The object of Zen is not to kill all feelings and become anesthetized to pain and fear. The object of Zen is to free us to scream loudly and fully when it is time to scream.
The title of this Chautauqua is "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance," not "Zen and the Art of Mountain Climbing," and there are no motorcycles on the tops of mountains, and in my opinion very little Zen. Zen is the "spirit of the valley," not the mountaintop. The only Zen you fin on the tops of mountains is the Zen you bring up there.
The idea of Zen is to catch life as it flows. There is nothing extraordinary or mysterious about Zen. I raise my hand ; I take a book from the other side of the desk ; I hear the boys playing ball outside my window; I see the clouds blown away beyond the neighbouring wood: — in all these I am practising Zen, I am living Zen. No wordy discussions is necessary, nor any explanation. I do not know why — and there is no need of explaining, but when the sun rises the whole world dances with joy and everybody’s heart is filled with bliss. If Zen is at all conceivable, it must be taken hold of here.
Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen.
As a matter of face, Zen is at present most fashionable in America among those who are least concerned with moral discipline. Zen has, indeed, become for us a symbol of moral revolt. It is true, the Zen-man's contempt for conventional and formalistic social custom is a healthy phenomenon, but it is healthy only because it presupposes a spiritual liberty based on freedom from passion, egotism and self-delusion. A pseudo-Zen attitude which seeks to justify a complete moral collapse with a few rationalizations based on the Zen Masters is only another form of bourgeois self-deception. It is not an expression of healthy revolt, but only another aspect of the same lifeless and inert conventionalism against which it appears to be protesting.
Zen is nothing to get excited about.
Zen has been called the "religion before religion," which is to say that anyone can practice, including those committed to another faith. And that phrase evokes that natural religion of our early childhood, when heaven and a splendorous earth were one. But soon the child's clear eye is clouded over by ideas and opinions, preconceptions and abstractions. Not until years later does an instinct come that a vital sense of mystery has been withdrawn. The sun glints through the pines, and the heart is pierced in a moment of beauty and strange pain, like a memory of paradise. After that day, at the bottom of each breath, there is a hollow place filled with longing. We become seekers without knowing that we seek, and at first, we long for something "greater" than ourselves, something apart and far away. It is not a return to childhood, for childhood is not a truly enlightened state. Yet to seek one's own true nature is "a way to lead you to your long lost home." To practice Zen means to realize one's existence moment after moment, rather than letting life unravel in regret of the past and daydreaming of the future. To "rest in the present" is a state of magical simplicity...out of the emptiness can come a true insight into our natural harmony all creation. To travel this path, one need not be a 'Zen Buddhist', which is only another idea to be discarded like 'enlightenment,' and like 'the Buddha' and like 'God.
Activities such as chanting, bowing, and sitting in zazen are not at all wasted, even when done merely formally, for even this superficial encounter with the Dharma will have some wholesome outcome at a later time. However, it must be said in the most unambiguous terms that this is not real Zen. To follow the Dharma involves a complete reorientation of one's life in such a way that one's activities are manifestations of, and are filled with, a deeper meaning. If it were not otherwise, and merely sitting in zazen were enough, every frog in the pond would be enlightened, as one Zen master said. Dōgen Zenji himself said that one must practice Zen with the attitude of a person trying to extinguish a fire in his hair. That is, Zen must be practiced with an attitude of single-minded urgency.
[I]t is typical of Zen that its style of action has the strongest feeling of commitment, of "follow-through." It enters into everything wholeheartedly and freely without having to keep an eye on itself. It does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.
To speak conventionally - and I think it is easier for the general reader to see Zen thus presented - there are unknown recesses in our minds which lie beyond the threshold of the relatively constructed consciousness. To designate them as “sub-conciousness” or “supra-consciousness” is not correct. The word “beyond” is used simply because it is a most convenient term to indicate their whereabouts. But as a matter of fact there is no “beyond”, no “underneath”, no “upon” in our consciousness. The mind is one indivisible whole and cannot be torn in pieces. The so-called terra incognita is the concession of Zen to our ordinary way of talking, because whatever field of consciousness that is known to us is generally filled with conceptual riffraff, and to get rid of them, which is absolutely necessary for maturing Zen experience, the Zen psychologist sometimes points to the presence of some inaccessible region in our minds. Though in actuality there is no such region apart from our everyday consciousness, we talk of it as generally more easily comprehensible by us.