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Zen is sometimes said to be irrational or anti-intellectual. D. T. Suzuki once said that “Zen is the most irrational, inconceivable thing in the world.” I categorically refute such claim. Zen is also said to be beyond words and concepts. That sounds intimidating. I disagree with this also. All the mystification is tiresome.

Consider the Sermon of the Flower, which is a well-known koan in the Zen tradition. Buddha took a flower and showed it to his audience, not uttering one word. Everybody was baffled. They did not get the point. Only one disciple realized what Buddha was communicating. He smiled.

It helps to remember that Zen (or Ch’an) is a product of the Chinese mind, which is heavily influenced by the teaching of Lao Tzu. The Chinese mind is concrete, not abstract. It is not like the Indian mind or the Western mind. The Chinese mind does not get into complex systems of metaphysics or theology. It dwells in the moment and in the particular. Also, the Chinese word for Zen is 禪. The word consists of two radicals — one for revelation and one for simplicity. Zen emphasizes simplicity. Unfortunately, the common mind tends to complicate matters. Zen is difficult to understand, precisely because of the human tendency to complicate and mystify.

When Buddha was waving a flower at us, just pay attention to the flower. It is not time for speculation or the game of oneupmanship. Notice its beauty, its colors, its fragrance, …. Once you start speculating on Buddha’s profound meaning, you are already not living in the moment. Your mind is already in a competition mode. The question becomes: “How can I come up with a better answer than those of the other disciples?” Zen is very simple. Don’t complicate it.

There is no “deep meaning” of the Sermon of the Flower. This sermon is sensory, simple and direct. Don’t forget the earthly pleasure. There is no higher imperative than just to live!

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Published author, Zen teacher, professor, scientist, philosopher, social commentator, socially-engaged human

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