What is Zen?
Introduction To Zen
Why are we here?
Here we are going to discuss what Zen is, and why we should practise Zen. Now, I’m going to ask you this question. Why are you here? That is to say, why do you, we, all of us, want to learn about and practise Korean Zen meditation? I think this is a reasonable question for us to ask ourselves at this moment. I think each of us can have a lot of different answers to this question. However, at least one of the most common answers, one of the most popular answers, is, I think, in order to be happy because, whatever we do, whether moral, or immoral, we do what we do in order to be happy.
Why aren’t we happy enough?
Yes, we do a lot of things to make, not only ourselves but also our families happy.
Then what can we do to be happy? What do we do to be happy in reality? What have we done to make ourselves happy so far? We struggle to make as much money as possible thinking the more money we have the happier we will be. We have religions because we expect them to bring us happiness. We go on a picnic, play sports, go dancing, have a party, even go gambling or and take drugs. There are too many things we can do, many things we do and many things we have done. However, many people are still unhappy. Many people have not been successful in achieving happiness. Why are we still unhappy, or why aren’t we still happy enough while we are surrounded by countless things we can do to make ourselves happy? Why don’t we succeed in achieving happiness, even though we are always doing our best to be happy? It’s because we can’t see happiness itself while pursuing happiness. In other words, we don’t know what happiness is, and we don’t know where it is because we cannot see it. That is, we are looking for something. However, unfortunately we don’t know what it is and where it is. It doesn’t make any sense. Do you think we can win the game? The chances are very slim. We are playing a game we can not win. We are playing a hopeless game.
Why can’t we see happiness?
Let me ask you a question. Why can’t we see happiness? Why do you think we can’t see happiness? Does it hide itself when we try to see it? No, I don’t think so. Then why can’t we see it?
It is not because happiness hides itself but because we can not see things as they are. Since we can’t see things as they are, we misunderstand things, that is, we have illusions about things. We mistake what we don’t know for what we know. Although we don’t know what happiness is, we believe we know it. And our misunderstanding, or illusion, is the main source or the main root of our unhappiness.
Let me give an example of the misunderstanding that comes from not seeing things as they are. One day I had an opportunity to talk with some Christians. One of them said that he was anxious to feel the answer from God when he prayed God. He was very sorry that he couldn’t receive the answer from God. I said to him, “How long have you been a Christian?” He said, “More than 20 years.” I asked him, “Have you ever seen God?” He looked somewhat embarrassed to hear my question, and replied, “What? How is it possible? God is God and we are human beings. How can we human beings see God? What nonsense!” My response was, “How is it possible? We say Seeing is believing. How could you believe in God for 20 years without seeing him? It means you have believed what you don’t know, or can’t prove. You have not known what you believe. How can you expect to receive the answer from God, while you don’t know what God is or who God is? Then how can you say that you have believed in God? What nonsense! As far as I know, the Bible says that God is everywhere and anywhere at any time, and there is no place where he is not. Then why can’t we see him? We should be able to see him anywhere and at any time, unless what the Bible says is false. I believe what the Bible says is true. Then why can’t we see him? It’s not because the Bible is telling a lie, but because we can’t see things as they are. You have no one but yourself to blame. You have had an illusion of God without knowing what he is. You have had a misunderstanding of God.”
This is the way we live our lives when we don’t see things as they are.
Then, do you think you are different from the person I have just mentioned above? I am afraid I don’t think so. You are the same in the sense that you are seeking something you don’t know.
What shall we do to be happy?
Then what shall we do now to be happy? We should try to see everything as it is. To be happy we should be able to see everything as it is. Zen is a kind of Buddhist practice to see everything as it is. However, don’t misunderstand me. Don’t think I want to make you Buddhist. My job is to help you to see everything as it is. I am not here to persuade you to be Buddhist but to help you to see everything as it is. I would never encourage you to change your religion but I encourage you to try to see everything as it is. I would never ask you to live a monastic life, or ascetic life, but ask you to try to see everything as it is. I would never discourage you from doing something, but encourage you not to give up trying to see everything as it is. I will only ask you and help you to see everything as it is, because you can be happy all the time when you can see things as they are.
When you can see things as they are, you can see what you couldn’t see before. You can hear what you couldn’t hear before. Your life changes as you can see things as they are. When we can see things as they are, we can see things more objectively than before. When we can see things more objectively than before, we can make wiser decisions and wiser choices than before. As we can see, our life is a series of decisions and choices. Therefore, it is not an exaggeration that our happiness depends on the decisions and the choices we make every moment. Our wise decisions and wise choices will lead us to happiness. I am sure you can become a better husband, a better wife, better father, better mother, and a better Christian if you are Christian. So we can be happy all the time by seeing everything as it is. You can see happiness when you can see everything as it is. So, Zen is a kind of way to happiness.
Then, how can we see everything as it is?
How do you think we can see everything as it is? It’s very simple, and much easier than you think. We can see everything as it is if we can see ourselves as we are, because we can see things only through ourselves. I can see everything as it is when I can see myself as I am. So, Zen is also said to be a kind of a practice to see ourselves as we are. Then how can we see ourselves as we are? How can you see yourself as you are? Okay. Now, I am asking you a question. Do you have a car? Do you have a house? Do you have a mobile-phone? I believe all of you have one of them at least. When you say, “My house is small but very convenient” or when I say, “My car doesn’t work well these days”, what does it mean? When you say, “My house”, it means you own a house. It means that a house belongs to you. It never means that you are your house. It never means your house is you. When I say, “My car”, it never means that I am my car. It never means that my car is me. Am I wrong? Likewise, when we say, “My body”, it never means that I am my body, just like I am not my car when I say, “My car”. Then our final question is “What am I when my body is not me?” This is the very ultimate question we should solve, but it might take a lifetime. This is a very simple question but also a very important question for our happiness. Let me ask you one more very similar question. What is your wife when her body is not her, just like when your body is not you? What are your mum and dad when their bodies are not them? In fact, we really don’t know what our wives are, what our children are, what our friends are, and so on, just like we don’t know what we are. Let’s suppose I say, “I love my wife.” In this very short sentence I mentioned, I don’t know what the subject “I” is, I don’t know what I am and I also don’t know the object “my wife”, I don’t know what my wife is. In summary, we don’t know what we say when we don’t know what we are. How can I know what I say, when I don’t know what I am? How can I love my wife, when I don’t know what she is? What does it mean when I say to you, “I love you” when I don’t know what you are? In reality, we often say, “I want to be happy”. It is a very natural idea we can have as human beings. However, how can I be happy when I don’t know what I am? How can I be happy when I don’t know who, or what, wants to be happy? This is the way we live our lives without knowing what we are, what the essence of our being is.
From now on, you take a (long) journey for the purpose of realising what you are when your body is not you. I want to call this a journey for happiness, because I am sure that this journey will bring you happiness. I invite you to join our journey to happiness.