Karen Maezen Miller tells us that she can’t explain the principles of Zen because there are no principles of Zen.
From time to time I get an email like this:
“I have tried to read several books on the principles of Zen, but have found them difficult to pierce because they are heavy with jargon. Do you have any suggestions for books on using the principles of Zen in one’s everyday life?”
I told the writer that I couldn’t recommend books on the principles of Zen because there are no principles of Zen.
Zen is not a set of principles or beliefs, but the direct experience of your life without the filter of your egocentric interpretation. The practice of Zen is the practice of quieting the mind so that we can experience our lives more fully. When we do that, we reveal the truth to ourselves. Nothing written about it will be of use except the writing that points you back to the matter at hand: being alive.
This might seem like heresy coming from someone purported to write about spirituality in everyday life. The truth is that I never intend to illustrate Zen with episodes from my life; the actual life of each of us is Zen. When I write about my life, it might illuminate your experience as well. Call it Zen or call it breakfast, lunch and dinner.
We’re so accustomed to approaching everything through the intellect that we don’t understand how to grasp things directly. I try to remind people of the things they already do that they don’t understand. Hint: everything.
Like eating. We don’t have to understand digestion in order to glean the carotene from a carrot.
Like breathing. We don’t have to understand the cardio-pulmonary system before we can inhale.
Like reading. We don’t have to understand the mysterious mechanics of language comprehension to get to the end of this unprincipled post.