The slayer who thinks he slays is slain.
What is Zen?
It is a commonly mistaken notion that Buddhists see the Buddha as especially divine. There is a school or two that does, but in fact the majority of Buddhist sects are almost agnostic as it regards deities. Zen would be one of these.
There are two branches of thought in Buddhism. One is that enlightenment is a long purification process that takes many incarnations to arrive at, and another is that you can almost accidentally stumble across it. Enlightenment, nirvana, satori in Zen, though in fact they describe many different shades of that state, there isn’t just the one, and in Zen there is no idea of achieving anything. Zen is sort of a minimalist Buddhism. The word Zen is the Japanese derivative of the Chinese word ‘Chan’.
There are multiple different lineages of Zen. Each emphasizing different beliefs about the mind and slightly different practices, but they all focus on conditioning as a barrier to understanding. Officially, there is no cannon of Zen. They do study the sutras, but much like the Gnostics they take their guidance more from personal experience than anything else.
Officially, Zen teaches that the formulated process of thinking is a barrier. It isn’t the source of suffering by itself. They still don’t differ from other Buddhists in that regard, but they focus more on the “internal” attachments to ideas and words. They have a tradition of contemplating certain questions known as koans. These are used not so much to teach any doctrine as to illustrate the limitations of “thought”. They aren’t anti-intellectual in their teaching, but they see much as the Taoists see, “The educated are not wise and the wise are not educated.” In the more modern language, “The more you learn the less you know.” So in fact, Zen focuses on processing the process so to speak. Weakening attachment to it through meditation and experiential practices like contemplating the koans as well as the more universal Buddhist practices. Most of what you read in modern works on meditation, especially the scientific research, is actually on Zen practices.
Do they use the eight fold path at all? Officially, they acknowledge the eight fold path, but they don’t see it as an important guideline. They see that if one devotes themselves to mindfulness meditation the concepts of the eightfold path will be self evident. So they don’t push it in their sessions. Again, like Gnostic thought, they see that the path to liberation is really evident when we seek, but paradoxically the path to liberation is not in seeking but in ceasing to seek ideas that don’t have substance. They see that we entrap ourselves in thought and dull our awareness by habitually thinking. Even losing elements of experience and impairing our judgement by seeing only what we expect to see. So Zen is not a very religious form of Buddhism in that it is not so philosophical as it is almost an internal experiential science.
Your thoughts are welcome. Be well friends.