Thursday, September 22, 2011


by Scott Bradley

Returning to the ancient Zen masters is so often like slipping into a cool, shady pool on a hot summer day. The freshness of their insights refresh the heart. This is in contrast with so much of what I read of contemporary exponents of Zen, where everything seems to revolve around zazen (meditation), "practice" (mostly meditation), mu (nothingness, the object of meditation), and the sangha (community of meditators).

One is left, if he or she does not want to play that particular game, with a feeling of obsession and partisanship, and thus of exclusion. This is to be expected, I suppose; all ways tend to reify over time. Still, if I were to share these thoughts with Mazu, he would probably beat me half to death with his stick, but alas, he is present only in his mediated words.

I have just begun Thomas Cleary's The Essence of Zen: The Science of Freedom in which he presents his translations of selections from the teachings of ancient Chinese Zen masters from the eighth to fourteenth centuries. I suspect I'll be sharing portions of lots of them here. He begins with Mazu:
The founders of Zen said that one's own essence is inherently complete. Just don't linger over good and bad things — that is called practice of the Way. To grasp the good and reject the bad, to contemplate emptiness and enter contemplation, is all in the province of contrivance — and if you go on seeking externals, you get further and further estranged.

You have always had it, and you have it now — there is no need to cultivate the Way and sit in meditation.
These words are intended to cut through the persistent hunger to become. There is nothing wrong with meditation and the other exercises to which he refers — no doubt they are 'skillful means', fish traps. The problem arises when one believes that one must become something other than what one already is. The belief that these exercises have to be performed is an extension of that belief.

More than one 'spiritual' teacher describes the fuller realization of the one's humanity as "the Work". I (a babbler and not a teacher) have spoken of ‘my project’. This is not a problem in itself, if it is understood that the work is to realize that the work is unnecessary. "You have it now." But we believe in a 'good' and a 'bad' "me" and the project becomes a grasping of the one and the rejecting of the other. Rather than simply being who we are, we chase our own tails. Yet the gate is right here. "It is just this."

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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