What is Zen?
What would remind you of Zen? Japanese stone gardens, Chinese calligraphies and splash-ink paintings, inscrutable poems, intangible things, or sipping tea slowly? Are these Zen or not? What on earth is Zen?
Zen is a transliteration of the Sanskrit word Dhyana. According to its pronunciation, Dhyana was first transliterated as Channa in the Chinese language and then simplified as Chan. When Chan spread east to Japan, it was transliterated as Zen in the Japanese language. Although the None Zen Center inherits the Chinese Zen tradition, we use the word Zen rather than Chan because Zen is more popular or widely known in English-speaking communities.
Zen originally refers to the stillness, certain meditative states, or various levels of concentration. Along with the development of their Zen experiences and teaching skills, Chinese Zen masters enhance Zen with more profound meaning—-the true nature of all beings, including the various forms of all the existences, activities, phenomena, relationships, and even time and space. What is the true nature of all beings, then?
First of all, all beings exist interdependently. A woman gives birth to a child, then born a mother and a daughter/son, and the parent-kid relationship. A thought leads to another, then formed the consciousnesses, conceptions, and reasons. Sneezes travel 100 miles an hour, vibrate the air, then caused hurricanes or typhoons. In this or that way, all beings are related to one another and are all mutually the cause and effect of one another.
As such, does it mean that we all are attached to and exist on other beings? Not necessarily. The truth is that the interdependence indeed resides among all forms, existences and phenomena, yet the true nature of all beings is always changing, or not always so (Ch: wuchang). The air around you now is different from the air you inhaled one second ago since your and other people’s exhalations, the gas released from The Trans-Siberian Express, and the volcanic activities of Hawaii Islands have already made an impact on the air. You are not even the one who read the previous sentence two seconds ago since there were lots of energy transformations, chemical reactions, and cells metabolism within you. No matter why and how you linked to this webpage, if you leave this page right now, you won’t connect to the Zen ideas right here right now.
In other words, it is because of always-changingness, there is no such thing of permanency, indestructibleness, or destiny; there is no such existence of always-lasting existence; there is no such nature of selfness—-remember that you are not even the one read the previous line? Then how come there is a “self” of yours?
This selflessness or ever-changingness is the true nature of you and all kinds of beings. Chinese Zen masters put it in a poetic and intangible way; they call this selflessness as nothingness/none (Chn: wu ) or emptiness (Chn: kong).
However, this nothingness or emptiness is nothing to do with nihilism. On the contrary, it is because of nothingness, all beings exist as they are at right here and now, not attached to any beings, time and space. It is because of always-changingness, you and all beings exist independently and with various possibilities in every single moment, and every moment or every being at every moment is unique, unrepeatable and in fulfillment as it is. Chinese Zen masters put it in an inspiring and amazing way; they name this independence, possibility, and fulfillment as wondrous existence (Chn. miaoyou, or you).
This is Zen, the nothingness and wondrous existence, the true nature of all beings, existences and phenomena.
Now, you have learned about the basic ideas of Zen. Next time, do not mistake the forms of Japanese stone gardens, Chinese calligraphies and splash-ink paintings, inscrutable poems, intangible things, or sipping tea slowly as Zen, see through the various forms, existences, and phenomena to know the real you. Once you know your true nature, even taking a cold shower is Zen, too. Otherwise, what do you think Zen is!