To us people in the western culture the words Zen, master, and buddhism often have an incredibly mysterious ring to them. Folks see a buddhist monk as someone who is whole with themselves, and need no other human beings around them. Quite the opposite is true, as one would expect.
We live Zen in normal lives every day. I still can't fully wrap my head around the idea but in the writings there doesn't seem to be a difference between the universe and us. The outward are really what we are inside too.
For when you climb it is the mountain as much as your own legs which lifts you upwards, and when you paint it is the brush, ink, and paper which determine the result as much as your own hand.
I'm often going to cite The way of Zen by Alan Watts in this post. I have listened to this book twice now, and I do see some of the points. Though the reason I'm writing this is that I believe that in the western culture we do have kind of the same values. We use different words for them though.
Reading this book I realized that Zen is being in the now. Zen is being present. Zen is acting with confidence, knowledge, and power. Maybe not power, because it's such a strong word, but power from within.
If you follow my own writing you are familiar with the concept I often laid out that being present in the moment is as hard as life can be. Because being present requires us to decide to be present. We all have always other things going on in our lives. We're never bored. Grownups make a plan for every day and fill it with activities. With things to achieve. As much as we were "bored" as kids, we're as "unbored" as grownups. There's this thing we can learn, that thing we could read. Lazily sitting around, watch TV, eat a pizza. I hope you get the point. We fill our lives with things to do. Until. We die. Grownups go somewhere. When we get older, we realize there's only a finite amount of time left for us on this planet, and we need to make the best of it. Otherwise it's wasted. Wastage is not good. So we do everything we can to not waste time. We "efficience" our lives as much as possible. While we eat lunch, we can use that time to search for new clients. When we go jogging, we can listen to an audiobook.
Because of this it is so hard to be "present". We need to realize that one thing is so important that it requires everything else to be not important at all. I do believe that's what people with kids experience when they say "time flies when I'm playing with my child".
But times are not always so easy. We get hung up. We get angry. There's stuff that we do care about and that just sits in our heads for a couple of hours. Just because of a stupid guy that thinks he can… We get so hung up in that moment that we're not present anymore. We can't be.
Practicing Zen would mean that we would be able to let go. Right after the thing that's so damn annoying happened. Just let it go. Zen doesn't only mean to let go, Zen means that you know that you can let it go. Zen means that you have the knowledge and oversight of your entire life, your finances, your wife, kids, car, office, home, that you know what's going on and what you have with these things that it becomes easy to let go. As it happens… let go.
I think many can empathize with annoyance as emotion because I also get hung up on it so easily.
I'll try to give you another example. Let's assume you got a letter from the tax office. You're supposed to pay 600€ in less than a week. Looking at your bank account tells you that you won't be able to make that payment. The letter also says that they will send an executory officer by Friday, if you don't make your payment.
Thinking about your situation you can now get hung up in that emotion that you'll lose your home, your job, your friends. You get hung up in the spiral downward. The spiral where thoughts come up one worse than the other. Do you follow?
On the other hand, you could be aware that this is just a letter. That they want their money, but it won't affect your job or anything else. Why would it? It's just a letter. You realize that even if you lose that money, you still have a roof above your head. That you have friends and family that care for you. That it's just a small financial dip and you will make up that money in no time.
See, that is being present. Maybe it's Zen too, but I don't feel qualified enough to say that yet.
The identifcation of the mind with its own image is, therefore, paralyzing because the image is fixed–it is past and finished. But it is a fixed image of oneself in motion! To cling to it is thus to be in constant contradiction and conflict. Hence Yün-men’s saying, “In walking, just walk. In sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.” In other words, the mind cannot act without giving up the impossible attempt to control itself beyond a certain point. It must let go of itself both in the sense of trusting its own memory and reflection, and in the sense of acting spontaneously, on its own into the unknown.
This is why Zen often seems to take the side of action as against reflection, and why it describes itself as “no-mind” (wu-hsin) or “no-thought” (wu-nien), and why the masters demonstrate Zen by “no-thought” (wu-nien), and why the masters demonstrate Zen by giving instantaneous and unpremeditated answers to questions. The way of Zen
So, in summary Zen is what we want to achieve in the western world for years and decades. Think of it. Your company is in a precarious situation, and your boss needs to decide something. Either the whole thing is going down, if you don't do something, or the situation stabilizes again. What would you do in that situation other than blending out everything else in your entire life, and just be present on that one thing? It doesn't matter how many colleagues need an advice from you, or how stressed out you are. Being present means that you're able to make a decision without being hung up on fear, anxiety, uncertainty. Being present is not in the future, and it is also not in the past, it is only the current moment that counts.
I hope this made some things clearer to my readers. I would also like to (semi-randomly) refer to When Your World is Shaken Up by the Saddleback Church[^1], Radical Honesty and this picture.
Now human life consists primarily and originally in action–in living in the concrete world of “suchness.” But we have the power to control action by reflection, that is, by thinking, by comparing the actual world with memories or “reflections.” Memories are organized in terms of more or less abstract images–words, signs, simplified shapes, and other symbols which can be reviewed very rapidly one after another. From such memories, reflections, and rapidly one after another. From such memories, reflections, and symbols the mind constructs its idea of itself. This corresponds to the thermostat–the source of information about its own past action by which the system corrects itself. The mind-body must, of course, trust that information in order to act, for paralysis will soon result from trying to remember whether we have remembered everything accurately.
The way of Zen
[^1]: I don't like the sheep example.