What is Zen?

Is a seekers question, or a rhetorical one?
namate all,

this is, perhaps, my favorite description of Zen...

If people ask me what Zen is like, I will say that it is like learning the art of burglary. The son of a burglar saw his father growing older and thought: "if he is unable to carry out his profession, who will be the breadwinner of this family? I must learn the trade." One night the father took the son to a big house, broke through the fence, entered the house, and opening one of the large chests, told the son to go in and pick out the clothing. As soon as he got into it, the lid was dropped and the lock securely applied. The father now came out to the courtyard, and loudly knocking at the door woke up the whole family, whereas he himself quietly slipped away. The residents got up and lighted candles, but found that the burglars had already gone. The whole time, the son remained in the chest, and thought of his cruel father. Then a fine idea flashed upon him. He made a noise like the gnawing of a rat. When the lid was unlocked, out came the prisoner and fled. Noticing a well by the road, he picked up a large stone and threw it into the water. The pursuers gathered around the well trying to find the burglar drowning himself. By then, he was safely back in the house with his father, whom he blamed for his narrow escape. When the son told him of his adventures, the father remarked, "There, you have learned the art!"

D.T. Suzuki
Heh, that is the most...bizarre way of describing anything. :D
Namaste brian,

if i may, perhaps, explain it a bit...

it's rather like trying to explain how a lima bean tastes... no matter what words i use.. until you actually taste the lima bean for yourself, you will never know what it tastes like...
That in itself is fine. :)

Explaining spiritual practises in terms of criminal activity is perhaps a little distracting on my tired days. :)

But I do understand the intention and meaning.
I said:
Explaining spiritual practises in terms of criminal activity is perhaps a little distracting
But explaining it in terms of lima beans! That goes too far, yuck.
I wanted to reply to What is Zen? with a totally blank post, that would have been very Zen, but this forum wouldn't let me.
Namaste all,

what is zen? that's a great question...

i suppose that, other than my explanation by Suzuki, which i find to be thoroughly zen-like, i would offer this...

Zen is what you make of it. it is nothing in an of itself. we could say that it's a system of practice.. however that leads one to ask the question "who is doing this practice?" which Zen practiconers will not find an answer to.

in many respects asking "what is zen" is akin to asking "what is the color of electromagnetism" (i think it's chartruese) since to even pose the question exposes the fundamental mistake that the questioner is making in the query.
xamnzero said:
What is Zen?

Traditional Definition of Zen:

Outside teaching; apart from tradition.
Not founded on words and letters.
Pointing directly to the human mind.
Seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood.
Thomas said:
Traditional Definition of Zen:

Outside teaching; apart from tradition.
Not founded on words and letters.
Pointing directly to the human mind.
Seeing into one's nature and attaining Buddhahood.

Namaste Thomas,

thanks for the post.

that phrase "outside teaching, apart from tradition" is also rendered "special transmission outside doctrine"

this phrase indicates a very specific time in the development of Ch'an, which became Zen in Japan.

When Buddhism moved into China it was taken there by a guy named Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch. this is the fellow that, legend has it, sat in front of a wall for 6 years and, to prevent himself from falling asleep, he cut off his eye lids. where his eye lids fell, tea plants grew.. thus bringing tea to China.

in any event, Buddhism met Taoism at a time that was very opportune for them both. This phrase "special transmission outside of doctrine" is indicative of the influence of Taoism on the Buddhism of China called Ch'an and, moreover, is particular to a school of Taoism called Complete Reality or Completely Real Taoism.

i'd be happy to expound on this further if anyone is interested...

eh.. what can i say... i find in the eastern traditions all the counterpoints to the rythym of the unexpressible that dance so jauntily in my mind :)
Certainly happy to find out more - I never even realised that Zen was where Buddhism met Taoism. Certainly an intriging cross-roads.
Vajradhara said:
"special transmission outside doctrine"

Pax, Vajradhara -

And yes, that's a better translation, don't you think?

Being a traditionalist, from what you say I would view the meeting of the two as 'providential'!


xamnzero said:
What is Zen?
The word Zen is is a Japanese rendering of the word Chan which is a Chinese rendering of the Sanskrit word dhyana or meditation. meditation is of course one of the spokes of the wheel of the eightfold path. The Zen Buddhist tradition is a tradition that is not centered on academic understanding of sutras
but upon direct realization of your Buddha nature. there is way too much talk about and not nearly enough practice. Dogen Zenji said to study Buddhism is to study yourself, to study yourself is to forget yourself.
Great master Yoka Daishi said, the best student goes directly to the ultimate, the others read many books but their faith is uncertain."
I make it a point of never discussing Zent with non practitioners. And ancient worthy one said the teachings of the vast canon of Buddhism are all prescriptions for curing madness, if you see the original mind madness ceases any ypu may spontaneously burst out in laughter.

"Long Chen Pa the Tibetan sage says "since everything is but an apparition, perfect in being as it is, having nothing to do with good or bad, acceptance or rejection, one could well burst out in laughter. "


chan isnt where "buddhism met taoism" for one, buddhism was already in china before bodhidarma arrived

bodhidarma was NOT the first patriarch of chan he was i believe the 28th(going all the way back to buddha), i have the lineage somewhere but not going into that..

bodhidarma was the first patriarch of the chan lineage in china though

chan was brought to china via bodhidarma who settled down in shaolin temple(a buddhist temple founded by ba tuo)

chan, taoism and confucianism were all influential to each other and chan or "zen" has branched out to many different cultures other then china and japan

i personally liked vaj's first interpretation of chan, the lima bean though is usually replaced with a mango or some other kind of popular fruit

really chan is probably the most simple and direct of the buddhas teachings, it stresses direct experience over belief and the practitioners are to base nothing on faith alone