“Once upon a time, there was a Zen student who quoted an old Buddhist poem to his teacher, which says:
The voices of torrents are from one great tongue, the lions of the hills are the pure body of Buddha. ‘Isn’t that right?’ he said to the teacher. ‘It is,’ said the teacher, ‘but it’s a pity to say so.’
It would be, of course, much better, if this occasion were celebrated with no talk at all, and if I addressed you in the manner of the ancient teachers of Zen, I should hit the microphone with my fan and leave. …
Now then, if one must try to say something about what Zen is, and I want to do this by way of introduction, I must make it emphatic that Zen, in its essence, is not a doctrine. There’s nothing you’re supposed to believe in. It’s not a philosophy in our sense, that is to say a set of ideas, an intellectual net in which one tries to catch the fish of reality. Actually, the fish of reality is more like water–it always slips through the net. And in water you know when you get into it there’s nothing to hang on to. All this universe is like water; it is fluid, it is transient, it is changing.
And when you’re thrown into the water after being accustomed to living on the dry land, you’re not used to the idea of swimming. You try to stand on the water, you try to catch hold of it, and as a result you drown. The only way to survive in the water, and this refers particularly to the waters of modern philosophical confusion, where God is dead, metaphysical propositions are meaningless, and there’s really nothing to hang on to, because we’re all just falling apart.
And the only thing to do under those circumstances is to learn how to swim. And to swim, you relax, you let go, you give yourself to the water, and you have to know how to breathe in the right way. And then you find that the water holds you up; indeed, in a certain way you become the water.
And so in the same way, one might say if one attempted to–again I say misleadingly–to put Zen into any sort of concept, it simply comes down to this:
So then what does Zen come down to ?