Describing zen in words can be tricky. It is like trying to explain to a person who has been blind since birth what colours are. Unless the person has had experience of the zen state of consciousness it can be an elusive concept. If you think you understand then you don’t. The purpose of zen meditation is to drop all thought. Entering the silent world can be the key.
To the average westerner silence and no thoughts sounds like a very scary place to be. They are used to constant distractions and entertainment. But people from the east have been exposed to these concepts for thousands of years.
Zen and Burglary
When people ask me what is zen I am reminded of the story about an aging burglar and his young son. The burglar’s son had turned 18 and asked his father to teach him burglary. He said to his father that he was getting old and he should teach him the tricks of the trade so he could carry on the family tradition.
So they went out one night to a neighbouring village and selected a large house to rob. They entered into the main bedroom while the family was having their evening meal. After a few minutes they heard the maid coming down the corridor towards the bedroom. So the father said to the son hide in a large chest at the foot of the bed. When his son climbed in he locked the chest from the outside, made a loud noise and jumped out the window.
The son realised he was trapped in the chest and he could hear the maid searching the bedroom for an intruder. The son started making a sound like a cat and the maid opened the chest to investigate the noise. The son immediately jumped up, blew out the maid’s candle and escaped out the window. The family realised what was going on and gave chase to the son. The son reached a well just ahead of the pursuing family and he threw a large rock down the well making a large splashing sound. He then hid in some bushes. When the family reached the well they gathered around it trying to see in the darkness of the well. While they were doing this, the son escaped into the darkness and returned home.
When the son returned home his father was waiting for him.
The son was furious and asked why his father had locked him in the chest. His father replied, “You said you wanted to learn burglary. If I had not locked you in the chest you would not have learnt burglary. The fact that you made it home without getting caught is proof that you have now learned the art of burglary.”
Zen is similar to learning the art of burglary. It cannot be taught traditionally otherwise you will suffer “paralysis by analysis” and get caught. It has to be experienced. It strikes like a flash of lightning. You drop the logical and reasoning mind and act intuitively.
The ordinary mind can be thought of as a mirror with dust on it. The dust are your thoughts. The purpose of zen is to clear the dust from the mirror so you can see clearly.
The story only illustrates that some things can only be taught by direct experience and practice. I definitely do not recommend taking up burglary to learn zen