Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Thomas Merton: On Zen Insight

In his book, "Mystics and Zen Masters," Trappist Monk, Thomas Merton had the following observations to share about the "insight" grounding Zen Buddhism:
"The Zen insight . . . consists in a direct grasp of "mind" or one's "original face." And this direct grasp implies rejection of all conceptual media or methods, so that one arrives at mind by "having no mind" (wu h'sin): in fact, by "being" mind instead of "having" it. Zen enlightenment is an insight into being in all its existential reality and actualization. It is a fully alert and superconscious act of being which transcends time and space. . . . The Zen insight is the awareness of full spiritual reality, and therefore the realization of the emptiness of all limited or particularized realities."

"One might ask," he continues, "if our habitual failure to distinguish between "empirical ego" and the "person" has not led us to oversimplify and falsify our whole interpretation of Buddhism. There are in Zen certain suggestions of a higher more spiritual personalism than one might at first sight expect. Zen insight is at once a liberation from the limitations of the individual ego, and a discovery of one's "original nature" and "true face" in "mind" which is no longer restricted to the empirical self but is in all and above all. Zen insight is not our awareness, but Being's awareness of itself in us."

"This is not," Merton notes, " a pantheistic submersion or a loss of self in "nature" or "the One." It is not a withdrawal into one's spiritual essence and a denial of matter and of the world. On the contrary, it is a recognition that the whole world is aware of itself in me and that "I" am no longer my individual and limited self, still less a disembodied soul, but that my "identity" is to be sought not in that separation from all that is, but in oneness (indeed, convergence"?) with all that is."
[Thomas Merton, "Mystics and Zen Masters," pp. 17-18]
In the short, yet insightful introduction to Zen Buddhism, below, it is observed that "the search for self-realization is powered by our anxieties and our fears which feed our ego, causing frustration with our daily life: selfishness, jealousy, anger and hate which unconsciously serve to protect us, and in doing so set us in opposition to everyone and everything. To awaken to this realization is the practice of Zen."

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