Now I hope you remember that this morning, I was trying in the brief space of fifteen minutes, to give you a basic introduction to Mahayana Buddhism. The kind of Buddhism that is found in China and Japan, and the kind of Buddhism of which Zen Buddhism in particular is a subsect. And, we are rather particularly concerned with Zen, since it has had such a fundamental influence in the shaping of Japanese culture and the arts of Japan. And since we are in the course of this informal tour going to be visiting a good deal of Zen monasteries and seeing a great deal of Zen formed works of art, architecture, and so on.
So I want to lead now tonight from Buddhism in general or Mahayana Buddhism in general to Zen in particular. Now, Zen plays a little game with you. Whenever anybody like myself or Dr Suzuki talks about Zen, all the other people say because they talk about it they don’t understand it. Those in the words of Lao Tzu, who know do not say those who say do not know, and yet he said that. You wrote a book of several, 80 chapters or so, to explain. The Tao, and the debt its power and. Nobody can help themselves they’ve got to talk human beings are a bunch of chatterboxes and when we’ve got something in our minds that we want to talk about we talk. Now poetry, though, is the great language, because poetry is the art of saying what can’t be said. Every poet knows this. They’re trying to describe the indescribable, and every poet also knows that nothing is describable. Whether you take a some sort of ineffable mystical experience at one extreme or whether you take an ordinary rusty nail at the other. Nothing is really describable. In the words of the famous count Korzybski, ‘Whatever you say something is, it isn’t.’ We used to have a professor at Northwestern would produce a match booklet in front of his class and would say to them what is it. And they would say matchbook it he’d say No no no matchbook it is a noise is this a noise what is it. And so to answer this he’d throw it at them. That’s what it is. So in this way, you see nothing can really be described, and yet on the other hand we all know perfectly mean well what we mean when we talk. If you know, if you shared an experience with somebody else, then of course you can talk about it we can all talk about fire and air and water and wood because we know what it is, and there’s no mystery. And so, in the same way, when it comes to discussing something so esoteric as Zen it can be discussed only. Then people play games with each other they play little tricks they test each other out by saying to somebody I remember when I met Paul Reps for. The first time who wrote that lovely book Zen Flesh and Zen bones, and he said to me ‘Well,’ he said, ‘You’ve written quite a number of books by now you must think you’re pretty fancy.’ I said I haven’t said a word. So this is theft is then game. And people sort of feel each other out. There’s a poem which says when two Zen masters meet each other on the road they need no introduction. Thieves recognise one another instantaneously.
So now, having got that out of my chest it’s to say then if I were to give you a really proper and it really hadn’t truly educative talk about Zen I would gather around here and sit here and silence for five minutes and leave. And in a way this would be a much more direct exposition of it than what I’m going to do instead would talk about it only I have a feeling that you would feel that you were disappointed and somewhat cheated by this kind of behavior, if I just left and five minute silence. So then, this word Zen is Japanese way of pronouncing the Chinese word Chan, which in turn is the Chinese way of pronouncing the Sanskrit word Jana. And Jana is a very difficult word to translate into English if not impossible. It’s been called meditation. Meditation in English generally means sitting quietly and thinking about something, and that’s not what Zen is. Contemplation might come a little nearer if you use the word in a very technical sense the sense that it was used or a still is used among catholic mystics. Perhaps that’s something a bit like Zen. But again contemplation, as we normally use the word, has a sense of inactivity. The sense of not doing anything, of being completely still and passive. Whereas Zen is something I acted.
So we really don’t have an English word for Jana, Chan, Zen. But I would say that we do know what it is. Because we do all sorts of things every day of our lives in this spirit. When for example, you drive a car. Most Americans, at any rate, drive car since they were teenagers. And are very expert drivers. And when they drive a car, they don’t think about it. They’re one with the car. Or when a rider of a horse is one being with a horse, when you watch a good cowboy or cavalry rider, he’s glued to the horse. He’s like a centaur almost, as the horse moves, he moves, which is in control is the horse riding the man or the man riding the horse you practically don’t know the same way when you have an excellent dancing partner who leads who follows it seems as if you are one body, and you move together. That is Zen that is Jana,. And so, in the in that in a wider sense, when a person doesn’t react to life, on the one hand, or try to dominate it on the other. But when the internal weld or runs an organism and the ext on a world of other people and other things move together as if they were and indeed are one and the same motion. That is Zen.
So you could say in a very very simple way, that the real concern of Zen is to realize, not merely to think, but to know in your bones. That the inside world inside your skin and the outside world outside your skin going out as far as anything can go into galaxies beyond galaxies, is all one world. And all one being, one self, and you’re it. And once you know that, then you have completely abolished all the problems that arise as a result of feeling that you’re a stranger in the world, that you’re set down in the middle of a hostile and alien domain of nature or people. Who are not you. This whole sense of estrangement, foreignness, to the world is overcome in Zen.
Now let me illustrate this a little before we go into Zen in any kind of technical way, by a fewl rather superficial but nevertheless significant facts out of Japanese culture and the place of Zen in Japanese culture. Japanese culture is as you may have noticed, was as you may have noticed extraordinarily ritualistic. There is a right way of doing everything. A good form, a proper style, and nowhere is this more apparent, than in such practices as the tea ceremony or arranging flowers, or knowing how to dress. Or knowing how to organize a formal dinner. The punctiliousness. The skill, of these people in doing these things is quite remarkable. But in the same measure as they are very skillful at doing this things, they’re very worried about it. The whole question, for example, of bringing presents to somebody else. Have they given us more than we’ve given them? Did we remember this occasion? Did we remember that occasion? These weigh very heavily on the Japanese soul. The debt which you owe to your parents. The debt which you owe to your country and to your Emperor. Immeasurable, infinite debt, never can be paid. All these way very heavily.
And therefore in Japan, until the sort of break away of modern youth, with its westernized ideals, this is a very nervous culture. Concerned about whether one is playing the ritual correctly. A culture like that needs an outlet, needs a safety valve, needs a way out of this thing. And Zen provides just that. And so, by contrast, when you meet a Japanese, who is not thoroughly trained in Zen, he is a different kind of personality altogether from ordinary Japanese. He is in manners. Not all. Studiedly courteous. Nor is he Brusque. But he is simply at ease. He gives you his whole attention so long as you give him your whole attention. If you start wandering and frittering, he’s got work to do, and he promptly leaves.
But so long as you are wanting to talk to him, he is there for you and for nobody else. And he sits down, and he really sits, you know, he doesn’t worry about whether he ought to be somewhere else. And so unable to sit with complete serenity in one place you know, if you have half an idea that you ought to be worrying about them going out in the garden all that you ought to be cooking dinner, or you want to be done in your office or something you can’t sit where you are. You’re not really there, you are a kind of gas balloon that keeps wanting to wander off. That these people when you see as you meet people connected with Zen even they are sometimes the most. Neophyte novice of a priest has as this atmosphere of knowing how to live in the present. And not to be fidgety and giggly and worrying about whether he’s done the right thing. Or that’s very much zen style, even though at the same time the Zen people do have a very exacting and demanding discipline, the function of this discipline is rather curious, it’s to enable you to be comfortable. It’s an aid to enable you for example to sleep on a concrete sidewalk on a cold wet night. And enjoy it. To relax completely under any situation of hardship. You see ordinarily when you sit on a. You’re out in the cold, you start shivering, why? Because you’re resisting the code you are tightening your muscles against the cold and you get the staggers. But you are taught if you would learn Zen discipline not to do that. Take it easy go with the cold, relax. And all those monks in those monasteries here there, it’s cold as hell in winter. And they simply sit there most of the time and there we would be frozen to death and miserable and have influenza on the great Siberian itch, but they simply relax, and learn how to take the cold.
So there’s nothing about Zen discipline which is masochistic. It isn’t to beat your body because your body is bad and the creation of the devil or something has nothing to do with that it is how to be comfortable under all circumstances. But that again, is something rather incidental to the main question of Zen. As I said, the Zen people as you meet them, and as you get to know their style or personality, are at ease in a culture that is not at ease. In a culture that is chronically concerned with protocol. And is it just right, that is indeed a terribly self-conscious culture. Where everybody is always watching themselves. And having therefore second thoughts about everything. And so, the discipline of Zen is to enable you to act without watching yourself. We would say unselfconsciously. The Japanese are as terrified of this as we are. They think, and we think, if I don’t watch myself, I’ll make a mistake. If I don’t hold a club over myself hour cease to be civilized and become a barbarian. If I don’t discipline myself with all sorts of [grunts] down on that is passions of yours you will become like the monk of Siberia who burst from his cell and devour the fathers Superior. So this basic mistrust and so on in one’s own spontaneity makes it, makes us wonder that if they Zen people are really spontaneous. And they don’t plan and premeditate and all clubs over themselves well they become very very dangerous people socially when they go out and rape their mothers and daughters and murder their grandmothers to inherit their fortunes and so on and so forth. And Zen people just don’t do that. And yet, they are perfectly spontaneous.
So then, let me try then and indicate. How this discipline called Zen actually works. This will involve a little bit of letting the cat out of the bag. But it can’t be helped. Let’s go back to what I told you was fundamental to Buddhism. Buddhism is unlike other religions, in that it does not tell you anything. It doesn’t require you to believe in anything. Buddhism is a dialogue. And what are called the teachings of Buddhism, are nothing more than the opening phrases or opening exchanges in the dialogue. Buddhism is a dialogue between a Buddha. And an ordinary man or rather someone who insists on defining himself as an ordinary man. And thereby creates a problem. I quoted you this morning hour saying, that anybody who goes to a psychiatrist ought to have his head examined. And in exactly the same way, in this culture, anybody who goes to go to a spiritual teacher or a Zen master or whatever, ought to have his head examined. Or as the old Chinese master Tokuzan put it. If you ask any question you get thirty blows, with my stick if you don’t ask any question you get that it closed as the saying another words, what the hell are you doing around here. Defining yourself as a student and defining me as a teacher.
In other words you have to raise the problem. And in the way of training it was then this is very clearly emphasized if you go to a zen teacher, and you approach him in the traditional way, the first thing he will do is to say, ‘I haven’t anything to teach. Go away.’ Well you say what are these people doing around here and they used to. Say ‘Well they’re working with me but unfortunately we are very poor these days we don’t have enough rice really to go around and make ends meet and we can’t take on anybody else in this community.’ So you have to insist to be taken in. Every postulant for Zen training assumes immediately that the teacher has given him the brush off in order to test his sincerity. In other words, if you really want this thing. You’ve got to work for it.
That isn’t the real point. The point is that you’ve got to make such a fuss to get in, that you cannot withdraw gracefully after having made such a fuss to get in. Because you put yourself on the spot and you define yourself as somebody needing help or somebody with a problem who needs a master in order to be helped out of the problem. So then, when you’ve done this in the old days of course and it’s still the formal rule among the Zen monasteries here, that when you’re a postulant and you want to come in, you have to sit outside at the gate for a week or maybe only five days, in a position of supplication with your head bowed down on the steps. And they let you in at night because they must give a hospitality to any wandering monk but you. I expect not to go to sleep any of those five nights but the sit there in meditation. And they give you food. But are you sit and you sit and you sit there and you make a damn fool of yourself. Saying, ‘I insist on getting into this thing. I insist on learning I want to know what the secret of this master here is.’ And he stole it from the star that he doesn’t have a secret of that he doesn’t eat anything. But you insist that he does. See, that is the situation of everybody who feels that life is a problem to be solved. Whether you want psychoanalysis, whether you want integration, whether you want salvation, whether you want Buddhahood, whatever it is you define yourself as wanting. You created the problem.
What is the real problem that everybody brings to these teachers? What is it all about. It’s basically this isn’t it, teacher, I want to get one-up on the universe. I feel a stranger in this world. I feel that it’s a problem and that having a body means that I am subject to disease and change and death. Having emotions and passions means that I am tormented. By feelings which I can’t help having and yet it’s not reasonable to act on those feelings without creating trouble. I feel trapped by this world and so I want to get the better of it and is there some wise man around who is a master of the. Life and who can teach me to cope with all this.
So that’s what everybody’s looking for in a teacher. The man who is the Savior and who can show you how to cope with. The Zen teacher says, ‘I don’t have any answers.’ Nobody believes that. Because he seems to be so competent when you look at him. You can’t believe that he has no answers. And yet that’s the consistent teaching of Zen. That it has nothing to say, and nothing to teach. The great Chinese master of the Ton Dynasty called Lindi in Chinese or Rinzai in Japanese said Zen is like using a yellow leaf to stop a child crying. A child is crying for gold, and the father takes an autumn leaf with yellow and says Gold.
Or he said it’s like using an empty fist to deceive a child. See, you’ve got a closed fist and you say to the child that I got here. And the child says ‘Let me see.’ You put your fist behind your back. And the child to come to more and more excited to know what the devil’s in that feels and fights and fights and fights and finally is apparently in tears. And then suddenly you finally open the system is nothing inside. So in exactly the same way, a person who is under the impression that there is something that we ought to get, see all this is dressed up in a big way, to be a Buddha, to know the answer, to finally solve the problem to get the message to get the word or however you put it. In other words to be in control, of your fate and of the world. Would you like it? If you could have it. And so all these powers are projected upon the Zen master. He is a Buddha, he is a master of life. And if he is, the reason why this is that he has discovered the unreality of the whole problem.