Why Do Zen?

Suppose a man were all of a sudden to make his appearance here
and cut your head off with a sword!

Q: Hey Roshi, what are the practical benefits of this Satori you keep talking about, not to mention the benefits of doing all the hard subsequent work of stabilizing your body & mind in the "one taste" of Tathata? It sounds like a lot of effort for piss poor reward. Maybe those old Zen guys in the mountains had it wrong! Do you ever feel that way?

A: Mostly in Zen you would get hit with a stick for even asking that kind of question, but being in a generous mood I will answer that for you by quoting Douglas Harding, from his book On Having No Head: Zen & the Rediscovery of the Obvious, where he answers the exact same question regarding the possible benefits (or not) of persisting in his technique of "In-Seeing," which is the same as the ancient Zen practice of actively "turning your Light inward" during calm meditation to see what's there. Here is the relevant passage:
When sufficiently persisted in, ["In-Seeing"] is sure to yield -- more as a bonus than an expected reward -- quite specific improvements in that "outer" scene, in the problem-ridden realm of our everyday lives. Typically, these will include an enlivening of the senses (raising the screen which muffles the plangency of sounds, dims the glow of colours, blurs forms, and filters out the loveliness shining in the "ugliest" places) and (to go with the sensory awakening) a complex of interrelated psycho-physical changes -- including a sustained "whole-body" alertness in place of the 'heady" intermittent sort (as if one were poised through and through to run the race of one's life), a reduction of stress, particularly in the region of the eyes and mouth and neck (as if one were at last letting them go), a progressive lowering of one's centre of gravity (as if losing one's head were finding one's heart, and guts, and feet, which are now rooted in the Earth), a striking downward shift of one's breathing (as if it were a belly function), and in fact a general come-down (as if all the good things one had vainly strained after in the heights were awaiting one in the depths). And, balancing this descent, a general uplift, including a sense of exaltation (as if one were perfectly straight-backed and as tall as the sky), an upsurge of creativity, rising energy and confidence, a new and childlike spontaneity and playfulness, and above all a lightness (as if one were not so much gone with the wind as the wind itself). And finally, perhaps, a calming of fears, a marked reduction of greed and anger, a smoothing out of personal relations, more capacity for selfless love, more joy. Perhaps! 
It is clear to me that Harding actually experienced all this. I like that "as if one were perfectly straight-backed and as tall as the sky"! It's what happens naturally during Zen sword practice & there is no other feeling like it. His list is exact & there is little I could add to it, though I admit I started to get a little nervous when I saw his mentions of "more capacity for selfless love, more joy." That is true also, of course -- to a point -- but one feels embarrassed to even speak of such things. Zen doesn't sell saintliness. We just sit down by the road & weave some more straw sandals so that we can keep walking bemusedly through the world. "Strange & harmless walks in the midst of life." However, Harding's pointed use of the term "perhaps" to describe the more "saintly" benefits of self-realization is a stroke of dry and sober Englishman genius, is it not?

I urge you to look now & marvel at how simply, how quickly, & how ruthlessly Douglas Harding dispenses with all religious mystification about his Enlightenment experience, in the very first pages of his charming little treatise: it's as if two thousand years of verbiage about It suddenly got sucked down the tubes:
However carefully I attend, I fail to find here even so much as a blank screen on which these mountains and sun and sky are projected, or a clear mirror in which they are reflected, or a transparent lens or aperture through which they are viewed -- still less a person to whom they are presented, or a viewer (however shadowy) who is distinguishable from the view. Nothing whatever intervenes, not even that baffling and elusive obstacle called "distance": the visibly boundless blue sky, the pink-edged whiteness of the snows, the sparkling green of the grass -- how can these be remote, when there’s nothing to be remote from? The headless void here refuses all definition and location: it is not round, or small, or big, or even here as distinct from there. (And even if there were a head here to measure outwards from, the measuring-rod stretching from it to that mountain peak would, when read end-on -- and there’s no other way for me to read it -- reduce to a point, to nothing.) In fact, these coloured shapes present themselves in all simplicity, without any such complications as near or far, this or that, mine or not mine, seen-by-me or merely given. All twoness -- all duality of subject and object -- has vanished: it is no longer read into a situation which has no room for it. 
Whoops! There go the long venerated & often repeated analogies of "image projector," "blank screen," "transparent aperture," and "clear mirror," not to mention that shadowy figure, the much-sought "Inner Witness"! To quote Woody Guthrie, they all "came with the dust and are gone with the wind." Shocking beyond words. All that's left is the Headless Void, refusing all definition & location. Naturally, the Void is full of colorful & interesting stuff, some of it patchy & random. Why wouldn't it be?

Why not do some Zen & experience This for yourself right now?

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