Zen and the Art of … Everything

I’ve been “pinning” again. Yeah, I’ve started a new board at Pinterest, one that makes me feel good each time I look at it. It’s called “Simply Zen” and features pictures designed to bring about a quiet state of mind, along with gentle reminders of the need for stillness in our lives.

In looking back, I find the concept of “Simply Zen” to be a bit mind-boggling. Zen is simplicity, isn’t it? And yet it encompasses … everything. Zen is all about divinity, it’s about eternity, and it’s about universal truths so powerful that they move the world. At least, I think that’s what it’s about.

But then again, what do I really know? I know that I don’t know a lot more than I do know.  I know, too, that not knowing is the essence of Zen…isn’t it?

Here’s the problem. We can’t know the unknowable, nor can we define the indefinable. Trying to understand Zen is futile, really. It’s like the experience that comes so often during meditation. We sit quietly, legs crossed, eyes closed, our fingers touching. We still our minds and erase all thoughts. We become one with something greater than ourselves. What a precious, priceless moment! After all our strivings, all our frustrated efforts to find inner peace, suddenly, it’s there! Our mind shouts out “Yes! I’ve done it! I’ve found it!” And with that awesome discovery, our meditative state is gone. We’ve found what we sought only to destroy it in the very moment of finding it. It’s like an endless circle. You know … like that familiar yin and yang drawing. It’s light and dark and day and night. It’s everything.

In searching for a simple answer to the question “What is Zen?” I visited the Kwan Um School of Zen. This is an international organization of more than a hundred centers and groups founded by Zen Master Seung Sahn, the first Korean Zen Master to live and teach in the West. Surely I could find my answer there, I thought.

Yep. There it was.  Obviously I’m not the first truth-seeker to have asked that question.  Zen, the answer told me, is very simple. But there the simplicity both begins and ends, for that answer is followed by a question: What are you?

My mind thought again of the yin and yang, like darkness and light chasing one another in endless circles. As day leads to night, answers lead only to new questions, and round and round we go again.

In my search for knowledge — my foolish quest to put aside my not-knowingness and gain enlightenment — I also learned the identity of relative and absolute, and whatever you do, please don’t ask me what I’m talking about!

I don’t know.

But I found it in the words of Shih-tou. Please, don’t ask me about Shih-tou, who he was, what he did.

I don’t know.

He wrote:

Within light there is darkness,
but do not try to understand that darkness.
Within darkness there is light,
but do not look for that light.
Light and darkness are a pair,
like the foot before and the foot behind in walking.
Each thing has its own intrinsic value
and is related to everything else in function and position.
Ordinary life fits the absolute as a box and its lid.
The absolute works together with the relative,
like two arrows meeting in mid-air.

Beautiful, isn’t it? But what does it mean? Please, don’t ask me to interpret or explain. Please don’t ask me what it’s all about.

I don’t know.

That, I think, is what Zen is all about. Finding something in nothing, and nothing in something. Finding everything everywhere yet also finding that nothing at all is there.

The Kwan Um teachings tell me it’s really very simple, not difficult at all.

I don’t know. I just don’t know.


2 thoughts on “Zen and the Art of … Everything

  1. “We’ve found what we sought only to destroy it in the very moment of finding it”, I love this idea. I meditate and look for answers of “life stuff”. I know when I ask too many questions, I spin round in circles. When I don’t seek answers and let things unfold naturally in their due course of time, I attain bliss. Stay blessed.

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