Trans Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften 16. Nr. Mai 2006

9.2. Buddhist Psychology: A Transcultural Bridge to Innovation and Reproduction
Herausgeber | Editor | Éditeur: Maurits G.T. Kwee (Buenos Aires)

Dokumentation | Documentation | Documentation


Maurits G.T. Kwee & Marja K. Taams (Transcultural Society for Clinical Meditation)



If Zen reflects an amalgam of Taoism and many Buddhist elements, NeoZen is defined as Zen with minimal Buddhism and a psychological approach to Zen, based on constructionist underpinnings. The essence of NeoZen is a synthesis of ‘EastWest’ mentalities for a new spirit in the art of living. NeoZen is a combination of Zen and western ways of living and the merits of hardwired science. The inclination to seek refuge in a guru seems to have increased now that adherence to religious creeds is on the decline. NeoZen’s message is to look inwardly and to be ‘a light unto your self’, an effort to close the gap in the millennia-lasting competing quest between ‘rational knowledge’ and ‘intuitive wisdom’. A seminal effort to have ‘the twain’ meet, was Austin’s ‘Zen and the Brain’ (1998) that took up where D.T. Suzuki’s Zen (absolute realism) left off. This perennial psychophysiology is supplemented by clinical meditation that discerns the functions of psychotherapy versus personal growth. Students may need psychotherapy to secure psychological balance enabling one to grow with NeoZen. Zen stems from Chan, which can best be categorized as a non-theistic, non-esoteric, no-nonsense, and down-to-earth Taoist way of living. Chan does not fit easily into the container ‘Buddhism’. A capsule history is presented of the heyday of Chan and Zen that started in the 6 th century and allegedly began with the legendary Bodhidharma and brought forth pioneers like Hui-neng, Ma-tsu, Huang-po, Lin-chi, and Wu-men. One major aspect of Zen is the koan, a technical device of paradox to help awaken suddenly and engender enduring satori. Another one is wuwei (going with the flow, while nothing remains undone). NeoZen also provides a postmodern constructionistic psychology of ‘rational-science-intuitive-wisdom’, a transcultural and social approach that strives for emotional happiness through the awareness of consciousness as total emptiness and meditation amidst all daily activities. (Abbreviations: P: Pali; S: Sanskrit; C: Chinese; J: Japanese, BCE: Before Common Era; c: century; d: died. The Chinese transcriptions follow the Wade-Giles system, the Japanese transcriptions are presented in romaji.)


1. Introduction

On 9/11, 2001, many people could have witnessed on their TV screens how a man ‘walked’ out the window of the 101 st WTC floor holding his briefcase as if he was going to the next meeting. His abhorrent ending to flee hell fire is left to one’s imagination as is the death of 3000 or more others when the airplanes crashed and the buildings collapsed. The hymn ‘God bless America’ did not seem to work that day (Bankart & Fisher, 2002). Viewing such a tragedy leads one to the age old question of what life is all about and how each individual can contribute to create a better world? Catastrophes bring the quest for meaning in life to the fore. The devastation many have felt parallels the experience of Siddharta Gautama, an Indian prince who lived 2500 years ago. Held away from illness, death, and decay by his parents, Siddharta was confined inside the palace walls, until one day he discovered the cruel ravages that go along with life. Thus, at age 29 he made a vow to seek the answer that might liberate humanity from suffering, left his wife and newborn son. Having endured extreme pains as a wandering beggar for six years, learning from gurus and meditating, he finally attained final nirvana and became known as the Buddha (the awakened one). The Buddha serves as a relevant (but mere) example of the many human beings who did become Buddha or wish to realize Buddha. Each of us inheres in Buddha-nature that intrinsic principle and capacity enabling each individual to be a Buddha like the Buddha (Warren, 1984). How to translate the value of Buddhahood for daily living in trying times when East-West civilizations meet, clash, and melt, is what this article is about.

The present framework, bridging a time lapse of two and a half millennia, narrativizes many dead men’s notions, accounts the exemplary value of the discourse between ‘the rational’ versus the ‘intuitive’, and explains the validity of the state of the Buddha’s self-realization for our era. Our quest is framed as a capsule history applying Hegelian dialectic (Stoerig, 1964). It starts with Indian Buddhism (5 th c BCE) as the thesis and Chinese Taoism (6 th c BCE) as the antithesis, championed by Lao Tzu (J: roshi) and Chuang Tzu (4 th c BCE). The synthesis born out of this dialectic is Chan(na), the Chinese pronunciation of jhana in Pali (a variety of the language the Buddha spoke), implying sitting meditation (S: dhyana) and Yogacara (a 4 th c Buddhist system championed by Vasubandhu that emphasized the practice of meditation to embody jnana [S: knowledge on non-duality and emptiness]). The symbol for Chan’s start is the legendary but historical figure Bodhidharma (5-6 th c). Since then Chan seemed to have continuously stripped off its Buddhist tenets and developed rather as a branch of Taoism, flowered and blossomed with numerous colorful geniuses roughly until 1300. Meanwhile Chan traveled to Japan, where Chan is pronounced as Zen, now a household word in the West. Championed by D.T. Suzuki Zen re-emphasized its Buddhist roots, became Zen Buddhism, and arrived in Europe and the USA in the second half of the 19 th century. Out of the synthesis called Chan/Zen the new thesis is formed, opposed, and complemented by the antithesis of applied methods of science, particularly medicine, psychology, and psychotherapy, and Judeo-Christian values.

What NeoZen entails and how it is made to fit postmodern men is the essence of the construction that follows, built upon earlier writings (Kwee, 1990; Kwee & Ellis, 1998; Kwee & Holdstock, 1996; Kwee, Ishii & Sakairi, 2001; Haruki & Kaku, 2000; Haruki, Ishii, Kwee, Sakairi, de Silva & Taams, 2000; Kwee & Taams, 2003)


2. Indian Buddhism: Hinayana and Mahayana

The Buddha (563-483 BCE) also called Shakyamuni, sage of the Shakya family, was the heir of a kingdom below the Himalayan foothills, now Nepal. The Buddha’s teachings - to look and find answers inwardly - are in itself an antithesis to the pantheism of mainstream Hinduism. The heart and sine qua non of all Buddhism is Shakyamuni’s awakening that allegedly took place on 12/8/528 BCE while sitting under a Bodhi tree, paradoxically after he gave up attaining by fanatical ascetic hardships. The Buddha preached his Middle Way of living between extremes and beyond opposites for 45 years until his death due to an illness with dysentery pains after eating a meal (Humphreys, 1967).

The Buddha’s Teaching (Dhamma or Dharma) was not directly recorded when expounded but written four centuries after his death according to an oral tradition that began with Ananda, the Buddha’s close attendant and cousin with a prodigious memory and great intellectual ability. To him the Buddha said:

And whoever, Ananda, now or after I am dead, shall be an island unto themselves and a refuge to themselves, shall take to themselves no other refuge, but seeing Truth as an island, seeing as a refuge Truth, shall not seek refuge in anyone but themselves - it is they, Ananda, among my disciples, who shall reach the Further Shore! But they must make the effort themselves. (Humphreys, 1987, p.94; italics added)

Ananda reached Buddhahood after Gautama deceased and became the second patriarch of Buddhism. The citation is especially of importance in NeoZen that emphasizes self-realization (i.e. not to follow anybody and to discard the Buddha eventually). NeoZen emphasizes the ways of the pratyakabuddha (of one’s own effort) and of the sravada (of hearing [and reading] the Dharma). Although scriptures are important for their own sake, it is the transmission beyond words (satsang) that is considered in Zen to be relevant (Wong, 1998). According to Zen lore, once at the Vulture Peak the Buddha picked up a flower and showed it to his assembly of monks. While everybody remained unmoved, one responded with a smile. The Buddha said:

I have here in my hand the doctrine of the right Dharma which is birthless and deathless, the true form of no-form and a great mystery. It is the message of non-dependence upon (words) and letters and is transmitted outside the scriptures. I now hand it to Mahakashyapa! (Humphreys, 1987, p.207)

Due to this act by the Buddha not only Mahakashyapa became the first patriarch but also Zen was born. The teaching that emphasizes transmission outside of doctrine that does not insist on written words and that lasted for 17 centuries in India might be called Indian Zen. Many other Buddhas preceded the Buddha and legend has it that his successor in a future age to renew and complete the Dharma will be the Buddha Maitreya (depicted in the Chinese context as a rotund laughing man surrounded by children).

The Dhamma of the Buddha as an earthly being belongs to what Mahayana Buddhists - reformers against orthodoxy, emanating around the 1 st c BCE - have called Hinayana. Hinayana means the Lesser Vehicle of the Early Buddhists, qualified as inferior because it strives for the individual’s own salvation that is exclusively attainable via monastic life. Mahayana, meanings Great Vehicle, acknowledges everybody’s potential to become a Buddha. Of the once 30 existing Hinayana schools, the only extant now is called Theravada (the teaching of the Elders). Nowadays there is no rivalry between the two camps. The pan-Buddhist aim is to end unwholesome karma (intentional self-afflicting activity) resulting in becoming an arhat (Theravada) or a Boddhisattva (Mahayana). The pinnacle is to cease the vicious rebirth cycle of negative or unwholesome emotions (samsara) and to attain nirvana (the extinction of unwholesome emotions). The arhat (somebody who has defeated his inner enemies) is the ideal of the Theravada that conservatively leans on the Pali Canon, teachings as reflected in the Tipitaka (three baskets): Sutta-pitaka (discourses), Vinaya-pitaka (precepts), and the Abhidhamma (philosophical and psychological commentaries on the suttas). Mahayana adherents endorse the ideal of the Bodhisattva, an awakened human being who postpones redemption to help save others out of compassion. Out of the latter the Mahayana tradition, based on Sanskrit sutras - made by anonymous monk brotherhoods (from the 1 st c BCE to the 4 th c) - evolved, replacing the historical Buddha with a transcendent-like Buddha-nature (tathata) present in all beings. Buddhahood is a state attainable for everybody, not only monks. To practice the Dharma it is not necessary to live in a monastery.

The Buddha - referred to in Mahayana as the Tathagata (he who lives in ‘suchness’: the true nature of all things) - enfolded the Four Noble Facts: (1) life is replete with suffering due to existence itself - disease, decay, and death occurring immediately after birth (duhkha); (2) the cause of suffering is greed and hate due to ignorance about impermanence and non-selfness of things (anatman); (3) the cessation of suffering (nirvana) is by radically extinguishing cravings, graspings, and clingings that hold on to I-me-mine/self; and (4) the way to end suffering is mental training according to the Eightfold Path. This comprises balanced speech, behavior, livelihood (virtue), effort, concentration, awareness (meditation), insight, and intention (wisdom). Another way to summarize the practice is the Bodhisattva’s six perfections (paramitas), rafts that lead to the other shore. These are: generosity, wisdom, discipline, forbearance, effort, and meditation. The Bodhisattva’s career consists of practicing these prajnaparamitas to uncover the ‘reality’ of Buddha-nature of sunyata. This is the emptiness of all concepts and appearances, and the interconnectedness originating from it, calling for compassion that helps to end suffering. To illustrate emptiness, in Hinayana things are like empty vessels, in Mahayana the vessel itself is also denied. Compassion (karuna) is a natural consequence of prajnas, depicted by Avalokiteshvara (S), Kuan-yin (C), or Kwannon, Kanzeon, Kannon (J) (a softness expressing figure that is neither male nor female with many helping arms and hands). The expression of this principal and innate virtue to help is based on the pervasive insight in suffering. NeoZen renders karuna as ‘illuminated compassion’, i.e. a sympathy and empathy aimed at selfless helping and forgiving (instead of giving away a fish, teaching how to fish). For the novice this might imply the cultivation of ‘illuminated self-interest’ (neither egotism, nor altruism) benefiting others and self. The context of such a practice is called metta (P) or maitreya (S) that refer to the balanced principle of ‘feeding’ one’s self first in order to be able to give more to others. To serve intrapersonal integrity (inner peace) anger is channeled through loving kindness and the practice of assertiveness. Such an attitude is based on the initiation of giving, the celebration of life, and solidarity with humankind. Eventually it will accrue a balanced interconnectedness, a sharing relationship in harmonious dialogue with the people crossing one’s path.

Another great Buddha, Nagarjuna (2 nd c), emphasized the two levels of reality construction comprising the provisional world of dharmas and the ultimate world of emptiness. These two levels exist side by side and have to be lived together at the same time. He also developed a philosophy based on the dialectics of total negation of opposites (e.g., if there is no subject, there is no subject) to demonstrate the notion of sunyata. If things are relative and empty the liberating wisdom dawns that nirvana and samsara ‘exist’ at one and the same conceptual level. Emptiness and nonduality are important cornerstones of Zen, not only to be understood intellectually but also to be experienced. Of special importance for Zen’s development was Yogacara (school of meditation practice; 4 th c) that emphasizes dhyana (sitting) and jnana (knowing) techniques. The latter contends that all phenomenal experiences are representations and projections of the mind. Perception of external and internal stimuli (dharmas) is a creative construction of mind and memory (to which we add: that cannot be otherwise meaningful than as a social construction). Such consciousness one has to be aware of (thus an awareness of awareness/consciousness as a dharma). Quintessential for Zen is the Yogacara related Lankavatara Sutra (a 4 th c text translated from Sanskrit into Chinese in the 5 th c), a Mahayana scripture based on the Buddha’s responses to questions at a gathering during a visit to the present Sri Lanka. It contends that illumination eliminates duality of subject versus object (recognizing ‘suchness’) and that the teaching on Buddhahood is transmitted par excellence without words. Based on the Mind-only teaching of the Yogacara, it contends that consciousness is illusory: concepts are mind representations and projections to be looked through as non-dual in nature (if stripped off from language and words, hence ‘a wordless teaching’).

Mahayana teachings include most of the Theravada tenets (except those that expound there is a metaphysical self-nature in nirvana, body/mind, awareness, and some of its concomitants). The core of the Early Buddhist practice is vipashyana also known as ‘insight/wisdom meditation’ and samatha, a meditation characterized by sitting to calm the mind, analyze the mind, and empty the mind. Mindfulness is a general factor that enables the practitioner to surf from now-to-now while watching dharmas in a nonjudgmental way. Zen goes one step further by endorsing to apply mindfulness in action, while doing our household tasks. Zen’s mindfulness is rather of a kind to drop the mind, to be no-mind, thus to think not and instead experience the unfolding present wherein one will not forget to partake in civil duties. Chan/Zen exist until today and is known as Son in Korea, Thien in Vietnam. (Dumoulin, 1988; Robinson & Johnson, 1982; Fischer-Schreiber, Ehrhard, Friedrichs, & Diener, 1989).


3. Buddhism’s antithesis in China: Taoism and Confucianism

The origin of Zen can only be understood in the historical context of indigenous Chinese ways and principles of living including its omnipresent view emphasizing balance and harmony (Chan, 1963). Mahayana entered China via Central Asia in the 1 st century BCE; the earliest record stems from the year 2 BCE. The first Chinese-Buddhist historical figure is the prince of Parthia (from the eastern outskirts of the Silk Road), called An Shih-kao. Entering China as a monk, he started to translate Buddhist scriptures in the Han capital Loyang around 148 using more or less equivalent Taoist terms. Taoist coloring was infused by all translators. Because of their adaptations they were called Buddho-Taoists. Their works constitute the basis for Mahayana to become the supreme Tao in China for several centuries to come. From the 3 rd century on these translations boosted the practices of dhyana (to tranquilize), jnana (to remove ignorance), and prajna (to gain insight in sunyata). The matching of Buddhist with Taoist concepts leads to the import into Buddhist’s texts of terms like the Tao (the way, principle, law, or teaching) and chi (life force or vital energy). In Zen, Buddhist meditation came to mean a technique of sudden illumination (Chen, 1964).

Neo-Taoism prevailed in those days - a revival of Taoism that came out of isolation to become an integral part of community life - after two centuries of Confucian dominance. Metaphysics that went beyond natural phenomena in seeking reality beyond space and time was re-discovered in the writings of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu. Both belong to the philosophical Taoism of the 6-4 th century BCE, an offspring of ‘religious’ (deifying) Taoism that started with the Yellow Emperor, who allegedly lived in the 3 rd millennium BCE. The legendary Huang Ti was supposed to have created mankind by exposing earthen statues to the breath of the world’s beginning and to organize social order by allocating a name to each family. Also he was credited inventions like writing and medicine, as well as the breeding of silk worms, the compass, the pottery wheel, etc. Esoteric Taoism consists of various schools aiming physical immortality by Taoist yoga practices, alchemical exercises involving breath, body, and sexuality. At the end of the 4 th century BCE the doctrine of the five elements (energies) was formulated in search for the elixir of immortality. Many groupings were made, for seasons, tastes, numbers, directions, planets, signs of the lunar calendar, etc., constituting together a whole cosmology (based on the idea that the body is a microcosmic reflection of the macrocosm). To illustrate, here are the elements (with a corresponding systematization of colors and organs below):

  Wood -> Fire -> Earth -> Metal -> Water (Elements)
  Green Red Yellow White Blue (Colors)
  Liver Heart Spleen Lungs Kidneys (Organs)

It is said in the ‘Tao-te ching’ (Tao and its course), attributed to the naturalist Lao Tzu, that the Tao ascribes to an all-embracing, all-encompassing, prime principle beyond words that gives rise to the universe. The Tao is nameless and cannot be told about, and if it can, it cannot be the real eternal Tao. The general view is that this work could in fact not be written before the 4 th or 3 rd century BCE and thus cannot originate with a historical figure Lao Tzu (Fischer-Schreiber et al., 1989). Combine this with the fact that the exact period of his living in the 6 th century BCE is unknown (the only historical record stems from the 2 nd-1 st century BCE) plus the fact that the mystic Chuang Tzu (369-286 BCE) dealt with the same themes and espoused identical views as Lao Tzu, and the present hypothesis comes to the fore: the two men might have been one and the same. Anyway, the ‘Chuang Tzu’ highlights living in wuwei (going with the flow while nothing remains undone), the relativity and identity of all opposites (e.g., good-bad, life-death, subject-object) to be unified with the Tao.(1) Adherents of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu, ‘quietists’, lived a contemplative, reclusive, and simple life. They should be differentiated from the religious Taoists with their temple cults and esotericism, the ‘immortals’, who practiced chi regulation. It was during the 6 th century that the latter breed of folk Taoism abandoned the search for an external elixir and emphasized instead the search for an inner pearl. Taoism became an imagery based meditation to cultivate various chi regulating techniques as described in ‘The Secret of the Golden Flower’ still lectured today (see e.g. Kwee, 2000a). Chan’s Yogacara and the practice of the Taoist yoga became blurred. The Buddhist illumination can be attained by an inner marriage between YinYang resulting in the Tao symbolized by an immanent Tai Chi , representing the primordial source of everything and nothing. By this time the influx and influence of Mahayana and its synergy with Taoism have pervaded many walks of life. Its exponent par excellence, Chan, could thus have found a warm reception. As a Chan saying goes ‘the wondrous Tao consists in carrying water and chopping wood’, reflecting the simple life contemplative Taoists endorse.

Interestingly, a growing number of Mahayanists emerging in the 4 th century India - known as Vajrayanists (diamond vehicle way) or Tantrayanists (named after their instructional texts called tantras), nowadays to be found in Tibet and neighboring areas - elaborated on the Yogacara’s transcendent-like Buddha-nature. They innovated educational metaphors like the three Buddha bodies coming out of an empty Buddha womb, which also emanates a pantheon of five cosmic Buddhas and five Bodhisattvas. Thus out of a teaching of pervasive emptiness, developed a cosmological system of five elements that is almost identical to the Taoist cosmological system. Thus, many Taoist ideas and terms are similar and in line with Mahayana tenets and Chan became an extension of Taoism with a Mahayana veneer and the Buddha figure as a human example of self-realization in the centre. All of this helped the further acceptance of the Dharma in China. Despite its functionality, it also cast a shadow: many came to believe this cosmology to be real. Nowadays we find the Dharma in too many cultures trapped if not hijacked by devotional and religious, theistic-like, practices of deifying and prostrating.

Neo-Confucianism - wherein Taoism and Mahayana are incorporated syncretically, reached a pinnacle in the 11-12 th century - already existed since the dawn of Confucianism (Chan, 1963). When the Dharma penetrated Chinese civilization, Confucianism as a ruling doctrine in the social and administrative order and family life was temporarily weak. The writings of Kung-fu Tzu (551-479 BCE), a creed for the upper class, has prevailed in collective life until state examinations were abolished in 1905 and the corrupted system, not adaptable to an industrial age, crumbled. The leading tenet of Confucius is humane-ness and benevolence by practicing ‘loving-kindness’ toward fellow human beings. ‘Do not do unto others what you would not want them do unto you’ is a well-known Confucian value. Confucians stress society living and are not at all interested in ‘yonder’. They attack the Buddhist constructs of karma and rebirth, misunderstanding them as metaphysics and reincarnation, by insisting that since one does not even know this life, how can one know about after life? Although Confucian rules of living are frequently subsumed as a religion, Confucianism has no ambition whatsoever to seek individual salvation. This mentality reflects the importance of Confucianism as an antithesis of Mahayana (and of Taoism). It was an enormous task for the Buddhist apologetics to break through the Confucian system of public service and education they themselves were molded in and to explain why a Buddhist soteriology is useful.

The history of Mahayana in China constantly showed anti-clerical outbursts and persecutions (Chen, 1964). For instance, there were times that by edict monks were defrocked, monks were executed, and temples, sutras, statues, images, and paintings destroyed. Most ravaging was the great Tang persecution, the proscription about 845 after a factional strife in the court instigated by Taoists. More than 200.000 monks and nuns were deported and forced to public labor, about 40.000 objects vanished, and nearly 5000 monasteries destroyed. The 20 th century Maoist Cultural Revolution further ravaged what was left; although numbers are unknown it must have been devastating. The ‘Buddhist conquest’ met resistance in the psychology of the Chinese mind that reiterated throughout history the same objections: the Dharma is foreign, unpractical, unproductive, unfilial, ascetic, superstitious, parasitic, and antisocial. There was no compelling need to stop paying respect to the ancestors. Monastic life, celibacy, or begging were anathema to the family minded Chinese. Growing into the stratosphere yet remaining deeply rooted in the earth is a Taoist notion pervasive in Chan.

In the end it is impossible to state that China has incorporated the Dharma (Hu, 1961). Although it had been significantly influential in the history of Chinese civilization, Mahayana was almost totally eclipsed by a regenerated Confucianism and its indigenous, complementary Taoist counterpart from the 13 th century onward. It is interesting to note that in India the Dharma also vanished in the same period, most probably due to blurring differences with Brahmanism and Advaita Vedanta, expounding a teaching of non-dualism as well, and the destruction of the Buddhist University at Nalanda in 1193 by Turkish muslim invaders).


4. Chan: the synthesis, a baby with a Chinese face

The historical wedding of Mahayana and Taoism is a unification of sunyata with the Tao. This marriage brought forth Chan that struggled in its childhood to acquire a Chinese face, and to form a Taoist character. This entails a down-to-earth-matter-of-fact mentality, relatively free from dogma, creed, superstition, and canonical texts. Chan grew up into adulthood to become a special branch of Taoism with Mahayana elements. Therefore, although Mahayana almost drowned in the ocean of Confucian life down the centuries, Chan was a notable exception. In fact, in the 12-13 th century Chan was virtually the only Dharma in China. As a Taoist extension Chan conceptualized the Buddha as but one, though excellent, example to identify with in an individual’s quest for the Tao. The Tao became equivalent to Buddha-nature, humanly attainable ‘herenow’ and in ‘this very body’. The prime concern in those early days was psychological: how to come to grips with the nature of illumination and to cultivate Buddha-nature? By focusing primarily on the working mechanisms of the mind to stop thinking, there was a tendency to abolish Buddhist monastic life. Chanists insisted that ‘There is nothing much in the Dharma’ and ultimately, everything that gets in the way to grasp the immediate experience of illumination is discarded, even the Buddha himself (Fung, 1961).

Just like a child created by two parents but only bearing the father’s name, Chan includes Mahayana, but Mahayana does not include Chan (Grigg, 1994; Nan, 1995). Surely it is not only in the name that Chan is a Taoist offspring. Living on Chinese soil the Chanists’ proclivity was to live the Taoist way. This is in a pure natural environment in Arcadian poverty far from the city and by the eccentric image of the Chan master that is similar to the Taoist sage’s image of a ‘crazy’ drunk who is used to transmit his message beyond words. This craze can also be tasted in many iconoclastic-anarchistic expressions by the Chinese masters who are full of ironic humor - such as e.g. ‘The Buddha is a piece of manure’, ‘Kill The Buddha’, ‘Clean your ass with sutras’ (e.g. Chan, 1963). Chan even possesses a Confucian outlook like in the saying ‘No labor, no food’. Most interesting and only possibly innovated by the Chinese mind is the kung-an (J: koan) - originally meaning legal document decisive for determining truth or falsehood - a technique elaborated below. Typically it is a little dialogue on logic containing a poignant question and an enigmatic, baffling answer eliciting sudden awakening. Whatever Chan is or is not, it is surely Chinese by its realism, content, form, tactics, and humorous transmission based on a love for the paradox. If one concludes that Chan could never have been developed elsewhere, it should be considered a Chinese offspring. Thus, for various reasons Chan Buddhism is a misnomer inhering in a wrong denotation with a wrong connotation making Chan the only correct name for the discipline.

The golden age of Chan was in the Sui (581-618), Tang (618-907), and Five (907-960) dynasties; during the Sung (960-1276) Chan’s twinkling and creative vitality began to diminish gradually, but survived to stay alive and kicking further eastward in Japan. The popular, but anachronistic history of Chan begins with a mission from India, this time via the sea journey of the monk Bodhidharma (C: Tamo; probably 460-534). He was a blue-eyed Persian or southern Indian Brahmin prince who personifies the historical ‘trait d’union’ with the Buddha, but in fact was one of many monks who came to China from the West. According to the Zennists’ lineage he is the 28 th successor of the Buddha and the 1 st Zen patriarch who allegedly spawned Zen in China as a special transmission of unorthodox teaching. The emphasis is on a direct pointing to one’s innermost core (heart-mind) and to discover one’s own Buddha-nature. This goes back to the apocryphal tradition of Mahakashyapa’s secret smile and the Lankavatara Sutra. A transmission without words was considered especially apt for the Chinese mind. Legend tells that Bodhidharma arrived in Guang Zhou to stay 50 years in China. Instructive for novices is the vignette of his meeting with the pious emperor Wu, who asked: ‘What merit have I earned by my temple building, donation and offerings?’ Bodhidharma said: ‘No merit at all.’...’they are like shadows following the form, inhering no reality of their selves...Then the emperor asked: ‘What is the supreme meaning of the sacred truth?’ Bodhidharma: ‘Vast emptiness (i.e., sunyata), nothing sacred.’ Emperor: ‘Who is facing me?’ Bodhidharma: ‘Don’t know’ (i.e. no-self) (Ferguson, 2000). The vignette overthrows the first of the paramitas and refutes the karmic notion of merit (good and evil deeds are both empty) as sunyata in one blow. A revolution indeed! The semi-legendary Bodhidharma was probably not the sole originator of Chan, but the symbol for its start emanating from the warm embracing of Mahayana by the Taoists. A Buddho-Taoist who mentioned Zen’s conditio sine qua non ‘sudden illumination’ in an early stage was Chih-tun (314-366) a renowned student of Chuang Tzu and founder of a prajna school. An early account identified 450 monks and among them 21 practitioners from the 1 st century to 519. Another historian recorded 133 biographies of early Chanists, Bodhidharma was only one of them (Tao-hsuan, 596-667). In 550 Northern China counted 30.000 Buddhist temples and monasteries (Vos & Zuercher, 1964). Hu Shih (1932) assessed that there must have existed several Chan movements simultaneously in the 6 th century and submitted that Chan did not arise out of Indian dhyana sitting but as a revolt against it:

The Chinese mentality is practical and abhors metaphysical speculation. All the religions and philosophies of ancient China were free from the fantastic imaginativeness and hair-splitting analysis and gigantic architectonic structure which characterize all religious and philosophical literature of India. When China was brought face to face with India, China was overwhelmed, dazzled and dumbfounded by the vast output of the religious zeal and genius of the Indian nation. China acknowledged its defeat and was completely conquered. (p.12)

After bewilderment, during an incubation of centuries and a process of simplification and purification to ease the Chinese mind ‘The School of Sudden Awakening’ appeared apparently suddenly as a baby with its own face.

Its founder was the rebel with a cause, Tao-sheng (355-434), who rejected his teacher’s ‘simplistic’ idea of the cosmic Amitabha Buddha’s paradise of a promised rebirth in a pure land in the West. Instead he promulgated that all beings already possess Buddha-nature that can be realized through the ineffable experience of sudden illumination (C: chien-hsing; J: kensho or C: wu-hsin; J: satori). His teaching is based on the indivisibility of intuitive wisdom and the Tao; Buddha-nature and the world of appearances are identical as are samsara-and-nirvana, good-evil, and subject-object. To reach the other shore, total oneness with the Tao, will always take place suddenly, not in parts or gradually (even if study and practice takes place gradually, sic), although the intensity of the flash may differ. Awakening ‘is’ when one suddenly realizes that one has always been illuminated before and that there was nothing to be attained after all. Long before Bodhidharma Tao-sheng espoused the Chan ideology that good actions, including long and arduous sitting, merit no reward of nirvana. Only the immediate awakening counts, the rest is fluff. The consequence of the thesis that all beings possess Buddha-nature is that also non-Buddhists can attain Buddhahood. All these ideas went against newly vested Buddhist interests leading Tao-sheng to be banished, but later vindicated as a great master.

Both Tao-sheng and Bodhidharma wiped away the tenet that good deeds entail retribution. This notion had far reaching consequences for the thinking about karma and reincarnation that did not suit the Chinese ‘herenow’ mentality and its penchant for food. The seeds for a later battle between the adherents of gradual and sudden enlightenment seem traceable in Bodhidharma’s asceticism. He practiced ‘wall gazing’ a variety of dhyana sitting C: zuo chan; J: zazen), allegedly for 9-years, i.e. contemplating in lotus sitting posture facing a wall. In legends and images he is depicted solemn and serious without any humor that characterizes Chan. His instructions were based on the ascetic forbearing of pain and suffering and the canonical text of the Lankavatara Sutra to an extent that his coterie was called the Lanka School. This indicates the allegiance to written text, next to the spoken word Chan is characterized by. The typical Chinese innovation of sudden awakening that lies in the core of Chan is conspicuously absent from Bodhidharama’s legendary sitting.


5. Chan’s Golden Age: Northern versus Southern Schools

Ferguson (2000) discerns three periods counting 167 masters in Chan’s heritage: (1) the legendary period (480-755) with heroic pioneers like Bodhidharma and Hui-neng; (2) the classical period (755-950) including such exponents as Ma-tsu, Huang-po, Lin-chi; and (3) the literary period (950-1260) including the koan master Wu-men. The message of these outstanding representatives are exposed below (Fung, 1961; Chan, 1963; Chen, 1964; Wong, 1998; Hoover, 1980; Grigg, 1994; Nan, 1995; Cleary, 2001)

The final settlement with Bodhidharma’s technique of dhyana sitting and with Mahayana itself, marking the start of a new ‘Chinese’ era, was made by Hui-neng (638-713), considered the 6 th Zen patriarch and the innovator of Chan. Everything we know about him stems from the ‘Platform Sutra’ (780), the only Chinese text ever called a ‘sutra’ that is named after a specially constructed platform to deliver a ‘sermon’ to 10.000 people. This is understandable considering the fact that the text is replete with Sanskrit terminology, while its content expounds a Chan message. A Buddhist canon status is in blatant contradiction to what Hui-neng had to say as an illiterate. Hui-neng showed himself to be a not uncultivated person as he knowledgeably referred to the Mahayana sutras in his sutra. He is awakened not by meditation, but from hearing somebody reciting a verse of the ‘Diamond Sutra’ (‘let your mind flow freely without clinging’), making him and many Chanists Sravaka Buddhas. Not yet ordained as a monk, Hui-neng received the insignia of succession from the 5 th patriarch after a contest for succession. The favorite candidate ‘the rational’ Shen-hsiu (probably 606-706) wrote on a wall of the monastery: ‘The body is the Bodhi Tree, the mind is a bright mirror on a stand, polish it diligently at all times, so dust will not take hold’. This hymn was rebutted by ‘the intuitive’ Hui-neng: ‘The bodhi is no tree and does not exist, there is no stand and no mirror, since everything is already empty, where can dust go and cling?’ (Wong, 1969)

Hui-neng allegedly remained in hiding for 16 years, waiting for the right time to reveal his function. Several indications about him appear symbolic for the Taoist heritage in Chan, suggesting a break with Mahayana tenets. The historic authenticity of the Hui-neng classic is questionable as the earliest extant copy dates from the end of the 8 th century. It seems that Chan’s patriarchal tradition was manufactured to acquire a halo of authority. In the context of the political struggle during the 8 th century between the Northern and the Southern School of Chan the text was most probably fabricated by Shen-hui (670-762), Hui-neng’s diligent disciple who tried to triumph over the popular Northern school. By promoting the idea that Hui-neng was the 6 th patriarch Shen-hui succeeded to have his account accepted as the standard history. After both died, an imperial commission declared Hui-neng the 6 th and Shen-hui the 7 th patriarch, a brilliant political victory. Thus Hui-neng’s Southern School of Sudden Illumination overtook the Orthodox Northern School of Gradual Illumination that emphasizes Bodhidharma’s sitting. There is no trace that Hui-neng did in fact ever pass on the kasaya (cotton ceremonial robe) and patriarchal bowl of transmission (either leaving the issue of patriarchy obscure; Wong, 1998). The ‘Sutra of Hui-neng’ is a Chinese text to suit the Chinese mind as it has the potency to replace the Lankavatara Sutra.

Let’s turn to what Hui-neng had to say. He promulgated a Taoist-quietist ‘Teaching of the Mind’ (hsin-tung), a psychology how to attain wu and wuwei through the sudden illumination of hearing. It prepares the mind to be receptive for illumination and teaches to go with the flow while nothing remains undone. Illumination comes from preparedness to have faith in one’s self: ‘Buddha is intrinsically within you’. Illumination goes along with an wisdom (prajna) of emptiness (sunyata). These are flashes of ‘aha+haha’ experiences erupting spontaneously in a state of awareness characterized by absorption in the ‘herenow’ (S: samadhi; C: ting; J: jo) that is correlated to but not caused by sitting. Chan is an instantaneously seeing into one’s Buddha-nature not always attained through practice. Dhyana-sitting is clinging to a body form and should be replaced by ‘no-mind’ (C: wu-hsin; J: mushin). This is a ‘sitting’ in the mind that is free from clinging by having dropped the body, the mind, and the dropping itself. No-mind, which is neither thought nor no-thought, can be present in all action anytime, any place, whenever non-duality prevails. Halls of worship in temples might as well be replaced by lecture halls as one’s body is one’s temple. Intuitive wisdom wells from an inner source unexpectedly, spontaneously, suddenly like air surfacing out of water. This is not only for sages, but for ordinary men and women as well, as instantaneous awakening only requires an intrinsic Buddha-nature (or immanent Tao), even present in manure and urine. Although Taoist in content, Chan’s wording even after Hui-neng is replete with Sanskrit terminology probably a ‘cool’ way of expressing oneself.

To expedite students to ‘wake-up-and-awaken’ the master used peculiar, witty, ‘mad’ devices to shock, shout, beat, interject, gesture, tear sutras, snap a finger, pinch a nose, vomit at Chan, urinate in temples, burn wooden Buddha statues, etc. These didactic behaviors beyond rationality are expressions of a wordless transmission and a Taoist iconoclastic anarchy. A master never explains: the finger that points to the moon is not the moon. Champion of these practices is Ma-tsu (709-788). Here is little story about him as a student. Ma-tsu often practiced sitting. Asked what he hopes to attain from sitting by his master, he answered: ‘Buddhahood’. The master picked up a tile and rubbed it; Ma-tsu asked why he was doing that. The master replied: ‘I am polishing the tile into a mirror’. Ma-tsu exclaimed: ‘How can polishing make a mirror out of a tile?’ The master replied: ‘How can sitting make you a Buddha?’ In the 10 th generation Huang-po (d: 850) had a similar didactic. Master I-hsuan tells his student about his meeting with Huang-po as a novice. ‘What is the basic idea extolled by the Buddha?’ Before he could finish the question Huang-po hit him. He went three times and got beaten every time. When a monk explained that Huang-po had been kind and earnest with him, I-hsuan instantly awakened and exclaimed: ‘There is not much in Buddhism after all!’ I-hsuan (d: 867), is known after the powerful school he had founded called Lin-chi (J: Rinzai), one of the five Chan schools of the 9 th century, nota bene during the Tang persecution. His famous admonition to kill the Buddhas, kill the patriarchs, kill the arhats sounds as if it had helped to survive the political climate. Lin-chi applied the whole gamut of the earlier foreshadowed ‘lightning’ techniques hitting students in a clear blue sky. His teaching was so influential and vital that it stayed alive and kicking up until today. The indubitable Tao can be experienced when a question is dissolved, although it is still rationally unsolved. He warned that questioning itself hampers direct experience, as in the search for the ox one is actually riding on.

After Lin-chi a creative period started in the middle of the 10 th century lasting 300 years when the koan (C: kung-an) became the centerpiece of Chan’s systematized training method. An early koan applied by Hui-neng is: ’without dwelling in good or bad, what is your original face before your parents were born?’ It might require a few years to ‘dissolve’ this koan, but there is no absolute need to study a single Buddhist sutra. The koan is the ultimate flowering of Chan that goes beyond the realm of thinking and thus goes even beyond the paradox. A koan is a classic ‘case’ setting up a standard of judgment beyond private opinion. It is used as a device to stop the ‘chattering’ mind from thinking and creates a receptive mind for kensho/satori. It takes the form of a little story often using a ‘question and answer’ format (C: wen-ta; J: mondo), a master-student dialogue, with a punch line going beyond logic. Quintessential is the paradox by which flashes of intuitive wisdom are provoked. The aim is to expedite sudden awakening when rational thinking takes a quantum leap, if it does not stop at all. There are 1700 koans and two main collections: ‘Blue Cliff Record’ (C: Pi-yen-lu; J: Hekiganroku) and ‘Gateless Gate’ (C: Wu-men-kuan; J: Mumonkan). The first is such a complex written text that Ta-hui (1089-1163) had all copies available burnt in true Chan style. Wu-men (1183-1260) compiled 48 easy to read koans that are being used for education. The first is: ‘Has a dog the Buddha nature?’ ‘Emptiness!’ Kakushin (1207-1298), a Japanese master, became Wu-men’s dharma successor (Hoover, 1980).


6. Chan in Japan: Rinzai, Soto, and Suzuki-Zen

Although Chan has been brought to Japan in the 7 th century, it was Eisai (1141-1215) who introduced Chan (and its drink: tea) successfully in 1191 against the background of Mahayana that flourished in the highest circles since its arrival in 552. He is credited as the founder of Japanese Chan, having received a Rinzai school (C: Lin-chi) seal of transmission and being also the teacher of Dogen (1200-1253), Soto (C: Tsao-Tung) school founder in Japan and fervent proponent of ceaseless sitting. The origin of Soto is an unknown Chinese Northern school of gradual enlightenment that emphasized shikantaza (Fischer-Schreiber et al., 1989). This is only sitting in meditation (zazen) in ‘mindfulness’, a tradition that goes back to sutra reading/chanting, dhyana yoga sitting in lotus posture, and Bodhidharma. In contrast, Rinzai Zen is more focused on ‘mind-emptiness’ and sudden enlightenment, kensho/satori, via concentration and ‘intuitive introspection’ (kanna) by means of koans not per se requiring sitting, and going back in its tradition to Hui-neng and Taoism.

However eventually and in general, both schools in Japan apply koans, zazen, and sutras in their teachings, making Zen overall resemble a Chan with lots of Mahayana. The Buddhist aspect, filtered out in China during seven centuries, was re-imported to such an extent that in Japan the discipline deserves the name ‘Zen Buddhism’ instead of just Zen. Here the term Zen will be reserved to the equivalent of Chan: an extension of Taoism plus Mahayana elements. The renewed emphasis on Buddhism was possible because of Japanese leanings towards authority and rituals, contrary to Chan’s iconoclastic anarchy, and a prior period of more than six centuries of Buddhist prosperity. The interchange between China and Japan diminished in the 14 th century. While in China Confucianism overshadowed a deteriorating Chan, Zen Buddhism followed a bright course in the land of the rising sun. Endorsed by the patronage of the ruling shogun warriors up until the 20 th century, Zen Buddhism’s impact gradually imbued Japanese culture and daily life.

The old struggle between the Northern and Southern schools, settled long ago in China, was rekindled in Japan and seems to have continued unabatedly. To reiterate, the controversy, narrowed down, was between gradual kensho/satori, attainable by the rational-behavioral assignment to exercise, by enduring sitting in the lotus posture, versus sudden kensho/satori provoked by concentration on the covert behavior of the mind, i.e. the non-rational cognitive content of a koan, irrespective of the overt behavior. Having three times as many adherents, the ‘behavioral’ Soto school, rationally endorsing sitting, was and is far more popular than the Rinzai ‘cognitivists’, whose minds are set to solve the (unsolvable) non-rational paradox in thinking. In 14 th century Japan Rinzai was as powerful as the samurai, who embraced Zen Buddhism to improve bushido, combat skills and a readiness ever to die. Important temples arose radiating the close ties with power, as for example the Kyoto Daitoku-ji. Among many Rinzai masters are the eccentric Ikkyu (15 th c), bastard son of an emperor who sang the praises of wine and sex in profound wit as a genuine Taoist, Bankei (17 th c), the precursor of the great Hakuin (18 th c), father of modern Rinzai, who revived Zen, and D.T. Suzuki (20 th c) who exported Zen Buddhism to the West.

Bankei (1622-1693) is relevant as his views fit modern times (Haskel, 1984). He insisted on the relevance of spontaneity in daily living as a reaction to a declining Zen that was propped up by classical Chinese texts on dead waste paper. Instead of relying on old behavioral or cognitive devices, he promulgated a ‘Zen of the Unborn’, a direct teaching in spoken language (Japanese). Bankei was like a midwife helping the Unborn to be born (resembling Socrates). Koans are worn tools and zazen is nothing more than the Unborn sitting peacefully. Buddha-nature is not something to achieve by discipline; it is already perfectly present ‘right where you are’. There is never a moment one is not illuminated. Therefore it is impossible to become something that one already is. To reveal the Unborn, impeding habits of doing, thinking, and feeling - learned and frozen in memory - should be de-conditioned. It needs to be realized by just being one’s ‘self’, i.e. doing exactly what one does without judging. Accumulated anger, fear, sadness, and according thoughts deluding the Unborn should be erased by dialogue, exhortation, and spontaneous ‘herenow’ experiencing practice (e.g. sounds of running water). If all conditionings are dropped, the Unborn comes to the fore. What it is cannot be described in words. One simply ‘knows’ and is beyond any doubt when it is there. The silent transmission of the ancestors is replaced by the ‘three inches of his tongue’ that seldom referred to the Buddha or sutras. For many he was not Buddhist enough. Bankei sounds like a psychotherapist avant la lettre by applying verbal means to transmit a non-verbal treasure and by attending to the emotions. This pioneer practiced what he preached: he did not leave any writings of his message.

Hakuin (1689-1768) denounced Bankei’s teaching of non-practicing as laziness and endorsed ‘Zen Amidst Action’ (Waddell, 2001), a way of ‘cultivation through non-cultivation’. He meant a practice of chewing, swallowing, spitting a koan while one is doing whatever one is doing, whenever, wherever. The aim is to discard impeding emotions, images, cognitions by a perpetuating concentration on a koan. As his predecessor Daie (C: Ta-hui), he extolled that the true man/woman of Zen acts, walks, or sits without minding the activity. S/he is like somebody who accidentally dropped a broken string of precious pearls amidst a crowd. While pushing, rushing, weeping, s/he does not forget to stay focused on searching and picking up the pieces, despite all the people and the disturbance created. Thus one pursues Zen without being distracted by any daily hassle. Hakuin invented the koan ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’ and a koan curriculum for satori and ‘after-satori’. This entails an intensive training of cracking up to 500 koans. He classified these koans in: (1) Hosshin to deepen glimpses of Buddha-nature or initial ‘in-sights’ of emptiness. E.g. ‘Empty-handed, yet holding a hoe; walking, yet riding a water buffalo.’ (2) Kikan to avoid ‘Zen sickness’ (stuck in emptiness) and discern the phenomenal world as well. E.g. ‘What is the meaning of Bodhidharma coming to the West?’ ‘Oaktree in the garden!’ (3) Gonsen to clarify the hidden and subtle meanings of phrases and metaphors used by the ancient masters. E.g. A monk asked: ‘What is Joshu?’ ‘East gate, west gate, south gate, north gate’, Joshu replied. (4) Nanto to penetrate the place difficult to pass through evoking great doubt and requiring an absolute resolve. E.g. ‘It is like a water buffalo passing through a window. Its head, horns, and four legs all pass through. Why can’t its tail pass through too?’ (5) Goi to test the student by Tozan’s verses (C: Tung-shan; 8 th c.) differentiating five degrees of satori (see Miura & Fuller Sasaki, 1965).

The ultimate is represented in the death koan: ‘When I am dead, where has the true person of no rank gone?’ Having undergone a harsh training himself Hakuin demanded much of his disciples as evidenced by the death of at least 70 during training. His bushido, ‘dead-or-alive’ samurai Zen with ‘absolute resolve’ resembles the ‘torturous’ zazen of Soto that he also had practiced. Not believing in the ‘silent illumination’ of sitting, he decried shikantaza as ‘the’ path to satori accusing these adherents from escapism. He applied zazen as a technique and even sung its praise in a poem ending with the lines: ‘Nirvana is before your eyes; this very place, the Lotus Land, this very body, the Buddha’. The multifaceted Hakuin caused a breakthrough when explaining that the ‘inside teaching’, studying the ancient writings of the patriarchs, does not interfere with the teaching ‘outside’ the scripture. Thus, Mahayana tenets re-appeared to such an extent that he proclaimed ‘Ten Commandments’ - curiously resembling a Judeo-Christian message.

By the time D.T.Suzuki (1870-1966) entered the scene the student of Zen Buddhism could find a 14 centuries pile of literature. Suzuki himself (once a student at Waseda) left some 100 books in Japanese and 30 in English. He succeeded in disseminating Zen as the crown jewel of Buddhism and aroused a great interest in it in the West. D.T. ‘remarried’ the loosely connected Sino-Indian couple into ‘Zen Buddhism’ that he embodied. He translated and commented the Lankavatara Sutra, the cradle of Chan, securing the historical link to Bodhidharma and the Buddha. Supporting the study of the patriarchs’ footsteps, it says for instance:

To penetrate into the Fundamental Principle and not to penetrate into the teachings on it is like opening your eyes in the dark. To penetrate into the teachings and not into the Fundamental Principle is like shutting your eyes in the daylight. To penetrate into both the Fundamental Principle and the teachings on it is like opening your eyes in the clear light of day. (Miura & Fuller Sasaki, 1965, p.53).

Despite Hui-neng’s Platform Sutra, the Lankavatara Sutra is studied to seal one’s understanding of satori. As the proverb goes: ‘If you master the source but not the teachings, whenever you open your mouth you will speak at random; if you master the teachings but not the source, you will be like a one-eyed dragon.’ (Nan, 1995, p.80).

‘Suzuki-Zen’ is intellectual and leans on Rinzai not Soto. He hardly referred to Dogen’s ceaseless body practice. Studying is sanctioned as a check for the students’ development and a means that might elicit satori by itself. This is in full accord with the Sravaka Buddha idea that illumination can be attained by mere hearing the Dharma or reading the sutras. Endorsing the value of a restless study of the scriptures, D.T. admonished that intellection of the ineffable is only a means for communicating. Any finger pointing to the moon should never be taken for the moon itself. Any analytic discourse or dualism relentlessly closes the gate for satori. His Buddhist psychology refers to the Lankavatara Sutra and a psychology of non-self (Suzuki, 1932). He made a distinction between the ‘absolute Self’(=non-self) and the ‘relative self’ that contains the psychology of I, me, and mine. The relative I in for instance ‘I am’ cannot stand by itself; it presupposes an absolute Self (emptiness) behind that makes ‘I-ness’ possible. The Self/non-self is a storehouse of creative possibilities where we find all that can be stored in consciousness: miracles and mysteries, natural and supernatural, ordinary and extraordinary, Almighty God and a good god, wolves and lambs, briars and roses’ (Suzuki, 1963, p.376). The paradox of Self is that one has to loose it first (non-self) in order to find it again, just like the man who had lost his glasses; they were on his nose (Suzuki, 1980). So... and why did he go to the West?


7. Zen’s antithesis: religion and science of the West

The Japanese guardians of Zen Buddhism succeeded in having it survive. It was brought to the West and transmitted to the world at large through the humble Suzuki (‘great humility‘ is what Daisetz means). He credited the wondrous koan technique that Zen is still alive and kicking. The Bodhidharma of the West especially inspired and galvanized ‘Beat Zen, Square Zen, and Zen’ of the 1950s with heroes like Watts, Aitken, Snyder, Kerouac, Ginsberg, and scholars like Fuller Sasaki, Kapleau, Humphreys, Blyth, and Fromm (Fields, 1986). A generation later a host of authors wrote on psychology/psychotherapy and meditation in general (e.g. Goleman, DelMonte, West) or Hinayana practice (e.g. Mikulas, De Silva, Kabat-Zinn). A few are dedicated to Zen (e.g. Hirai, Shapiro, Bankart). Arrived in the West, Zen - a new thesis in the Hegelian sense - had to face its antithesis, a wall of religion and science, two incompatible entities by themselves, with totally different premises and practices. (‘West’ or ‘western’ might also mean a mentality.)

Propelled by Suzuki-Zen a good many western authors wrote about Zen as a ‘sect’ of Buddhism and as a semi-religion. Although the infrastructure of Zen Buddhism is organized around temples, it is awkward to consider Zen as a religion in the traditional sense of the word. Zen is one of those words that cannot be translated by an equivalent in a western language. It is a religion if the word is taken literally from the Latin ‘religare’, to tie back with the ultimate or with existence; it is not a religion that worships a deity. Unlike the founders of the great religions (like e.g. Jesus, who asked people to follow him and take his character traits like forbearance and perseverance as an example), the Buddha exhorted not to follow him, but to experience by one’s own efforts what he had experienced and not to take somebody else’s words for granted, including his. To experience Buddha-nature inwardly and ‘herenow’ in silence is diametrically opposed to a prayer, usually a talking to a god in heaven expressing projections of hope and faith for help in the future. Although concentrating on a koan and praying are both ‘cognitive strategies’ potentially generating relaxation, they differ in function (to stop the mind from thinking or to seek for god’s answer). Despite the mystical branches of the Judeo-Christian and Islamic faiths have commonalities with Zen, Zen’s crystal-clear sobriety (‘the Buddha is three pound of flax’) does not warrant it to be classified as mysticism either. At best Zen can be described as a lifestyle that can in principle be practiced by anybody of any faith without being necessarily inconsistent. Advisably, one takes sky-gods with a grain of salt. Catholic Zen exponents like Enomiya-Lasalle, Dumoulin, and Johnston, who proposed Christian koans, personify this trend. The evidence thus far leads one to believe that the Buddha and the Christ are strange bedfellows. A merger would confound their messages and breed confusion, an irreconcilable language game, just like trying to fuse the paradigms of science and religion. In spite of a flourishing inter-religious dialogue, doctrinal differences espouse irreconcilable notions, adding syncretism to the equation (King & Ingram, 1999). Both endorse salvation, but to form a hybrid coalition is to assume erroneously that phenotypical similarities reflect genotypical commonalities. Vodka and water look the same, until you taste them. However, both can be appreciated by the same person on different levels of functioning. Being non-theistic, NeoZen is indifferent with regards to the existence or the non-existence of (a) god. Although somewhat awkward, a dual practice maybe one of the possibilities.

To date the courtship of Zen Buddhism and Christendom to arrange a fusion might be considered a failure, whereas Zen and science seem to be able to share partly the same underpinnings. A no-nonsense scientist fascinated by down-to-earth-Zen, the clinical neurologist James Austin, undertook a Herculean task to account for his kensho in an 868 pages of ‘clinical autobiography’. He thereby reviewed the content of 113 pages of references making his book ‘Zen and the Brain’ (1998) an encyclopaedic data wrap for the student of Zen interested in neurophysiology. It is in essence a review of the intimately related and reciprocally illuminating topics of Zen and the neurosciences. Baffled by Zen, the witty and erudite Austin questions: what is Zen, how does the brain function, and what goes on in meditative states? Trained at Daitoku-ji, he practices koans and zazen. The harvest of 25 years of his labor, a landmark text reflecting an awesome string of empirical studies, deserves a special place in history and might be rightfully called ‘Austin-Zen’: that body of ‘perennial psycho-physiological’ knowledge about the sudden flash of kensho/satori, illumination that cuts off the ‘neuropsychological’ self. Although a form of ‘about-ism’, Austin-Zen is a milestone, indispensable when studying Zen in the 3 rd millennium. Since D.T.’s epoch-making writings, J.A. is the other 20 th century scholar of significance for the study of Zen. Austin takes up where Suzuki left off. Austin-Zen complements Suzuki-Zen by presenting the research evidence. By their works’ size, breadth, scope, and scrutinizing depth, Zen is catapulted a giant step forward, while still firmly embedded in history going back to Huineng, who taught that ‘not the banner, nor the wind moves, but one’s own mind’. But is it the mind or the molecules of our 10.000 years (350 generations) civilized cro-magnon-era brain that allows us to see our Buddha-nature? When dissecting the Zen-brain Austin keeps a middle ground between body-and-mind, avoiding the pitfall of ‘greedy reductionism’.

To reiterate, cutting in Zen’s flesh and bones (reading and studying) is just a preparation for discovering Zen’s marrow (that memorable but ‘nothing special’ thing to paraphrase Bodhidharma). Zen as self-knowledge to ‘dissolve’ the self by a pragmatic way of practicing aims at ‘experiencing things as they really are’ by an experiant - one of the new words Austin invented - who experiences in absence of the self. The heart of Austin-Zen is a ‘roadmap to nirvana’ indicating nine stages of ordinary, meditative, and alternate states of consciousness (alternate, to avoid the pejorative adjective altered). Besides waking, sleeping, dreaming, the fourth stage is a shallow to deep level of concentration and receptive meditation, generating tranquilizing, clarifying, refreshing effects lasting seconds to minutes. Stage five is a heightened positively emotionalized awareness with epiphanies, lasting seconds to many minutes. Stage six: samadhi - absorption and bliss, internal or external, with or without sensate loss, also lasts seconds to minutes. Stage seven: kensho (early experiences) and satori (deeper experiences), appreciating oneness and perfection of things as they are, last seconds. (This should be differentiated from absorption, i.e. attention without awareness of the observing self.) Stage eight: nirvana, ultimate being beyond oneness and expression or a profound primordial emptiness / groundless void, lasts seconds to minutes. Stage nine: An enlightened trait (as opposed to foregoing states) - ongoing awareness of the ‘suchness’ of all things, also called Buddhahood, freely accessible without bounds and limitations.

Is the brain only that three pound lump of tissue under the skull or do we have to include the neurotransmitters located in the body in a larger conceptualization of a ‘wandering’ brain? Austin submits that rigorous Zen accruing ongoing nirvana is a brain condition characterized by extensively reorganized associative circuits of nerve cells all over at subcortical and cortical levels. The way neuroscience tries to illuminate satori resembles a climatologist’s weather forecast. During Zen one is probably quieting the firing of nerve cells in the medulla and above. The emphasis is on probably, for there is nothing so difficult to foretell as ‘inner weather’. This reflects the state of the art: we still know little about the neuropsychology of Zen. Nothing about the brain or Zen or its combination is simple, simply because relevant facts aren’t yet known. One of the sophisticated hypotheses on the cause of satori that Austin proposes is ‘the possibility that several striking interpretive features of such a state could be the result of both highly selective hyperfunctionings and hypofunctionings within various sites, both in the temporal lobes and elsewhere’ (p.188; personal communication, 2002). Will we there discover Huang-po’s ‘Gateway of the Stillness beyond all Activity’? The answer is blowing in the wind. Those who hope to find final answers on the finesses of how the human brain works in alternate states of consciousness by Austin-Zen will be grossly disappointed. This is in keeping with the tenet of ‘partial promissory materialism theory’: we will never fully understand the brain. Neuroscience is bound to know more about less. Each new answer evokes new enticing research questions. Thus, Austin-Zen is also a collection of testable hypotheses formulated in 22 chapters.

For the psychological self to dissolve, substantial changes and enduring shifts in subcortical systems are suggested with a pivotal role of thalamo-cortical interactions in the front and the back of the brain. The thalamic reticular nucleus is a thin shield of GABA cells supposedly selecting information transmitted to the cortex and capable to block its excitation. To delete fear pathways associated with fear have to be interrupted. This involves deep structures like the amygdala, limbic and brainstem circuitry. Other circuits also require major interruption, especially those regulating orientation in space and differentiating the self and the world (parietal lobe) and circuits engaging orientation in time and generating awareness of self (frontal and temporal lobe). All of this might simplify and revitalize the workings of the brain. Austin dealt with numerous other tantalizing subjects, hints, and clues: arousal, imagery, vision, memory, emotions, illusions, joy, laughter, hallucinations, dopamines, acetylcholine, endorphines, glutamate, norepinephrine, opioids, serotonin, seizures, laterality, hibernation, cats, rats, monkeys, EEG, bright lights, blank vision, phantom limbs, biological clocks, near death experience, etc. He included William James, the whole gamut of experimental psychophysiology, how our brains ‘make us blush with shame, flush with anger, glow with pride, blanch with fear, clutch with desire’, how Zen would have us shed happiness impeding conditionings in daily life, and much more. Although he dealt with the topic of learning by conditioning, Austin overlooked the salubrious findings of cognitive behavior therapy. His ripe insights, resting on the bedrock of science, render Zen a great service. Having read widely, he applied a standardized precision to define concepts used. Although Austin formulated many testable hypotheses and few adamant conclusions, he contributed significantly to the transcultural synthesis of Zen-mind and its brain, from the inside out, from the outside in, and from a psychological perspective. The overall conclusion as yet is that hard-wired science has produced more of the same and failed to explain events unfathomable for the discursive mind.


8. Postmodern psychology: rationalistic or constructionist?

Postmodernism is a late 20 th century worldview in the arts and sciences characterized by cultural uncertainty, a loss of faith in authority and societal absolutes (Bor & Petersma, 1995). Including modernism as a useful but insufficient solution to conceive reality, postmodernists refute the idea that scientific progress (ex technology) will come from increasing knowledge to master the universe. As knowledge depends on context, space, and time, it is necessarily interpretative and incapable to conceptualize a permanent and complete 'knowable world'. Reality is an impermanent construction depending on context: when, where, and who said what. Living in a pluralistic society of cyberspace, consumerism, mobility, democracy, and religious freedom, this implies a relativistic approach to an ocean of opinions and values. A constructionist view entails ubiquitous relativism, since it is impossible to know everything about something, and a postobjective/postrational metapsychology that includes the objective and the (inter)subjective, the rational and the irrational. Thus breaking with vested interests, it is iconoclastic, like Chan/Zen. These characteristics, particularly impermanence and a binaries collapsing contextualism, starkly resemble Buddhist and Taoist tenets. Constructivism and constructionism contend that experience is a personal construction through the sociocultural process of 'languaging': a complex social-cognitive process of words as the vehicle for constructing of virtually everything that we know (Faure, 1993). The following premises are predominating social constructionist thinking:

(1) Representations replace reality;

(2) Representations are artefacts of the social group or community;

(3) Ironic self-reflection is pivotal to deal with representations

(4) Irony implies a loss of faith in authority, even science, and a pluralistic approach to values (Gergen & Gergen, 1988)

Such an approach resembles Socrates’ (469-399 BCE) who was an expert in the ironic wisdom of ‘not knowing’ (which is different from knowing nothing) and Wittgenstein’s definition of certainty, not as the summum of knowledge or 100% clarity, but rather as the inability to imagine otherwise (Kwee, 1982; see also Bärmark’s article in this issue). Reality is hypothesized as an idiosyncratic reflection of sociocultural constructions (thus empty projections) pervading all things (the relationship between the subject and the object as well as the objective and the subjective). Even science is considered as a narrative that is a social construction of a culture that cannot accrue everlasting truths. Tomorrow there will be another Einstein. Two plus two is four only because we agreed on a metric system. Social constructionism itself is cultural relative construction and not the truth. So-called Transcendental Truths belong to the game of language and of words containing a deceit. God and other eternities are a wordplay based on an unawareness of consciousness as being representations and projections of our brain. These very same insights Chan/Zen tried to convey down the ages. Overhearing two Chanists in dialogue on whether the flag moves or the wind moves, Hui-neng said: Neither the flag, nor the wind, but the mind moves. Tai-hui’s koan illustrates the constructionist’s viewpoint: Calling this a stick, you affirm, calling this not a stick, you negate - beyond affirmation and negation what would you call it? A name is a sociocultural convention we are oblivious about. Ironically, Chan/Zen shares a postmodern view that we should not be complacent in understanding the world and self through taken for granted concepts. As a ‘wordless teaching’ Chan/Zen finds resonance in Wittgenstein’s call that we should keep silence about that which we cannot possibly speak about.

This is the deeper meaning of satori (a wordless awe) that is derived from the root satoru, meaning ‘to know’ equivalent to Yogacara’s jnana (knowing). More resemblances with Chan appear, when filing terms characterizing constructionism: non-authoritarian, non-absolutistic, impermanent, iconoclastic, illogical, relativistic, subjective, ironic, and absurd. Furthermore, Chan appreciates ‘tacit truth’, reflected by emphasizing the subjective inhering also the non-logical, unconscious, symbolic, metaphoric, emotional, negative, chaotic, poetic, dark, cyclical, soft, dependent, earthen, etc., in short the Yin rather than the Yang dimensions of life. There is more than a superficial allegiance between postmodern constructionism and Chan. How to communicate the inexpressible satori? Consider the fact that ‘spiritual’ experiences of some kind are not uncommon. Surveys demonstrate that one out of three individuals had an ‘intangible experience’ at some time in life (e.g. Hardy, 1979). To tell about it depends on words that fail to provide a uniform definition of something indescribable. For instance, Suzuki (1963) ‘construed’ Zen not as a religion, philosophy, mysticism, or psychotherapy, but as ‘absolute realism’. Realism would defy terms like ‘spirituality’ that already sound metaphysical. The Buddha, neither god nor saint, allegedly replied to t he question ‘What are you then?’ with a poignant ‘I am awake’. There is nothing mystical, sacred or spiritual about being awake. And the Dhammapada formulates ‘We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.’ This is constructionism avant la lettre. A constructionist approach to satori cannot express the silent experience itself, but conceptualizes an inward event for which words do not exist. Thus we concur with Wittgenstein’s ‘Whereof one cannot talk, thereof one must keep silence’. The challenge to convey a wordless knowing through a wordless teaching, a unique experience for unique individuals, is a tremendous problem that is impossible to solve. To come to satori is not a solving of the problem, but a dissolving of the problem itself is the clue. Hence, lacking verbal equals, satori can only be indicated by poor descriptors like: non-duality, emptiness, illumination, void, enlightenment, brightness, clarity, contentless, energized, fresh, wakeful, fully functioning, and the like. To experience all of this the koan is an excellent device that particularly suits the people in the Far East.

From a constructionistic viewpoint 'man the narrator' is capable to self-communicate by feedback and feedforward mechanisms, processing passively, anticipating and creating actively (Kwee, 2000b). The self is a narrative creation about I, me, and mine in a complex and dynamic interaction with relevant others. I relate with me and the extensions of me - ‘mine’, ‘my behaviors’, and ‘my relationships’ - in a continuing internal self-talk that cannot be otherwise than embedded in a social world. Although the self is constructed in a self-dialogue and is the creative result of the things I say to me about ‘me’ (my doing, thinking, and feeling), it is a social creation because ‘me’ derives meaning in an interpersonal context and is due to the fact that language is not an individual act. Activity in the world has always an interpersonal impact. However, on a pure experiential level - i.e. on the blank screen on which all representations and meanings are projected - there is emptiness behind the internal dialogue. This me responds to what I say in non-verbal affective terms resulting in feeling ‘good’, ‘bad’, or ‘neutral’. The whole gamut of moods and emotions can be experienced, from depression to anxiety, anger, sadness, joy, love, and silence (Kwee, 1996a). Deep down in that silence a Buddha-nature resides that responds intuitively with a surprising wisdom. Poems reflect such a response, like for instance in a simple haiku revealing an in-depth glimpse of the ‘experience of things as they really are’ like in Basho’s (1644-1694) poem: ‘Old pond, frogs jump in, sounds of water, kerplunk, plunk...’ The pond (mind’s original silence and emptiness) is disturbed by consciousness as the sight of frogs jumping (arising thoughts) and water sounds (consciousness disturbing emptiness). There is an experience, but where is the experiencing person? With this ‘intuitive existential wisdom’ of emptiness as ‘ultimate reality’ we are born. It was there all the time, unnoticed. Too much were we occupied by the daily hassle - to study or to earn a living - that it became buried by emotional rubble and caught in labyrinths of dualistic thinking. In order to ‘ride on the ox back home’ and re-find Buddha-nature.

It is q uintessential to stop ‘self-talk’ and foster intuitive wisdom by transforming rational thinking through a quantum leap into the silence of ‘no-mind’. This is called in Chan/Zen: Seeing-Things-As-They-Really-Are or seeing the nonduality as depicted in the Tao. This is being freed from attachment, not per se in the moral sense, but rather from illusions of dualistic notions (binaries) by letting go any thought of craving, grasping, and clinging. Through ‘sitting in the mind’, on a koan, the koan concentrated upon is ‘diss-ed‘, a term referring to the many varieties of de-constructing. The first imperative barrier for the novice is the koan Wu or Mu, the mother of all koans. A monk asked Chao-chou (Joshu, J): ‘Does a dog have Buddha-nature or not?’ Chao-chou said: ‘Wu’. If this koan is understood a gate is passed through. There is jest in the sound that resembles a dog’s barking but obviously that is not what is meant. If startled by the bark, part of the message came through because, when in shock, self-talk is absent. For the insider the simple sounding riddle contains a paradox that goes beyond thinking. If the student would say ‘yes’ he would be relying on text (sentient beings have Buddha-nature) not on insight. If the answer is ‘no’ he would deny the scriptures. To break through this perplexing captivity it is necessary to break down thought and to come up with a non-conceptual response. The paradox resembles the therapist’s question to the loving mother: ‘Did you stop beating your child?’ ‘Yes’ implies that a beating took place, ‘no’ implies a continuation. Satori comes from a ‘neither yes, nor no’ (as the Buddha frequently modeled in his discourses). Such answer questions the nature of the misleading question itself (begging binary categories). Chao-chou’s response ‘Wu’ is the question’s mirror reflection, which results in a move from a digital yes-no limit of the provisional to an ultimate post-perceptual and pre-conceptual awareness that ousts the usual subject-object binary. Such understanding cannot be reached within rational confines and needs an intuitive approach of the mind’s eye that views the question itself as another concept passing in the space of mind.

Basically, psychotherapy is not concerned about ultimate realities Chan/Zen is intrigued about. It remains within the provisional, the functional, and the relative, which is the realm where Chan/Zen also starts its quest. Thus Chan/Zen share a lot with the interpersonal art therapy in as far it applies relativism. Mostly therapy replaces a non-fitting reality construction with a better fitting one and reframes the client's worldview by providing new meaningful cognitive-affective-behavioral experiences. It is not about mere observing thoughts and mind maps, but about changing those thoughts and maps. Korzybski (1933) contended that people draw maps to fit the territory, emphasizing that the map is not the territory, in order to find the way in life. A map cannot reflect all the territory. An ideal map represents a map of the map of the map, etc., according to the principle of self-reflexiveness. Preferably, clients cultivate 'sane' thinking, based on the canons of science. Sane people are like scientists who validate or invalidate their hypotheses and eventually revise and update their maps to meet the evidence of a constantly changing world. Kelly (1955) argued that individuals construct a personal meaningful understanding of the world by 'contextual' descriptions of the world. Framing and accentuating contrasting differences can help to establish meaning. 'Man-the-scientist' attempts to make sense, order or predict personal experiences and complex unitary systems through behavioral experimentation. These views are similar to Piaget’s (1973) expounding that people will never get to know reality as it really 'is', only as it is constructed, a view that concurs with emptiness and meanings as projections. Whereas in therapy the self is (re)built and strengthened, in Chan/Zen the self is de-constructed and obliterated. Therapy is affective, personal dualistic, Chan/Zen is non-affective, non-personal, non-dualistic (see also Bankart, 1997).

Sane selves are able and capable to appreciate the paradox of koans and take the irrational flashing moments of satori. To advise someone suffering from an emotional disorder to satori is outrageous. Alas, too many people desperately seek relief from emotional disorders via a growth discipline like Zen. This is an egregious error because one simply cannot fly while swimming in a quagmire of neuroses. Elsewhere a plea was made to educate experts in ‘Clinical Meditation Studies’ who are able to guide clients to become firmly rooted in the ground (by therapy) and yet to grow up high in the sky (e.g. by Zen) (Kwee et al., 2001). In both instances the psychological self as a self-narrative should be assessed first. The self-story is a process comparable to a movie, or it can compressed in a photograph. If told a few months later the same story will be different. After all the self is not a static entity but an ‘actively complex, socially embedded, and developmentally dynamic self-organizing system’ (Mahoney, 1996). A broken self-story can be repaired and healed, for instance by having the clients tell their life stories and by counselling the emotional downturns by Narrative Re-biographing (Kwee, 2000b). This is a process of repairing the client's emotional story to become a coherent and consistent whole (that is more than the sum of its parts). Sometimes a more specific strategy is required for which Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy is called for. This rests on Epictetus’ (55-135) adage that people are not disturbed by things but by the views they take of them. In Chan/Zen terms: people are disturbed by their own illusions by the way they paint their representations and projections in their own consciousness. In a cognitive-behavior therapy the client is taught how to reason rationally by modifying irrational cognitions into relativistic self-talk. Change is pursued by going through the thinking process during an event activating emotional upheaval. It espouses for example using ‘i’ (to avoid identification of an act with self) and banning ‘shoulds’ (by debating and changing these into preferences) (see Kwee & Ellis, 1998, for an extensive account on the interface between Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy and Zen).

In conclusion, although mostly rationalistic in its practice, postmodern psychology and psychotherapy are constructionistic in its purview. The latter concurs with Chan/Zen’s outlook of the emptiness of satori, strived for by using the springboard of the koan that often narrates a dialogue between people.


9. So what is NeoZen?

‘I (MK) was driving in a car in the city of Utrecht, Netherlands, and contemplating ‘...born parents before face original...’ My bladder was full and I was urgently under pressure. Suddenly it felt as if the bottom of a pail full of yesterday’s wine broke through, flushing away my ‘self’ down the drain. There was a total sense for the ‘herenow’ that was simultaneously eternal, life-and-death never existed. Where was I? Although it seemed that I was evaporated in the gray Dutch sky, the wondrous thing was that I could drive as well as before. The highway was the highway as before, the traffic was as tedious as before, only I was a different man.’ Compare this with a classic dialogue elicited by a monk’s question: ‘What is Chan?’ The master said: ‘It is like seeking an ox while riding on it.’ Monk: ‘After I have ridden on the ox, what about it?’ Master: ‘It is like going home, while riding on the ox.’ (Suzuki, 1980, p.98). Although the ancient Taoists expounded that we should live in complete harmony with nature, city people’s full nature left is their own ‘BodyMinds’ hiding Buddha-nature. This true nature is our emotional selves that should be cleansed before satori is possible. Suppose that there is a healthy BioPsychoSocial basis and a cast-iron wish to start, it is obvious that we do not live in an era of bullock carts and might want comfortable ways to travel. NeoZen might be helpful to seek Buddha-nature in a way that fits our speedy era of information technology in a postmodern ‘multiverse’ of values. Its modus operandi entails three practical KISS-guidelines (Keep-It-Simple-&-Straightforward).

(1) NeoZen requires the right effort and a commitment to practice, even if it would take a lifetime. Not everybody wants to awaken and many people doubt the possibility of illumination.An uncompromising resolve is sporadic as we live in a hectic world of much sensation that many would be inclined to think that Buddha-nature, like dollars, is to be found out there. However, as people mature and most material cravings are satisfied a quest for meaning might become imminent. For those who intuit somehow that the key is to be found in one’s own world within, i.e. in the psychology of self (or rather: not-self), Chan/Zen is a promise to offer significant value. Motivation will be likely enhanced if the method proposed is crystal clear and not clouded by anachronistic or atavistic uses that breathe too much alien cultural codes difficult to decipher. Instead of offering a belief that the Promised Land will come soon, the motivating experience of joy through ‘laughter now’ should be enhanced. ‘If there is no laughter, there is no Zen’ is still a valid statement that is a pillar of NeoZen training. ‘Any enjoyment is satori’, is a basic lesson and to be aware of awareness of consciousness as joy is the attainment itself (Kwee, 1996b).

(2) NeoZen is radically down to earth and discards metaphysics. Chan/Zen incorporates Mahayana tenets that also inhere in magic and superstition (e.g. the coming of the Maitreya or deifying Kuan-yin that represents compassion). Metaphysical beings and gods are at odds with a down to earth approach NeoZen wishes to return to. The often discarded historical Buddha functions as an excellent example of awakening (not as somebody to follow blindly). We re-emphasize that, as he is no god, his name should be mentioned sparingly, like Bankei and the ancient Chanists did already admonish. When talking about the Buddha, the advice was: ‘Clean your mouth!’ Not only minimal Buddhism is proposed here, but also minimal philosophy, for NeoZen is neither of those and is rather an applied psychology and an art of living. In line with the tradition, NeoZen is the way of the Sravaka Buddha, of listening, reading, and studying. Intellection can expedite emotional insight, but might also hamper the many opportunities of direct experience within an interpersonal flow. Daily activities are strongly recommended as a meditation and way to practice wuwei. Satori may come like a flood washing away all dualistic notions in an instant. This essay might hopefully function as a scaffold for the novice, who would not want to waste time.

(3) NeoZen is to be all the time aware of awareness of consciousness as... what one is doing-thinking-feeling right now, from now to now. NeoZen endorses Hakuin’s Zen amidst activities that can be pictured as a flow of activities with a centrifugal center of unmovable stillness. Obviously any activity in life inheres in an intrinsic quality of wuwei, a going with the flow while doing everything that is necessary in ordinary living. Any activity - praying, chanting, sitting, reading, hearing, koan cracking, drinking tea, writing poems, arranging flowers, practicing archery, martial arts, devotion, motorcycling, golfing, sailing, jogging, climbing, helping, trading, kissing, kicking, you name it - can all be done wuwei. Clearly sitting can be done wuwei, but there is no action flow in obsessive and torturous sitting. Zazen as an incarceration of the body to free the mind, proposed by the Soto champion Dogen (and practiced extremely by the Buddha during his initial quest), is only functional to open the mind’s eye in order to awaken the Buddha’s sixth sense (J: lokukan). This can happen suddenly in a flash, right now. Once awakened, enjoy and go with the flow while nothing remains undone! There is no need to travel by a bullock cart on the highway; therefore let’s take the car. A koan can be your companion throughout the day to practice ‘as if you have lost your key to open the door of your car and don’t have the slightest idea where to look for it’.

In closing: Zen is continuously in transition and might develop in any direction (Kraft, 1988; Dumoulin, 1992). NeoZen is more than a new bottle for old wine and not a regurgitating of dead Chinese men. It is a constructionist psychology that ‘de-constructions’ into the absurd and a rekindling of non-theism, non-metaphysics, and non-authoritarianism. It sees emptiness all around and has even listed koans to suit a transcultural practice to get to nowhere (see Appendix). NeoZennists call no one master and recognizes as the only guru: you (according to its spelling: gee-you-are-you). Neither a roshi, nor cults, nor rituals, whatsoever, are required to practice NeoZen. Ultimately, one indeed wonders: ‘When every phenomenon is reduced to one, then where is that one reduced to?’ And then there is Joshu (the ‘eternal’ student) asking Nansen (the ‘eternal’ roshi): ‘So what if I have found the key?’ Nansen: ’Nothing special at all!’ When you, the reader, have been by this article led astray and have now completely lost the way, we have reached our goal...

© Maurits G.T. Kwee & Marja K. Taams (Transcultural Society for Clinical Meditation)


(1) The striking resemblance of Csikszentmihalyi’s flow and Chuang-tzu’s flow is evident. Csikszentmihalyi (1999) studied the experience of flow in creative and skilled activities (e.g., music, sports, driving, studying, praying) and suggested that happiness depends on an ability to derive flow. When challenges are in balance with concentration, skills, and perseverance one becomes lost in the activity and flow is likely to result. To go with the flow is to abandon oneself to a situation that feels natural and spontaneous. It includes characteristics as ‘merging of action and awareness, ecstatic, enraptured, totally absorbed, self-forgetfulness, no concern for outcome, completely caught up in the activity, devoid of self, wonderment, losing sense of time, different reality, effortless performance’. Paradoxically, one is in control of the activity, yet one should not try to consciously control what one is doing. When the conditions are right, action ‘just flows out by itself’. There's no future or past, it is an extended present in which one exists, while dismantling meaning and remaking it. After the experience, people report having been in an utmost positive state. This comes not from what they do, but how they do the activity. When flow comes from active physical, mental, or emotional involvement, from work, sports, hobbies, meditation, and interpersonal relationships, then the chances for happiness improve. Their lives become more purposeful and meaningful. Interestingly, the author nowhere mentions wuwei. The between flow and wuwei seems to be about when flow occurs (and how to get attuned to flow). While flow is a task specific experience, wuwei refers to an ongoing flow amidst all daily activities.


1 Has a cat Buddha-nature? Po!

2 Who taught the first Buddha who did not teach himself?

3 How do I look like before my parents were born?

4 If all phenomena are reduced to one, where will it all go to?

5 How can a goose raised in a bottle get out of it perfectly?

6 Why is it nothing special at all, when I’ve found the key?

7 When we are already there, why ain’t we arrived?

8 Is anger the gate of heaven, gratefulness the gate of hell?

9 How can neither questioning nor answering be a gateway?

10 Why can a camel enter the eye of a needle but not his tail?

11 How come a cross helps concentrating if there is some body on it?

12 In the midst of death we are alive, why?


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9.2. Buddhist Psychology: A Transcultural Bridge to Innovation and Reproduction

Sektionsgruppen | Section Groups | Groupes de sections

TRANS       Inhalt | Table of Contents | Contenu  16 Nr.

For quotation purposes:
Maurits G.T. Kwee & Marja K. Taams (Transcultural Society for Clinical Meditation): NeoZen. In: TRANS. Internet-Zeitschrift für Kulturwissenschaften. No. 16/2005. WWW:

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