IN MY quest for truth, I encountered zen, and nothing has been the same ever since. It was a time when everything that had the word “zen” sounded cool. There was a bestselling book called “Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance.”
There was zenhabits.net -- a website known for espousing simplicity. People talked about zen styles in architecture and interior design. Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers coach Phil Jackson was known as the Zen Master.
So I became intrigued and wanted to learn what zen was really all about. I started a blog called zenbananas.com to chronicle my ideas (this later morphed into freethinking.me).
I picked up a small book for P80 at a used-books store with the title: The Little Zen Companion by David Schiller. The back cover promised to give me “a taste of zen for the seeker and curious alike. Here is a compilation of sayings, parables, haiku, koan, poetry and other words.
From both Eastern and Western sources, their maverick spirit points to a different way of looking at the world: directly, openly, joyously.
It also contained a quotation from Japanese poet Matsuo Basho, which fast became one of my all time favorites: "Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought."
I was aware that zen had roots in Buddhism. I was aware that there were monks or other groups who could tell me all about zen, but the thought of following a set of rituals and tradition was not so appealing, especially after I had just left one behind. I was looking for something a little less rooted in structure and dogma. So I mainly read a lot of books and did a lot of thinking and journaling my insights.
Anthony de Mello related a short parable about a zen master talking about the dangers of too much rigor, and it goes like this:
"Life's little secret is this," said the master to his visitor as they conversed over tea.
"Never take it too seriously. Learn to laugh, at everything, and you learn to live,"
The visitor pondered on this, and the master continued, "I have had a total of four disciples under me. When they began their training, I gave them a set of rigorous physical and spiritual exercises. The first disciple was too weak and couldn't handle the pressure so he ran away.
The second was too meticulous in trying to follow every minute detail of the exercises that he drove himself crazy. The third tried to challenge himself to do more than what the exercises required and one day he injured himself fatally and died. Only the fourth disciple remained healthy and sane."
"And how did he manage to do that?" asked the visitor.
"Well, he took one look at the exercises and simply refused to do them," replied the master, chuckling.
Zen is not a religion or a set of rituals (though some people make it to be). In essence, it is simply about about seeing things as they are, without judgements, presuppositions or biases.
It is the truth that lies beyond words, whose meaning cannot be expressed nor explained. The words and stories are not to be taken literally or even reverently (as the story above illustrates).
Words serve only to point to a deeper truth.
Some of my most enjoyable times are when I am engaged in deep discussions with friends, debating, arguing, and sharing ideas. And we can talk all the way past midnight.
The Chinese philosopher Chuang Tzu said it best this way: "The purpose of a fish trap is to catch fish, and when the fish are caught, the trap is forgotten. The purpose of a rabbit snare is to catch rabbits. When the rabbits are caught, the snare is forgotten. The purpose of words is to
convey ideas. When the ideas are grasped, the words are forgotten. Where can I find the man who has forgotten words? He is the one I would like to talk to."