My main hang up with Zen is that its rejection of knowledge and intellectual application makes it very difficult to swallow. As the above book states, in Zen 'Little time is wasted in philosophical discussion and the amassing of knowledge...'. The BBC's page on Zen also states that "Zen practices are aimed at taking the rational and intellectual mind out of the mental loop, so that the student can become more aware and realise their own Buddha-nature. Sometimes even (mild) physical violence is used to stop the student intellectualising or getting stuck in some other way" and "Zen is concerned with things as they are, without trying to interpret them."
That said, I musn't knock it too heavily. After all, Zen, like Buddhism, emerged well before man had a meaningful appreciation of how science can light up our understanding of the world and its wonders. In this relative dark age, perhaps achieving an 'awareness' of universal oneness was the most we could ask for. In today's era however, I would look to incorporate scientific understanding with deep Zen like contemplation, to get the best of all worlds.
Here are some take-away points from this okay-ish book on Zen:
- Zen comes from within Buddhism but is said to be 'outside the teachings'.
- Zen meditation is concerned with sartori or enlightenment (a glimpse into the nature of existence). The sartori experience should be treated as any other and not sought directly. It is but progress on the Zen path. The feeling of separateness from the world, or self-containment, is a block to this.
- Soto zen focuses on zazen (seated meditation) and Rinzai zen on cryptic statements that aim to produce sudden enlightenment.
- Zen mediation is about attaining a state of mind similar to the 'flow' experience from a hobby i.e. total absorption.
- Zen accepts reincarnation and has monasteries (it was not a monastic tradition in the beginning) and reverence for Buddhist scriptures, but the emphasis is on the present moment. Worship and iconography play a minor role.
- Theoretical knowledge is no substitute for experience. Teachings are only fingers pointing to the moon, and must never be mistaken for the moon itself.
- Zen increases compassion by gaining an experience and appreciation of the connectedness of people and nature. The less we feel in conflict, the more we can live in peace in the world.
- Zen expression can be found in a garden, in making tea, in a haiku, in a place. The emphasis is on simplicity, unity or harmony with nature, natural beauty, calmness, rejection of elaborateness, attention to detail, emptiness and stillness.