For the unified mind in accord with the way
all self-centered striving ceases.
Doubts and irresolutions vanish
and life in true faith is possible.
With a single stroke we are freed from bondage:
Nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing.
All is empty, clear, self-illuminating,
with no exertion of the mind’s power.
Here thought, feeling,
knowledge and imagination are of no value.
When I was quite young I was on the philosophers quest to understand the deep nature of reality and our relationship as humans to that reality. I read much of Western Philosophy and though it is filled with brilliant insight I found it over all to not be deeply satisfying. Often Western Philosophy skirts the really big questions and singularly examines aspects of life and the world around us such as knowledge, behavior, how science works, perception of time and space, logic, language, etc.. It seemed the really big questions were left to religion for the most part and religion is based on faith not reason and not experience. When philosophers examined religion they usually bog down in the idea of God. Everything hinges on the existence of God. I spent a whole semester in an undergraduate philosophy of religion class examining various proofs of God and not one in my view was irrefutable. I was attracted to Existentialism because this philosophy accepted what seemed to be obvious, that there is no inherent meaning to our lives, and that meaning is something we have to create for ourselves. (Maybe essence is a better word then meaning in this context.)
But then I read a book on Zen by Alan Watts which described how through the practice of meditation it was possible to have an experience which would resolve the bigger questions. Also this experience was described as completely life changing. I decided this was a direction I needed to explore. In Zen the bigger questions are called the "question of life and death." The answer to this question resolves our fears and provides a meaning to our lives.
I can tell you the answer to the question of life and death but the answer I give you is purely intellectual unless rooted in experience. As purely intellectual it will not be fully understood nor be fully powerful. It may not be believed and it may even be rejected as unattractive. Yet I was attracted, maybe because of the joy I felt in the many days in my youth I spent canoeing the silent waters of Maine. The answer to the question of life and death as Alan Watts described it is to be found in an experience of profound intimacy with the natural world. This experience is of an intimacy which breaks down all barriers of self and other and opens one to the profound vision of Non-Duality. This explanation and answer has a touch which is very much Chinese. We see this intimacy of man and nature in the wonderful classic Chinese landscape paintings. This Chinese touch has given Zen a bit of a different feeling from the classic Buddhism that came out of India though all Buddhism is rooted in the same experience and basic understanding. Ultimately though this experience is not just about intimacy with nature as we normally understand it, the world unaffected by human intervention, but also intimacy with the very human world of cities and slums with all the problems of human suffering. Nothing is beyond this intimacy.
And this profound vision of Non-Duality, that is nothing more then the recognition that all, everything we experience and beyond, is part of a single body which includes ourselves and all our attributes. Imagine that when we looked at a human all we could see was feet and hands and head, blood, bone, and bile, thoughts feelings and consciousness,and not see the human, that is the sum of all these parts and some how more. Then imagine we are one of these parts say a white blood cell running around in the veins and arteries gobbling things up thinking I am an independent being and nothing more. We humans are something like this running around this planet thinking we are just independent entities and not recognizing the larger body of the Universe, not recognizing the deep interconnectedness of everything in this body including ourselves. And then imagine experiencing this deep interconnectdness and recognizing the whole Universe as a single body that we are part of and more. Imagine how that might change you.
Sometimes Zen students confuse the activity of Zen practice with this deeper truth and think Zen is only about how to properly practice. We practice concentration, we practice, mindfulness, we practice being in the moment and yet somehow we never deeply develop in the practice and recognize the truth of Non- Duality we never experience liberation. We are still attached to all sorts of ideas, such as ideas about practice, or self centered ideas, or maybe even compassionate ideas which cloud our mind and prevent this recognition. But then if we can only drop all our ideas and clear our mind the Non- Dual is there to be recognized and and liberation to be experienced.