5 well known quotes and why they exemplify Zen philosophy

5 well known quotes and why they exemplify Zen philosophy


Zen isn’t a religion; by it’s nature it’s empty. The goal is emptiness; emptiness of mind, emptiness of burden, emptiness of the elements of attachment and suffering.

For this reason, I’m often flabbergasted at how long winded writers who portend to be writing “about Zen” are, on a subject that was always meant to be “transmitted”. That is, handed over through non-explicit means, non-verbal means.

This makes Zen essentially untouchable in the traditional sense; you don’t “talk about Zen”. You don’t “discuss Zen philosophy” or “discuss what Meditation is.”

That’s the Western view; one spawned during the age of intellectual enlightenment and, before that, during Antiquity (no, Socrates, Epicures … not even Stoicism are Zen.)

In essence, Zen is just a few practices – nothing more. There’s massive underlying “discovery” that occurs when we practice those things ardently enough, but we only get to that insight gradually … and through pretty simple exercises.

Quotations are similar to Koans; they can act to stimulate a “Zen Mind” or “Zazen”. So, here I’ll offer 5 quotes I think do well to “nudge” us into the practice.

Quote 1


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This quote is nice because I think it gets at the essential relationship Zen has with another Eastern Philosophy: Taoism. Both urge us to relax and to accept circumstances as they are without drowning ourselves with conditioned urges to “change everything.”

He points out that there are times to “let it happen” and times to “move forward” with it. The second idea is a juxtaposition – how do we know when to do which? When we’re “seeing” instead of “thinking” it’s not hard.

Zen teacher Adyashanti describes the experience as “closing the gap” between ourselves and reality.

Quote 2


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For whatever reason, Bob Dylan quit writing.

He said he didn’t know how to do it anymore … that’s Zen in itself

When we’ve said enough, we’ve said enough – we’ve begun repeating ourselves.

Here, he asserts that life is a lie … a deception; a willing choice to ignore what’s in front of us.

Then he points out that (supposedly), it’s our desire to have it this way.

While I don’t necessarily think we desire an explanation to what’s going on that’s a “lie”, I think often times just letting things exist isn’t enough. We need to elaborate on them … we like stories.

One of the central ideas of Zen is “The Great Storyteller”. (The part of us that won’t take events happening in succession as simply events, but needs to add reason to them).

Quote 3


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This is quote by the spiritual guru Osho.

He says quite a bit in order to get us to stop thinking so much – there’s irony in that.

We’re stubborn in that sense, though. If he felt like we’d ceased to suffer – had insight, accepted our circumstances and attained peace of mind, he wouldn’t ramble on.

Regardless, in Zen, there is the notion of the “real” you. It’s a fact that many religions and philosophical traditions have a “questioning” process which negates this thing or that thing until the only thing left is “what’s you”. Is my hair color me … is my car me … is this memory me, etc.

Descartes said “I think therefore I am.”

That’s just another way of getting at Osho’s conclusion: The final “us” is simply the one watching. The “watcher”. The thing watching not only the WORLD, but watching US. Our thoughts, feelings – the thing as far back as you can go … the last thing before there’s nothing.


Quote 4

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Confucius, or Mencius, founded a moral system called Confucianism which is massively relevant to this day.

It focuses on relationships; you could call it one of the first social-systemic views on society and how it should function with each person playing their part earnestly.

Here, though, he shows that he knows even more – he shows he knows Zen (or the Tao).

Confucius never spoke of that topic itself very much, but that’s because the greatest of masters never did. They knew it was something that exists within in each individual to be discovered – a seed that will ripen through maturity when the time comes.

Karma teaches us about causes and conditions. In this sense, there is no “rushing” enlightenment. We’ve accumulated masses of good and bad actions, thoughts and feelings … but the seed of “peace” exists in every living being, and is waiting. That was the Buddha’s message.


Quote 5


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Sure, I said Zen wasn’t Western thinking and it wasn’t antiquity.

It’s not Eastern thinking, though, either.

It’s NO thinking.

Any person from any culture any any given time can manifest that they have a grasp on the essence of Zen. Here, a thinker of antiquity expresses all the core knowledge of Zen.

The analogy of the “unconquerable” mind is used just as often in the words of Bodhidharma himself (the official founder of Zen). He liked to use analogies like great mountains and so forth.

What he really meant, though, wasn’t that we become “big and powerful” or that we develop an incredibly adept and clever way of thinking … but the opposite. He meant we had stepped away from the mind itself, and in doing so, had mastered it … put it on a leash, and smiled at it.


April 27, 2015

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