There has been a recent surge of interest in Zen Buddhism, and much misinformation about it to boot. Zen Buddhism is not a philosophy in the Western sense and not a religion in the Abrahamic tradition either. The writings are scarcely intelligible to our Western minds when translated from their original Sanskrit, Chinese and Japanese. Zen originated in cultures so fundamentally different from our own that many a curious soul have wondered if trying to understand Zen is but grasping at straws.
Get ready to get your grasp on! I’ve improved on the literature so much that I can guarantee you complete awakening with my regimented step-by-step guide! You’ll understand everything there is to understand about Zen Buddhism. No meditation required!
1. Force it!
The ultimate goal of Zen is to achieve nirvana. Nirvana is the realization of the oneness of all things and the meaninglessness of the forms and symbols we force on the world. To achieve this awakening, you must take two things you see around you, say a toaster and a dog, and ‘see’ them as one. This means imagining some kind of toaster-dog. If you have trouble imagining that, clench your teeth and strain your muscles and say out loud, over and over, “the toaster is the dog; the dog is the toaster.” This is called a mantra. “The toaster is the dog…” is one of the most common mantras in Zen.
2. Know your koans
Koans are questions asked of students by their masters as a means of releasing the student from a paradoxical grasping of the mind with the mind. The questions may seem non-sensical, but they are intended, rather obliquely, as a tool for satori, or awakening, by showing Zen, rather than saying it.
The answers, though obscure and many, are all found in my comprehensive pamphlet ‘Where You Koan? The Questions and Answers to Zen Riddles for $3.99’. I’m selling them out of my house and I have a website, but it’s not quite finished, but my phone number is on there so call me and I’ll give you my address and you can mail me the money (cash only).
I know I said “no meditation required” earlier but that was me being Zen. Get it? Of course not. Anyway, meditation is for the Zen master what a trowel is for the gardener. They are a tool used to carve out a space in which we let things grow.
You’ll start by sitting on your butt with legs crossed Indian style (henceforward called ‘Zen style’). Take your left thumb, with palm facing away from the front toward the back of your right palm with your right hand parallel to your left forearm. Have your fingers from one hand touch the corresponding fingers from the other until you run out of fingers (your right pinky should be left over). Place your free pinky under your bottom lip and plow gently on it. Now straighten up your back and concentrate on any looming potential crises that could pop up at any moment until these thoughts disappear like a ripple on the surface of a calm lake at daybreak. Your mind is now ready for nirvana.
Nirvana is tricky. It’s a combination of steps 1, 2, and 3. Sit Zen style with hands arranged in the position detailed above. While repeating a mantra, this time the answer to the last koan in ‘Where You Koan?…’, which is, I think, “The white crane stands still in the something something, cherry blossoms something something, moon… something,” you must let go of the ego, imagine your mind as a mirror reflecting the image of its surroundings for only the moment it’s seen, then realize there is no mirror, for that is an abstraction of the ego and BAM, you should have it. You ought to be dripping with nirvana. Get the joke from step 3?
Now that You’ve awakened, have experienced the final satori, seen that all is one, have ripped Yourself from samsara, the vicious cycle of birth and death, You are, alas, not done. There is yet another level of nirvana achievable only by the Bodhisattva, the being who, by denying himself (or herself!) the highest level of nirvana, will liberate all other beings from samsara, the world of forms. Only then, when all people have awakened, will the Bodhisattva ascend to the highest spiritual plane (but You know there are no spiritual planes because they are abstractions of the ego, which is itself an abstraction [duh!]). Your destiny lies now in the liberation of all beings.
As You now know, no being is fully awakened without ‘The Concise Guide to Zen Buddhism’. I will need your credit card number (a meaningless abstraction of our culture’s sick infatuation with material wealth) and You will sell the guide. You get a cut of each sale and a MYSTERY BONUS for each awakened soul. But watch out! Every awakened soul is another potential Bodhisattva, so get out there and sell, sell, sell! But I need your credit card number!