All the same, I read a couple of Watts's books.
The Way of Zen by Alan Watts
They made a significant impact on me. The Meaning of Happiness published in and The Wisdom of Insecurity are striking primers to his work, and they underlined what Rowe was already teaching me: that life had no intrinsic meaning, any more than a piece of music had an intrinsic point. Life was, in zen parlance, yugen — a kind of elevated purposelessness. The word "zen" is a Japanese way of pronouncing "chan", which is the Chinese way of pronouncing the Indian Sanskrit "dhyana" or "sunya", meaning emptiness or void.
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This is the basis of zen itself — that all life and existence is based on a kind of dynamic emptiness a view now supported by modern science, which sees phenomena at a sub-atomic level popping in and out of existence in a quantum froth. In this view, there is no stuff, no difference between matter and energy.
Look at anything closely enough — even a rock or a table — and you will see that it is an event, not a thing. Every thing is, in truth, happening. This too, accords with modern scientific knowledge.
The Basic Nature Of Zen Explained
Furthermore, there is not a multiplicity of events. There is just one event, with multiple aspects, unfolding. We are not just separate egos locked in bags of skin. We come out of the world, not into it. We are each expressions of the world, not strangers in a strange land, flukes of consciousness in a blind, stupid universe, as evolutionary science teaches us.
The emphasis on the present moment is perhaps zen's most distinctive characteristic. What we might call spring is simply the existence of things with which we associate the word — the emergence of hibernating animals, the blossoming of trees and the blooming of flowers. Thus spring cannot come early or late as we might like to believe, it only comes when the things we relate to spring emerge into existence. Emptiness is a key concept in Zen, as it is in other forms of Buddhism, and one that shares a great deal with my thoughts above on time and space.
Emptiness is not to be misunderstood as not existing or a lack of something, but is, instead, a realization that by itself, a thing — an object, a person, a thought, or a feeling — cannot exist.
Emptiness, then, refers to a lack of inherent existence, which means that nothing can be said to exist independently of everything else. Everything and everyone can be looked at as an event, one that has foundations in every past event. If something were to exist outside of these past events, it could only be empty. Zen promotes the realization that you are empty and that everything else is also empty. That is to say, there is nothing to stop your ego-consciousness from taking the actions that serve it best. But in Zen, the freedom that is spoken of refers to the absence of control of the ego over the action.
When you act from a place of Zen, you do so through some unseen compulsion — an urge that comes from the very core of your being. In a sense, a student of Zen acts spontaneously , but unlike the desire to be spontaneous which comes from the ego, true spontaneity does not result from thought. In Zen, birth and death are seen as two sides to the same coin — you cannot have one without the other. Through life, we experience an ever present birth and death in that each moment contains them both.
Everything that happens in the here and now or more accurately in the singular here-now since you cannot have here without now and vice versa is born out of what went before it and dies just as quickly. In this sense, existence itself is birth and death simultaneously.
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Once fully understood, a follower of Zen frees themselves from the fear of death. To them, it is just the realization of nature, the transition from one moment to another. I have only scratched the surface of Zen Buddhism, but this article was never designed to be an encyclopaedic discussion of Zen in its entirety.
Instead, I hope that it gives you some basic understanding of the nature of Zen. Some of the concepts discussed here are common across many branches of Buddhism, while others are distinct in Zen.
There is no other reality than present reality, so that, even if one were to live for endless ages, to live for the future would be to miss the point everlastingly. It is so plain and so obvious and so simple. And yet, everybody rushes around in a great panic as if it were necessary to achieve something beyond themselves. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes. Instead you relax, and float. Stop aspiring and start writing. Write like you have a message from the king. Through our ears, the universe is listening to its harmonies. We are the witnesses through which the universe becomes conscious of its glory, of its magnificence.
Looking out into the universe at night, we make no comparisons between right and wrong stars, nor between well and badly arranged constellations. So wake up and find out eventually who you really are. You are meaning.
You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all. We are living in an eternal now, and when we listen to music we are not listening to the past, we are not listening to the future, we are listening to an expanded present. Running away from fear is fear, fighting pain is pain, trying to be brave is being scared.
35 of the most mind opening quotes from Alan Watts
If the mind is in pain, the mind is pain. The thinker has no other form than his thought. There is no escape. And all that ink spread. And as it gets out on the edge, the little droplets get finer and finer and make more complicated patterns, see? So in the same way, there was a big bang at the beginning of things and it spread.
And you and I, sitting here in this room, as complicated human beings, are way, way out on the fringe of that bang. We are the complicated little patterns on the end of it.