Zen is the mind of beauty. When we know that, we know Zen.
The purpose of Zen is not just to train our minds and hearts. It doesn’t just want us to be more peaceful citizens, kinder neighbors and better denizens of this earth, so that the world may flourish as a better home for all its beings. Zen wants us to know how beautiful the world is.
It doesn’t offer a teaching over here, about how human beings can be trained in positive ways, and meanwhile over there, in another zone, there’s a beautiful world. It wants us to be better humans in the beauty of the world.
Imagine the hazy breakers of a Pacific beach at the end of an afternoon. Long strands of hair seem to stream back from the waves as they plunge toward the strand, and the air is misty with spray, and that mist is suffused with light. It has become a golden mist, illuminated as if from within by the late sun. Through the bronze haze comes a line of slow-flapping pelicans. The big birds beat their way up the shore, swerving to and fro, forming and reforming their line, spreading wide then closing in again into tight formation, like a squadron of old war-birds. They swing into the face of waves, as the swells rise into walls that grow tall and glossy, and just as they crest and break, fall in avalanches of spume, the line of birds swerve again, lifting clear just in time, and reform, spreading wide as they veer up away from the water, only to swing close again, rewriting themselves like a group of words forming a sentence, once again becoming a single coherent period. Then they swing toward another growing wave, dipping down so low it seems their wingtips must touch the water, narrowing into a single short line like a hyphen or a dash as the angle changes, then widen once more, opening again into a long line.
Now they move across the blinding path where the lowering sun dazzles the water. They flicker through it, barely visible, as if no more than a flapping motion without any ostensible solid thing creating the movement. On the far side of the broad highway of light, once again they become solid entities, beating over the water.
How can there be a sight of such grace and grandeur as this stretch of breaking waves with the great birds flying over them? The scene is of another order of scale. The birds glide across centuries, millennia, commensurate with the scale of oceans and tides, and moving with the grace of a calligrapher’s brush. What is this world that offers such beauty? What is our vision, made of this earth too, that can appreciate it? Whatever it is, Zen is that. Zen is not us. Not our minds, to be examined and known more intimately. Zen is our minds knowing this beauty. Zen is the mind of beauty. When we know that, we know Zen.