Beginning with Indian Buddhism and Chinese Taoism it shows Zen as it was created by the personalities, perceptions, and actions of its masters over the centuries.
Some call it "seeing," some call it "knowing," and some describe it in religious terms. Whatever the name, it is our reach for a new level of consciousness. Of the many forms this search has taken, perhaps the most intriguing is Zen. Growing out of the wisdom of China, India, and Japan, Zen became a powerful movement to explore the lesser-known reaches of the human mind. Today Zen has come westward, where we are rediscovering modern significance in its ancient insights. This book is an attempt to encounter Zen in its purest form, by returning to the greatest Zen masters.
Zen teachings often appear deceptively simple. This misconception is compounded by the Zen claim that explanations are meaningless. They are, of course, but merely because genuine Zen insights can arise only from individual experience. And although our experience can be described and even analyzed, it cannot be transmitted or shared. At most, the "teachings" of Zen can only clear the way to our deeper consciousness. The rest is up to us.
Zen is based on the recognition of two incompatible types of thought: rational and intuitive. Rationality employs language, logic, reason. Its precepts can be taught. Intuitive knowledge, however, is different. It lurks embedded in our consciousness, beyond words. Unlike rational thought, intuition cannot be "taught" or even turned on. In fact, it is impossible to find or manipulate this intuitive consciousness using our rational mind—any more than we can grasp our own hand or see our own eye.
The Zen masters devised ways to reach this repressed area of human consciousness. Some of their techniques—like meditation—were borrowed from Indian Buddhism, and some—like their antirational paradoxes—may have been learned from Chinese Taoists. But other inventions, like their jarring shouts and blows, emerged from their own experience. Throughout it all, however, their words and actions were only a means, never an end.
That end is an intuitive realization of a single great insight—that we and the world around are one, both part of a larger encompassing absolute. Our rational intellect merely obscures this truth, and consequently we must shut it off, if only for a moment. Rationality constrains our mind; intuition releases it.
The irony is that the person glimpsing this moment of higher consciousness, this Oneness, encounters the ultimate realization that there is nothing to realize. The world is still there, unchanged. But the difference is that it is now an extension of our consciousness, seen directly and not analytically. And since it is redundant to be attached to something already a part of you, there is a sudden sense of freedom from our agonizing bondage to things.
Along with this also comes release from the constraints of artificial values. Creating systems and categories is not unlike counting the colors of a rainbow—both merely detract from our experience of reality, while at the same time limiting our appreciation of the world's richness. And to declare something right or wrong is similarly nearsighted. As Alan Watts once observed, "Zen unveils behind the urgent realm of good and evil a vast region of oneself about which there need be no guilt or recrimination, where at last the self is indistinguishable from God." And, we might add, where God is also one with our consciousness, our self. In Zen all dualities dissolve, absorbed in the larger reality that simply is.
Gradual and sudden enlightenment, shock enlightenment, the koan, the migration of Zen to Japan. With anecdote and memorable quotation, this long-needed work restores Zen to its living, human form.
(New American Library,1980)
"The best history of Zen ever written." Library Journal