Book Review: Introduction to Zen Buddhism by D.T. Suzuki.

For those of you who wants to know a little bit about zen, “Introduction to zen Buddhism” by D.T. Suzuki is the best place to start. It is a short book of only 130 pages, but gives beautiful insight about the nature of zen. Here is my review about this beautiful book.

What is zen? And the aim of Zen Buddhism.

The fundamental objective of zen Buddhism is to get into the real nature of one`s own mind. For whatever authority there is in zen, it all comes from within. Final goal of Buddhism is to achieve the state of ‘satori’ or enlightenment and to live everyday life in this state of higher consciousness.

As a zen master says, “Zen is your everyday thought.”

Zen tends to avoid the concepts like, the ‘love of god’, ‘oneness of the Universe’, ‘the purpose of life’..etc. It is a higher form of meditation in the sense that it attempts to destroy all the concepts of mind and obtain complete freedom.

“Upon what do the fish in the water meditate?
Upon what do the fowl of the air meditate?

They swim, they fly.”

Or simply put: life is complete in itself, in its own experience.

The higher affirmations behind the ‘Zen negations’

Many people regard zen as advocating nihilism. But there is a higher affirmation behind all zen negations. For example:

“Snow is not white, raven is not black.” The sentence here is not aimed to be understood by logic, because it does not make sense. By negating the logical meanings, zen attempts to destroy our sense of ordinary logic and understand the life at the level of experience.

This is well understood in the chapter “illogical zen”, which brings more clarity for the readers about zen and words. Zen masters would say many illogical things like

” Empty handed I go and behold the spade in my hands.

“When both hands are clapped a sound is produced. Listen to the sound of one hand.”

“Who is the teacher of all the Buddhas, past, present and future? John the cook.”

“In the midst of pouring rain, I am not wet.”

The book is full of such examples. It seems that these masters have lost it. But they are actually aiming that the listener would at once give up trying to understand all these and just sense the state of consciousness that the master is in. For there is the true meaning.

Zen emphasizes that words are words, and nothing more. When we associate meaning with the words, we are trapped in logic and intellect, and can never break through them, to experience the state of satori.

Once we can see beyond the meanings attached to words, we can really understand that “A is A, but at the same time it is not A.”

For the same reason, we can find that zen never attaches the meaning to words like ‘Buddha, the soul, the infinite..etc’ In fact, there are some sentences in the book, which are zen masters response to the question,”Who or what is Buddha.”:

” The one made of clay and decorated with gold”

“He is no Buddha.”

“No nonsense here.”

“The mouth is the gate of woe.”

“See the three legged donkey go trotting along.”

“Surrounded by mountains, we are here.”

All these means, “Stop asking nonsense and come back right here, where you are, in the experience of life and the present moment.” ;p

I hope I have succeeded to a small extent in giving a sense of what they actually mean. it is so hard to destroy words with words, so I better leave explaining zen right here…But I would like to share one experience at the end.

My own experience/experiment after reading this book

A an attempt to understand the idea of boundary created by words and logic, one night, sitting in a silent park, I look at the night sky, I said “There are stars in the black sky.”

Noticing these words, I attempt to remove them and look at the sky again. I say, “White dots in black.”

After such many attempts I manage to remove all words and look at the sky, and for a very brief moment, I see the sky as it is, without names or identifications. The real sky and the real stars. it was a similar experience to meditation where I was connected in the present moment with the ‘no-mind’ situation.

It was very brief, but yet profound. I hope I gave you some unique and valuable insights through this post. Looking forward to know your experiences. Thank you 🙂

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