What is Zen?

The Human Route

Coming empty-handed, going empty-handed, that is human.
When you are born, where do you come from?
When you die, where do you go?
Life is like a floating cloud, which appears.
Death is like a floating cloud, which disappears.
The floating cloud itself originally does not exist.
Life and death, coming and going, are also like that.
But there is one thing that always remains clear.
It is pure and clear,
Not depending on life and death.

Then what is the one pure and clear thing?

–Traditional Chinese Poem

At the SPLASH student activities expo Fall 2009, someone came up to our table and said, “okay, in one word, what is Zen?”

“Zen is very simple. What are you?”

Everyone in this world looks for satisfaction and happiness outside, but no one understands their true self inside.

In our daily lives we always talk about “I” — “I want this, I don’t want that, I am like this and not that…” But what really is this “I”? Do you know? When you were born, where did this I come from? When you die, where will this I go? This is very important! If you ask this question very deeply–“what am I?”–eventually you hit a brick wall and all thinking is cut off completely. We call this “don’t know.”

Zen means keeping this “don’t know” mind moment to moment, at all times. When you wake up in the morning, while you brush your teeth, while you eat, walk, sit, lie down, speak, listen to music, watch movies and TV, read, go to class, ride the T, study for class, write papers, paint, draw, sing, perform, converse with friends, even while you sleep! Meditation is just this. It’s very simple. When you sit, just sit. When you eat, just eat. When you drive, just drive. And when you work, just work.

If you keep this don’t-know mind, eventually your mind will settle and become clear, like a glass of muddy water left to sit still on a table. Then it will be clear like a mirror that only reflects what is right in front of it. You can see the sky, only blue. You can see the tree, only green. Red comes, the mirror is red; white comes, the mirror is white. If someone is hungry, you give them food; if someone is thirsty, give them something to drink. No desire for myself, only for all beings. That mind is already Enlightenment, what we call Great Love, Great Compassion, the Great Bodhisattva Way. It’s very simple, not difficult!

“The Great Way has no gate.”
How do you pass through?
– Zen Master Seung Sahn