21st Century Zen


21st Century Zen

              When we read the scriptures might I suggest that we are trying to understand what the Buddha Gautama meant when he said :” Nirvana is the extinction of dukkha.” Since his death there have been many attempts to explain what he meant. 

               The Pali Cannon consists of 45 volumes.

              The Chinese scriptures consist of 100 volumes , each of 1000 closely worded pages. 

              The Tibetan scriptures consist of 325 volumes. 

              The Dharma was transmitted orally for 500 years. 

              All of that contributed by highly intelligent philosophers and experts well experienced in the fruits of correct meditation who struggled to express their experiences logically. 

 However, their attempts have introduced some ideas that are incorrect. Ideas like: there is no self, thoughts are errors and the world that we see quite clearly around us is an illusion. 

              This has  resulted in the Buddha Gautama’s  teaching being  interpreted differently by many schools and factions. Even Zen, the teaching outside religion has fragmented.  

              However the fact remains that many mystics, widely separated both  temporarily and geographically,  have had the same basic revelation;  despite the fact that they have interpreted the experience differently . 

              Here is an attempt to get to the heart and core of Buddhism which lives hidden in this vast body of literature. Below is why zazen [seated meditation] works and what to do about it:

              Here is   21st century Zen – a direct pointing at the common human goal:  

                    The correct reason why meditation works is as follows:   

            As the first signs of a central nervous system began to appear in the history of the evolution of life on our planet, the model that a hypothetical primitive creature possessing one exhibited would be :
Phase One:           A mental state of intensely alert but passive awareness 

The chameleon waiting for his next meal  would be in such a state. Awareness is the only attribute of the central nervous system common to all sentient creatures. If you are conscious, you are aware.   

Phase Two:            The reception of a stimulus . 

That stimulus could be a variety of sensory or internal  inputs – sight of prey, anticipation of pleasure, the demands of appetite, recognition of impending danger or actual pain are some of them.  


Phase Three:        The response to that stimulus using its intellect - employing  conscious mental activity. 

The response to pleasure would be to achieve and sustain it; to appetite to satisfy it; to danger and pain, to avoid them. All responses would engage the relevant mental skills the creature possessed even though these [at this stage in the evolution of life] would be largely instinctive.   

Phase Four:            Returning to a state of alert but passive awareness.   

  Once the stimulus has been removed by finding the correct solution to the relevant problem, the possessor of such a system would return to the first mental state of intensely alert but passive awareness. In the current vernacular ,used by modern exponents of Zen for instance,  you could say it would be reacquainted with its original mind, seen its true face or found out who it was. In reality it would have peace of mind – conventionally called happiness.   

             From this primordial model our own highly sophisticated central nervous system has evolved. This means that the basic structure of our own system cannot be different from  that of the original primordial one.    

           However, for us, as life has grown more complex, the stimuli have proliferated, and the responses to those stimuli have over whelmed us to such an extent that modern people rarely if ever experience the first phase of the model from which their central nervous system has evolved – alert, passive awareness – profound peace-of-mind – conventionally called happiness.    

            It is not difficult to infer from the above four statements how to meditate correctly. Just be intensely alert and passively aware and  rest from mental work. There really isn’t anything to do. We must abstain from conscious mental activity.


[Some people have difficulty in understanding that. It means, “have nothing at all to do with thinking.  Refrain from employing  it at all.”]

Meditation practice is designed to reacquaint us with that first phase of the model formulated above in the hope that, in time, it will infiltrate our daily lives. 

            Conscious mental activity is all “thinking”. It is  the processing of all data arising from inside [via memory etc] and outside the body [via our senses]. Its antonym is conscious mental inactivity. It is the tool awareness uses to enable us to live our lives. [And it is the tool that awareness can dispense with, no matter how temporarily.] The problems life consistently presents us with will not solve themselves; they demand its efficient use.
             However, to get our just and proper reward [peace-of-mind] for our successful actions we must learn to limit conscious mental activity to its proper role. Once a tool has done its job we should ideally lay it aside. But life is now so complex that the problems we are confronted with on a daily basis overwhelm us. Worse than that, a constant stream of random and habitual thought parades continuously through our minds. Persistent and unrelenting involvement in the problems life routinely presents us with builds a mood of dissatisfaction, frustration and lack of fulfilment – resulting in stress.     

            Until we can confine our mental activity to its proper role we will never get our just and proper mental rewards for our successful actions. We will never be truly happy.   

            Showing no intention or even inclination to change, we will voluntarily suffer under the tyranny of obsessive/compulsive thinking.  

             Conscious mental activity was in the beginning, is now and always will be the tool we use to satisfy our appetites and achieve our goals. Without it we would not even have entered the Stone Age. However, as invaluable as it undeniably is, it plays no part in our being happy.    

              In meditation we practice resting from mental work while remaining alert and passively aware so that the peace we eventually obtain that way infiltrates our daily life. 

Meditation is a direct way to regain access to that first mental state – to our original unburdened mind –to profound peace of mind, to happiness  -  the common human goal 

- a way that does not depend on external goals. 

Traditional Zen utilises that psychology.