The Way of Zen
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In his definitive introduction to Zen Buddhism, Alan Watts explains the principles and practices of this ancient religion to Western readers. With a rare combination of freshness and lucidity, he delves into the origins and history of Zen to explain what it means for the world today with incredible clarity. Watts saw Zen as “one of the most precious gifts of Asia to the world,” and in The Way of Zen he gives this gift to readers everywhere.
remain incomprehensible; and the intellect will wear itself out. The Tao is accessible only to the mind which can practice the simple and subtle art of wu-wei, which, after the Tao, is the second important principle of Taoism. We saw that the I Ching had given the Chinese mind some experience in arriving at decisions spontaneously, decisions which are effective to the degree that one knows how to let one’s mind alone, trusting it to work by itself. This is wu-wei, since wu means “not” or “non-”
be mentioned. The first, and most serious, is the problem of interpreting the Sanskrit and Pali texts in which ancient Indian literature is preserved. This is especially true of Sanskrit, the sacred language of India, and more particularly the form of Sanskrit used in the Vedic period. Both Western and Indian scholars are uncertain as to its exact interpretation, and all modern dictionaries rely heavily on a single source–the lexicon compiled by Böthlingk and Roth in the latter part of the last
qualities which distinguish Zen or Ch’an from other types of Buddhism are rather elusive when it comes to putting them in words, yet Zen has a definite and unmistakable “flavor.” Although the name Zen is dhyana, or meditation, other schools of Buddhism emphasize meditation as much as, if not more than, Zen–and at times it seems as if the practice of formal meditation were not necessary to Zen at all. Nor is Zen peculiar in “having nothing to say,” in insisting that the truth cannot be put into
simple and rapidly made “grasps” of the mind. When we say that we can think only of one thing at a time, this is like saying that the Pacific Ocean cannot be swallowed at a gulp. It has to be taken in a cup, and downed bit by bit. Abstractions and conventional signs are like the cup; they reduce experience to units simple enough to be comprehended one at a time. In a similar way, curves are measured by reducing them to a sequence of tiny straight lines, or by thinking of them in terms of the
The characteristic notes of the spontaneous life are mo chih ch’u m or “going ahead without hesitation,” wu-wei, which may here be understood as purposelessness, and wu-shih, lack of affectation or simplicity. While the Zen experience does not imply any specific course of action, since it has no purpose, no motivation, it turns unhesitatingly to anything that presents itself to be done. Mo chih ch’u is the mind functioning without blocks, without “wobbling” between alternatives, and much of Zen