Monday, 30 April 2018


213. The word 'mind' makes a frequent appearance in the literature of Zen. And given the light that contemporary scholarship throws on discussions about Zen, we might reasonable expect that these discussions would also benefit from insights to be found in what in the West is called 'Philosophy of Mind'. But here we are faced with several 'buts'. First of all, as several scholars have pointed out, it is not only inadequate but also misleading to translate the Chinese character shin as 'mind'. Rather, we are told, it should be translated as 'heart-mind' for 'throughout all Buddhist literature, when one is talking about "mind," one is talking about the total package of the psycho-emotional network', and this is especially the case in Chinese understanding (see Mu Soeng's Trust in Mind). Perhaps we should go further and speak rather of the 'body-heart-mind'. And, secondly, this Zen understanding would jar with any Western philosophy of mind that thinks in terms of the Cartesian dualism between res cogitans and res extensa. Such a 'ghost in the machine' view of mind is a far cry from the Zen realization that 'mind is no other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars' (Dogen). 


212. What is jiriki, the self power on which the Zen practitioner relies? The self in question here cannot be the ego self which the practitioner must come to realize, sooner or later, is transitory, insubstantial, illusory. The self that empowers Zen practice is called by various names, such as the True Self, Buddha Nature, the Heart-Mind, No-Mind. Encountering the True Self plunges the practitioner deeply into a mysterious realm where one is carried beyond the polarities of jiriki and tariki. Here the seventh and final proposition of Wittgenstein's Tractatus Logico Philosophicus rings true: 'Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent'.

Friday, 27 April 2018


211. There is a saying that to the wise one word is enough. Zen would go even further. And so it treasures the story that tells of a non-Buddhist philosopher who approached the Buddha and said, 'I do not ask for words, I do not ask for non-words'. The Buddha just sat there. The philosopher was greatly impressed, thanked the Buddha for freeing him from his illusions, payed his respects, and left. But Ananda, the Buddha's personal assistant, was puzzled and asked the Buddha what it was that the philosopher had understood. Significantly, the Buddha did not tell him but only remarked that a fine horse runs even at the shadow of the whip. 

Tuesday, 24 April 2018


210. Zen practitioners in the West tend to be misled in their practice by a mistaken understanding of jiriki. Pursuing the practice in the spirit of rugged individualism is to miss the mark by a thousand miles. 

Thursday, 19 April 2018


209. In koan after koan the question is asked, 'Where have you come from?' A clue to what our response might reveal can be found in the way we let certain words push our buttons. These words fail to provoke the Zen practitioner who, like Wittgenstein's philosopher, is not the citizen of any community of ideas. 

Monday, 16 April 2018


208. A problem with seeing Zen as a way of salvation is its insistence on saving oneself through one's own efforts. This reliance on self-power (jiriki) seems to be generally interpreted as ruling out any appeal to a higher power such as a deified Buddha, or Heidegger's 'a god', or the God of the Judeo-Christian revelation. But we need to think carefully about the nature of this 'self' that the Zen practitioner comes to rely on. And we might further ask how does such self-reliance square with the Zen practice of taking refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha? Moreover, a practitioner's enlightenment-realization is not complete until it has been acknowledged and certified by a legitimate and authentic master and accepted by the sangha. Note the important role of knowing a master's lineage in the Zen tradition. Furthermore, the self that powers Zen practice cannot be the isolated, limited ego-self. Here we might call to mind Dogen's well-known saying: 'To study the Way is to study the self. To study the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things'. 

Wednesday, 11 April 2018


207. Can Zen help us abandon greed, hatred and ignorance? Can it enable us to turn around delusive thoughts and passions? Can the practice of Zen uproot our deep seated cravings? Can Zen awaken us from our dream of separateness? If Zen would make good its claim to being a way of salvation, it must needs demonstrate that its practitioner, at least one who is said to be a realized enlightened practitioner, can walk free in the fullness of life. But the biographies of a number of so-called enlightened masters in the past century or so must here give us pause. Thinking about this I cannot help calling to mind something Heidegger said, something to the effect that 'only a god can save us'. And Zen, of course, is said to be a non-theistic religion. Could it be that Zen needs, not 'a god' but God? But acknowledging God, from the Zen point of view, is said to land us in dualism. Perhaps the problem here is not God but the concepts and images we have of God.     

Monday, 9 April 2018


206. Every day the Zen practitioner chants, 'Though the many beings are numberless, I vow to save them all'. This is surely a tall order, especially if the one taking on such a commitment does so from the point of view of the small, isolated, limited ego-self. 

Friday, 6 April 2018


205. Can you walk straight on a winding mountain path with its ninety-nine bends? If so, then you will know something of Zen's saving power. 

Monday, 2 April 2018


204. '... I vow to save them all.' Save from ... what? Save for ... what? Save by ... what? whom? Save ... how?