What is Zen?

design by Brian Thompson, photo by Jennifer Picard Photography.

Many people wonder what Zen really is, but it is something that is beyond what words can describe.

It is a way of perceiving experience, although it is actually beyond any such perception at all, rather it goes straight to the ultimate truth of reality and existence itself.

The goal of Zen is to rise above conceptual thought to attain total understanding and absolute truth. Through such an attainment, there is no suffering to be found, there is only patience in pain and compassion in affliction. There is no judgement and no intolerance. It is a perfect and intuitive way of being with absolute clarity, free from the mistaken ideas about the nature of self and all other phenomena.

Upon realization of this One Mind, the mental formations of duality and perception matter not, they no longer disturb the still waters of awareness, all that remains is the untainted bliss of pure experience itself.

Such awareness is not empty of thought per se, but rather it is free from attachments to thought.

It is consciousness, free from identification with thought. It is free from the trickery that life’s delusions seem to imply, and that our egos strive to convince us of. It is an awareness that is not blind to the illusions of form and phenomena, but rather it is immune to them. It is an awareness that sees through the veil of mental illusion.

This is a clarity of consciousness that is unparalleled, hindered not by knowledge, intellect, habit or impulse. It is unobstructed by the suffering and dissatisfaction caused by the impermanence of our passing perceptions. It is free from the stories we attribute to all of the passing phenomena that we try to comprehend.

“You are the sky. Everything else — it’s just the weather.”— Pema Chodron

This is not something we can learn or that we can otherwise logically understand, for it is a state of being that is already within us. Zen is not conceptual, but rather experiential. It can only be discovered through diligent observation. It can only be discovered by bearing witness to reality itself, free from thought or opinion. There is nothing to attain as it is already our true nature, however hidden it may be.

Underneath our intellect, our true nature awaits.

Underneath our identification with experience, sensation, and perception, the truth of reality awaits.

Once uncovered, we find no-mind. We find no-self. We find no distinction and no discrimination. We find no dualities of conceptual thought. We find no reliance on anything other than each passing moment itself.

Through Zen we reveal our common inherent nature of perfect understanding and absolute unity — our true selves.