Zen Self Inquiry

Zen Without Bowls, Robes, Monks, Roshis and Rituals

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Somewhere in our past an individual became unsatisfied with his/her self.  They knew they were incomplete, somehow missing the whole picture, and sought something different.  Perhaps they stared at the night sky and fell into it, tearing down their ordinary conscious and awakening to a new one no longer at odds with their self.  Perhaps it was a bird or a babbling brook that opened their eyes to the world as it is unfettered by their individual consciousness.  Something happened and they tried to explain it to others but could not express it in a way that normal consciousness can see it.  This is Zen before there was Zen.  “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal name.” LaoTze  Before the naming of things, before a thought arises is original reality. They did not have sutras, teishos  or other practices of today, they were just driven to find a solution on their own.  Along the way others arose awakening to the true self and then came the historical Buddha who verbalized it for us.  Before this time they did not have to sit zazen, practice meditation or do anything other than to strive deeply and wholly into the inquiry.  I’ve heard modern day masters teach that if you cannot do the deep breathing exercises or do the full lotus you cannot awaken.  So if you have COPD or you’ve lost a leg you’re out of luck.  I kid you not, I’ve heard this.  It flies in the face of  ‘awakening mind and body fallen off’.   Once you realize the problem of your own mind then you can start the way towards resolution.  You do not need Zen practice to attain your goal, however, if you really grasp the problem then the tools ritualized Zen offers can be of great assistance and not empty practices.



  1. Gordon  January 15, 2020

    I’ve heard that animals have a mental world-model, and humans have an additional self-model. Sometimes, when I hear Zen people say to ‘be in the moment and forget self’, I think they are advising to suppress or somehow eliminate the self-model and keep the world-model.

    However, I think this is incorrect and a regression. I think the Buddha preached equanimity, i.e. regarding the experiential phenomena of ‘self’ and ‘world’ without discrimination. But when I think about what this ‘non-discrimination’ actually means, I find it slippery. At some times, there’s a sense of an intuition about it, but I don’t feel it is consolidated enough for me to attempt a clear definition in words.

    And people leap hastily to give verbal explanations without understanding, like ‘to not worry about paying the rent’. But I think you can view those worries with equanimity–they are phenomena too. I want to get the essence and not an ideal of a chilled-out Buddha version of myself.


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