If you have never come across Zen before, it might seem quite perplexing with it's apparent contradictions and paradoxes. But if you are ready and willing to commit yourself to the Zen “Way" then Zen is one of the most powerful ways to transform the quality of your life that I have ever come across. If you are not ready, looking into Zen will not make the slightest bit of sense and chances are you will soon quit. Unlike other philosophies Zen is like climbing a huge mountain in which the climb is more important than the destination. This is where a great paradox comes into action. . . What is the point of making such a climb if to achieve your goal and reach the top is of the least importance? Exactly! In Zen, the answer is in the question itself and comes to the practitioner experientially - so experientially that words are inadequate to explain the profundity of it. Climbers of great Mountains like Everest come closer to spirit of Zen when they answer the question, “why do you do it?" by simply stating, “because it's there!"
So why do I practice Zen? This is a question that I can only answer from my own experience of it. Another Zen practitioner my answer it differently. . .
In his excellent book The Three Pillars of Zen (which in my opinion is indispensable for someone starting out in Zen), the late Roshi Philip Kapleau explains the value of zazen over other forms of meditation thus. . . “[In zazen] the mind is freed from bondage to all thought forms, visions, objects and imaginings and brought to a state of absolute emptiness, from which alone it may one day perceive its own true nature, or the nature of the universe. " He goes on to say. . . “zazen is like a silent missile to penetrate the barriers of the five senses and the discursive intellect".
Penetrate the barriers of the five senses and discursive intellect? It that something that I wanted or was it wise to pursue?
From my point of view, I would say, ‘yes, it is both wanted and wise', but many years ago in my ‘pre-Zen’ days, the activity of penetrating barriers of my intellect worried me. By practising Zen was I going to end up stupid and ‘senseless’ by controlling my mind and thoughts in such a way?
No, that was not something that was going to happen. Through my Zen practise, what did happen was that I transcended the intellectual mind and realised that at a higher state of awareness, there was a different type of intelligence - an intelligence beyond mere fact-finding knowledge. In fact there came a realisation of ‘knowing nothing’ that was extremely liberating. And the fear that my mind would be numbed and unable to function in the common everyday world couldn't have been further from the truth. In fact because of zazen, my focus was improving and my ability to carry out intellectual tasks was greatly enhanced.
Many people think Zen is a religion. Well, if awareness of life and all that goes with it is considered to be a religion, then yes, it is a religion but not in the conventional sense. To me, Zen is a ‘way’ and it can be applied to any religion - not just Zen Buddhism, but Zen Catholicism, Zen Judaism, to name just a few.
It can also be applied to everyday matters like, Zen and the art of Business, and yes even Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (another wonderful book), not to mention the martial arts like karate, aikido and tai chi. All these activities are greatly enhanced with the spirit and discipline of Zen.
Derek Ayre is a registered hypnotherapist established in the UK in 1976. After becoming a Zen practitioner in 1980, he uses its powerful influence to help his clients both on and off-line. http://ayrehypnotherapy.com