Lance Kinseth, Radiance, 48”x60
THAT WHICH ZEN POPULARLY references is a sense of calmness to the point of sustained serenity in Zen mastery, a need for little from the everyday world, aesthetic simplicity, naturalness, and, increasingly, improved health from stress reduction and physiological changes brought about by a central activity of meditation. These become possibilities that aspirants seek to develop into enduring attributes rather than rare occurrences.
These popular referents do not accurately describe Zen essence and can even be distractions.
Again, popularly, Zen begins with the mythical account of Siddhartha Gautama suddenly, and quite astonishingly, experiencing the morning star in a remarkable way. All of the above experiences could be outcomes of such an experience, but they are, in and of themselves, superficial and not the primary point.
“Zen” references the experience of a primary point. And this experience began before Siddhartha’s experience. The Upanishads contains descriptions of a state of being to which Siddhartha was exposed in his dialogue and experimentation with “Upanishadists” who comprised a portion of wandering individuals rebelling against the sacrificial traditions of his time. This state of being—awakening—appears in the oral and written records of a variety of cultures, some of which pre-date even the Upanishads.
Siddhartha’s contribution was a more authentic experience of a natural dimension of human experience—an awakened knowledge rather than an esoteric religious and/or psychic experience. And it was far more than just a richer psychological dimension. Paradoxically, Siddhartha’s contribution became housed in a religious tradition wherein he is envisioned as its founder. Still, Siddhartha’s original experience became luminous at various rare points rather than obscured as a religious motif as it passed through various societies. This original experience is the heart of Zen.
The Avatamsaka and Lotus Sutras are but my walking, staying, sitting, and lying.
Kyong Ho, from “Song of Enlightenment”
So, no dogma, no tradition, cutting through, what does Siddhartha suddenly experience, now, in this moment?