers of Zen state that its apparent paradoxes are not invented specifically for their authors to hide behind the screen of obscurantism. These paradoxes arose because human language is a very poor way to express deepest truths; these truths cannot be turned into an object that fits in the narrow confines of logic. They should be experienced in the bottomless depths of the soul, whereupon they will become meaningful for the first time. In fact, there are no clearer and more explicit expressions that people have ever used to express their inner feelings. When a person would say that the coal is black, it would be pretty clear, but Zen protests: "Coal is not black"; however, and it is also quite clear, and even clearer than the first statement. At the same time, to understand this, one must delve into the subject matter. In this regard, personal experience is very important in Zen (Park 202).
Zen recognizes the reality of the world but treats it as a non-real, illusory, or nothing (Jap. "m"). Perons’s own nature can be learned through meditation only, which is nothing else but the "essence of the Buddha" (Jap. "Bus"). The awakening achievement (Jap. "Satori") is possible through meditation, as well (Chinul 378). After this, a true nature of things reveals itself. Zen also pays great attention to mindset training, especially to zazen (sedentary meditation) and koan (paradoxical enigma-exercises to stop speculative thinking). Within the Chinese Huayan teachings, Zen borrows the idea of total relationship of general and particular that is expressed in the principle of "all in one, one in all" (Park 156-170).
Zen does not recognize the existence of the universal Buddha, but it is believed that the Buddha nature is present in each person, which, in turn, is the identity of the absolute and source of unlimited possibilities. The existence of any of opposites is an apparent product of imperfect consciousness, which is "contaminated" (Suzuki 57). In reality, there is no difference between life and death, subject and object, knowledge and ignorance, samsara and nirvana. The awakened consciousness, “m-nen”, is the absence of thoughts, so the world for it is devoid of duality.
However, Zen emphasizes the importance of an active attitude to the world, the implementation of creative energy and does not take the extremes of asceticism. Human desires should not be suppressed, but should be sublimated into the spiritual and creative spheres, just as in the Chinese Chan tradition, that maintains the principle of transfer of straightforward teaching "heart to heart", avoiding written statements of its points (Suzuki 46).
It is recognized that Zen cannot be taught. Zen is a way to feel the nature, course and desires of the soul. The goal of efforts is to become one self, to be one self every day. At birth, each person has the ability given to him by nature. This is not necessarily the ability to any profession or skill, or to do anything in the usual sense. This may be the ability to sense, understand and apprehend, that without the understanding of his nature, a person does not want to externalize and lives someone else's life instead of his own. To be more specific, there is no such thing as enlightenment, which one could have, like some steady daily state. Therefore, Zen teachers (masters) do not say "to achieve enlightenment," but "to see one`s own nature" (Kapleau 69-70).
Enlightenment is not a state. It is the ability to experience what the soul is born to do. This feeling is very individual and is not subject to any formulation. Words immediately distort the feelings that we are trying to put into words or transfer to another person. This is similar to the change of properties of micro-particles in quantum mechanics, when an observer appears (Chinul226).
In addition, the path to the vision of one`s own nature is to each his own as each is in his own terms, with his bundle of knowledge, experience, and views. Therefore, Zen is not a certain way, as there is no definite “entrance”. That is why one can only learn from nature, not from books or teachers. Teachers and books are only opportunities to compare own experience with other people`s background, but under no circumstances should they be the final authority (Suzuki 10-11).
The main concept of Zen is to contact with the internal processes of our self, and do it directly, without recourse to anything external or unnatural. Therefore, everything that is connected to the superficial is denied in Zen, as the only authority is our own inner nature. Even rational activity cannot be considered ultimate or uttermost. On the contrary, it inhibits the common sense to enter into a direct interaction with itself (Chinul 168).
The purpose of intellect lies in serving as a mediator, and Zen has nothing to do with mediation, except when it comes to communication with other people. That is why, Zen believes that all theoretical treatises and manuals are conventional, distracted, and do not encompass the full truth (Park 40-42). Zen seeks to capture the essence of life in the strongest and direct manner. Zen reveals his affinity with Buddhism, but factually he is the spirit of all philosophies and religions. If one fully understands Zen, his mind falls in a state of absolute rest and lives in perfect harmony with nature.
Zen is not a religion in the popular sense, as there is no god who could be worshiped; there are also no ceremonials, or Promised Land ceded to the other world, in Zen. Finally, there is such a thing as a soul of which should take care of the welfare of someone else, and the immortality of which some people are so much worried. Zen is free from all these dogmatic and religious difficulties.
In Zen, there is no God, but that does not mean that Zen denies the existence of God. Zen has nothing to do with either the approval or denial. If something is denied, the essence of denial itself already assumes the opposite element. The same can be said of the approval. The logic of this is inevitable. Zen seeks to rise above logic and find a higher claim that has no antithesis. Therefore, Zen does not deny God or does not approve His existence. Therefore, the Jewish and Christian minds are accustomed to Zen, in equal measure, in terms that it is perceived neither a religion, nor philosophy (Kapleau 35-36).
Zen can be called a logical dualism. For example, white is the snow, and black is a crow. However, this is a purely secular way and a wrong approach to the matter. In order to get to the true state of affairs, one should assume the state of the uncreated world, in which consciousness, differentiating things on "that" and "this", has not been awakened, the mind absorbed in his own identity that is in the serenity and emptiness (Park 210).
We live in a world of denial, but this cannot lead us to an external or absolute statement - the affirmation in denial. The snow is not white, and the crow is not black, but both in and of themselves are either black, or white. This shows that the simple human language cannot accurately convey what is in the mind of Zen. It seems that Zen denies, but it always lets its followers see something that is very close to them, and if they do not accept that, then it is their own fault.
Zen does not teach anything in terms of mental analysis, and it does not offer any defined doctrine as a guide for its followers. In this respect, Zen, so to speak, is discretionary. The followers of Zen can have their doctrine, but these doctrines are of purely personal, individualized nature, and are not bound of their origin to Zen. That is the reason, why Zen has nothing to do with any "holy scriptures" or dogmas and does not contain any characters by which it would disclose its value. In that case, if a master is asked what Zen teaches, he would say that it does not teach anything.
Whatever teachings may be held in Zen, they originate only from the minds of their creators. Zen only points the way. If this fact, in itself, is not a doctrine, in Zen there are no specially created fundamental doctrines, or any basic philosophical system. Zen claims kinship with Buddhism, but all the Buddhist teachings contained in the sutras and shastras, from the point of view of Zen, are no more than wasted paper, the use of which is only in the fact that it can be used only to dust off the intellect.
However, Zen advocates nihilism. Every manifestation of nihilism is self-destruction that has no end. Negativism is reasonable, as a method, but the ultimate truth is a statement. When it is said that Zen has no philosophy, that it rejects all authority and that it rejects the so-called "holy literature", it should be remembered that this very denial contains something quite positive and endlessly asserting (Park 230-232).
The essence of Zen is to learn a new way to look at life. This means that, if somebody wants to understand the intimate nature of Zen, he must abandon all his usual mental habits that determine his daily life and try to find some other way to assess things. This new view of one’s attitude towards life and the world, among the Japanese studying Zen, is popularly known as "satori" (Suzuki 75). In general terms, it is a synonym for enlightenment (anuttara-samyak-sambodhi), a word that was used by the Buddha and his followers since the Buddha attained self-realization under the Bodhi tree at the river Nayrandzhana (Suzuki 76). There can be no Zen without satori, which truly is the alpha and omega of Zen Buddhism. Zen deprived of satori is like the sun without light and heat.
Satori can be defined as an intuitive insight into the nature of things, as opposed to the analytical or logical understanding of this nature (Park 101-103). In practice, this means the opening of a new world, previously unknown to the bewildered mind, accustomed to duality. Satori is a sudden revelation of a new truth, of which a person could not even dream about before. It is a form of mental collapse, which unexpectedly overturns old mental accumulation. Satori is the most intimate and personal experience, and, therefore, cannot be expressed in words or described in any other way. All that can be done in order to transfer this experience to others either in direct or indicate way and even that can be done only approximately.
Since satori is not a product of the intellect, teachers of Zen avoid the use of speculative language, they use definite terms and illustrate the truth by imagery and paradoxes, as an alternative. At first sight, their messages or dialogues (mondo) are almost meaningless:in terms of logical thinking, they do not bear any reasonable information (Kapleau, 57-58). However, after a long and focused reflection on them, all of a sudden, one realizes their importance and comes to the conclusion that, in the end, the teachers of Zen present him with the facts in light in which they see them, indeed, without assigning them any mystical significance.
"Mondo" literally means "question and answer" (Suzuki 80). A teacher or a student asks a question or makes a comment that is accepted by the other side. Mondo can then suddenly end up. Since it does not aim a dialectical development of sense, implicated in the statement or question, such a sudden end is quite a natural phenomenon. Sometimes mondo goes a bit further from this, but rarely more than four or five questions and answers. As for the truth, sometimes it is enough to lift a finger or to cough to show it. However, the demonstration always goes beyond itself, and denotes something else, and Mondo is based on this fact.
The essence of Zen does not depend on the methods that are only aids. It can only be determined by experience of human, contemplating his nature. Additional features include the statements and actions of the Zen masters, which have a paradoxical nature, including caning, shouting, and koans. Such actions that point to the truth are usually performed by the master only over a spiritually mature pupil, in order to help him to "hatch out of the shell" (Chinul208).
Zen also uses meditation, but in a distinct understanding from other Buddhist schools. The latter used meditation as a tool to stop mental activity, and for purification of consciousness, Zen meditation is a method of contact with reality. This difference is the reason behind low popularity of Bodhidharma among other Buddhists in China, in the 5th and 6th centuries (Suzuki 9-10).
Many followers of Zen meditate while walking and working. Meditation at work is called "fuxing" (Park 79). Zen monks, doing physical work, believed in its holiness. Labor in the form of work on the land, sweeping and cleaning is considered an important element in the life of a monk, which helps maintain health and mental clarity. Meditative practices can manifest themselves in many different areas.
Overall, the practice of Zen in Japan includes martial arts, painting, poetry, architecture, floral arrangements, masque, tea ceremony, calligraphy and art of garden layout. The whole creative process is characterized by simplicity, naturalness and harmony, appropriate to Zen. Such practice has led to the practice that, among all the Buddhist schools, Zen had the greatest influence on the development of the arts. Any hobby, according to Zen, can be a way to understand one`s true nature. Zen Buddhists believe that any man is an artist, not necessarily a master of painting or poetry, but simply "an artist of life" (Kapleau 49). Most schools of Zen also indicated that the monks should try to practice meditative state at all activities. Experienced monks were advised to practice meditation even in their sleep (Kapleau 65).
Some might call Zen a cult of natural mysticism, religion or philosophical intuitionism professing stoic simplicity and austerity. Whatever it is, Zen provides the most comprehensive world view, because the realm of Zen goes beyond the billions of galaxies. Zen reaches the deepest insight into the knowledge of the reality, because it affects the very basis of existence. Zen knows how to appreciate the true beauty, because it lives in the body of beauty, called the golden body of the Buddha, which is endowed with the thirty-two major and eighty minor traits of the overman. With such an entity, the Japanese love of nature is manifested in direct contact with its objects.