All the teachings that have come down to us arise from this single fact, of emptiness…The fact, the reality, is single because it includes and encompasses all phenomena, all experience. In fact we might say the only experience it doesn’t include is itself.
The fundamental Zen teaching is of emptiness. All the teachings that have come down to us arise from this single fact, of emptiness.
Emptiness is a hopeless word though. It’s just a label. Buddha-nature, Buddha-dharma, essential, absolute, true reality, true self—these are also just labels. We don’t need to get caught up in whether we like them or not, since they have nothing to do with the reality they represent.
The fact, the reality, is single because it includes and encompasses all phenomena, all experience. In fact we might say the only experience it doesn’t include is itself.
Zen’s challenge and hope is to help us all come to a direct personal experience of this fact, since it’s only through direct experience that it can alleviate our distress and clarify our life. But it’s an inconvenient thing to have at the heart of an organization, since no one can predict if or when or how someone will come to a direct experience of it.
As Zen has at times in its history become more institutional and corporate, so the emphasis on seeing this reality directly has waned. The root of the Zen teachings gets lost, glossed over. Instead, the practice may become highly ritualistic, or overly literary, or claim that there is nothing whatsoever to it, or turn the teachings into a parlour discussion.
But the main trunk of our line of Zen, whatever its faults may be, has indisputably remained devoted to helping us all to clarify our own essential nature, who we really are, for ourselves.
It hasn’t as yet wavered from this mission. We are still guided by the deepest core of Zen training, which is the fundamental fact of all existence, as embodied and passed on in the koans.
Like it or not, we aren’t going to deviate from that, because what could be a better thing to do than to guide us all to reality?
Image: Water by Diggeo, from pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain