The Way of Zen

Discover how the understanding and practice of Zen can bring peace and enlightenment into your daily life
by Alan W. Watts

Read:  2017-05-16, Rating:  7/10.

Part One:  Background and History

1. The Philosophy of the Tao

Difference between western and eastern thought
Intro to self
You are who you are now
But we define self on past
Concrete past
Intro to Taoism
“Superior work has the quality of an accident”

2. The Origins of Buddhism

“Knowing what is not so is often as important as what is.”

“The function of negative knowledge is not unlike the uses of space”

“The value of emptiness lies in the movements it permits or in the substance which it mediates and contains. But the emptiness must come first. This is why Indian philosophy concentrates on negation, on liberating the mind from concepts of Truth. It proposes no idea,
no description, of what is to fill the mind’s void”

3. Mahayana Buddhism

Logic and meaning with its inherent duality is a property of thought and language and not of the actual world. The non verbal concrete world contains no classes and no symbols which signify or mean anything other than themselves. Consequently it contains no duality for duality only when we classify when we sort our experiences into mental boxes since a box is no box is without an inside and outside.

4. The rise and development of Zen

Those who know do not speak;
Those who speak do not know.

Tibetan Buddhism likewise comprises a tradition of the Short Path, considered as a swift and steep ascent to nirvana for those who have the necessary courage, though a doctrine more suggestive of
the Zen emphasis on immediacy and naturalness is found in the “Six Precepts” of Tilopa:

No thought, no reflection, no analysis,
No cultivation, no intention;
Let it settle itself.

The creation of Zen would seem to be sufficiently explained by the exposure of Taoists and Confucians to the main principles of Mahayana Buddhism.

Zen communication is always “direct pointing,” in line with the traditional four-phrase summary of Zen:

Outside teaching; apart from tradition.
Not founded on words and letters.
Pointing directly to the human mind.
Seeing into one’s nature and attaining Buddhahood.

In 845 there was a brief but vigorous persecution of Buddhism by the Taoist Emperor Wu-tsung.

Zen had survived the persecution better than any other school, and now entered into a long era of imperial and popular favor.

Popularity almost invariably leads to a deterioration of quality, and as Zen became less of an informal spiritual movement and more of a settled institution, it underwent a curious change of character. It became necessary to “standardize” its methods and to find means for the masters to handle students in large numbers.

Zen community became less an association of mature men with spiritual interests, and more of an ecclesiastical boarding school for adolescent boys.

Three test questions known as “Huang-lung’s Three Barriers”–

Question: Everybody has a place of birth. Where is your
place of birth?
Answer: Early this morning I ate white rice gruel. Now I’m
hungry again.
Question: How is my hand like the Buddha’s hand?
Answer: Playing the lute under the moon.
Question: How is my foot like a donkey’s foot?
Answer: When the white heron stands in the snow it has a
different color

It should be noted that Zen arrived in Japan shortly after the beginning of the Kamakura Era, when the military dictator Yoritomo and his samurai followers had seized power from the hands of the then somewhat decadent nobility. This historical coincidence provided the military class, the samurai, with a type of Buddhism which appealed to them strongly because of its practical and earthy qualities and because of the directness and simplicity of its approach. Thus there arose that peculiar way of life called bushido, the Tao of the warrior, which is essentially the application of Zen to the arts of war.



One must start with getting the feel of relativity and by knowing that life is a

To succeed is to always to fail. In the sense that the more one succeed at anything, need to go ok succeeding

The illusion of significant improvement Arises in moments or contrast

For by a slight change of viewpoint it is that easy to feel that I breath as it breathes me.

Sokei-an Sasaki
One day I wiped out all the notions from my mind. I gave up all desire. I discarded all the words with which I thought and stayed in quietude.

Zen begins at the point where there is nothing further to seek, nothing to be gained. Zen is most emphatically not to be regarded as a system of self-improvement, or a way of becoming a Buddha.

If a man seeks the Buddha, that man loses the Buddha.


Zenrin poem, it is
Like a sword that cuts, but cannot cut itself;
Like an eye that sees, but cannot see itself.

Another Zenrin poem as
Sitting quietly, doing nothing,
Spring comes, and the grass grows by itself

Zenrin poem says:
You cannot get it by taking thought;
You cannot seek it by not taking thought.

In walking, just walk.
In sitting, just sit.
Above all, don’t wobble.

I see that it is actually impossible not to be spontaneous for what I cannot help doing I am doing spontaneously but if I am at the same time trying to control it I interpret it as condition

Nothing is left to you at this moment but to have a good laugh

There is no contradiction since trying is spontaneity.

As we saw, the discovery that both the voluntary and involuntary aspects of the mind are alike spontaneous makes an immediate end of the dualism between the mind and the world, the knower and the known.

3. Za-zen and the Koan

Original realisation is marvelous practise
No distinction is to be made between the realization of awakening (satori) and the cultivation of Zen in meditation and action.

4. Zen in the arts

Thus Malraux speaks always of the artist “conquering” his medium as our explorers and scientists also speak of conquering mountains or conquering space. To Chinese and Japanese ears these are grotesque expressions. For when you climb it is the mountain as much as your own legs which lifts you upwards, and when you paint it is the brush, ink, and paper which determine the result as much as your own hand.

Taoism, Confucianism, and Zen are expressions of a mentality which feels completely at home in this universe, and which sees man as an integral part of his environment.

This is a -rst principle in the study of Zen and of any Far Eastern art: hurry, and all that it involves, is fatal. For there is no goal to be attained. The moment a goal is conceived it becomes impossible to practice the discipline of the art, to master the very rigor of its technique. Under the watchful and critical eye of a master one may technique. Under the watchful and critical eye of a master one may practice the writing of Chinese characters for days and days, months and months.

But he watches as a gardener watches the growth of a tree, and wants his student to have the attitude of the tree–the attitude of purposeless growth in which there are no short cuts because every stage of the way is both beginning and end. Thus the most accomplished master no more congratulates himself upon “arriving” than the most fumbling beginner.

Paradoxical as it may seem, the purposeful life has no content, no point. It hurries on and on, and misses everything. Not hurrying, the purposeless life misses nothing, for it is only when there is no goal and no rush that the human senses are fully open to receive the world.

Zen has no goal; it is a traveling without point, with nowhere to go. To travel is to be alive, but to get somewhere is to be dead, for as our own proverb says, “To travel well is better than to arrive.”

The point, therefore, of these arts is the doing of them rather than the accomplishments. But, more than
this, the real joy of them lies in what turns up unintentionally in the course of practice

Just as there is no need to try to be in accord with the Tao, to try to see, or to try to hear, so it must be remembered that the breath will always take care of itself.  This is not a breathing “exercise” so much
as a “watching and letting” of the breath