Posted by: Soh
Thusness and I thought that this article expresses the essence of Zen well, especially for an academic article.

URL: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/japanese-zen/
Excerpts:

"Generally speaking, Zen cherishes simplicity and straightforwardness in grasping reality and acting on it “here and now,” for it believes that a thing-event that is immediately presencing before one's eyes or under one's foot is no other than an expression of suchness, i.e., it is such that it is showing its primordial mode of being. It also understands a specificity of thing-event to be a recapitulation of the whole; parts and the whole are to be lived in an inseparable relationship through an exercise of nondiscriminatory wisdom, without prioritizing the visible over the invisible, the explicit over the implicit, and vice versa."

"Zen does not accept, time as a “fleeing image of eternity” (i.e., Plato). Zen takes time to be living. According to Zen, theories of time built through conceptual abstraction, are distanced and separate from the immediacy of “here-now.”

Space, too, is neither a container (i.e., Newtown's “absolute space”) nor an a priori limiting condition (i.e., Kant), nor the place of displacement for the volume of an extended thing (i.e., Aristotle). Rather it is a living space. Dōgen for example captures this sense of space as “the bird flies the sky and the sky flies the bird.” In this statement an independence of both the sky and the bird is recognized, but it also recognizes that the sky and the bird each become themselves only through their interdependence. In other words, what makes this space a living space is the dynamic, interdependent, bilateral play of both bird and sky, from which the living space-time as the continuum of “here-now” emerges as an ambience, where each of the terms entering the relationship through the activity is granted a full recognition of their being. This is because the Zen person lives the dynamic activity of non-dualistic “coming-together” of “the two,” whether this “two” happens to involve the “betweenness” of two individuals, individual and nature, or individual and trans-individual."

"However, an objection may be raised contra Zen's holistic, non-dualistic meaning of its “seeing” or “mirroring,” namely the objection that if there is something that is mirrored, is there not still operative a dualistic epistemological structure? Zen would respond that this objection ignores the fact that the ground of seeing is the bottomless ground that is nothing. What appears against mirror qua nothing is just an object. In such a seeing, the object alone shines forth. Hence, it is characterized, to use Nishida's terminology, as “seeing without a seer.” Below, we will explore further the structure of how things appear in Zen."

"How then does the Zen person, thus understood, live freedom? The term that Zen uses to express the idea of “freedom” is “jiyū” and it consists of two characters; “ji” meaning “self on its own,” while “yū” means “out of.” When they are used together as a compound, the phrase as a whole designates an action arising out of self on its own."

"In order for this sense of freedom to be embodied, however, Zen emphasizes that a performer of any kind repeatedly undergoes mind-body training. Takuan calls this the “body's learning,”—that is the core meaning of self-cultivation—because in “body's learning,” both the mind and the body are brought to action in one integrated whole. (The “body's learning,” neurophysiologically speaking, is closely related to an activity of the cerebellum in conjunction with the hippocampus, although it is only that.) When a skill or performing technique is learned through this method, one's own body moves freely as it is habituated to move without waiting for a command from the mind. This describes a freedom of action in a Zen person for whom the mind is completely assimilated into the object-body, while the body is equally rendered into the subject-body. They are one. At such a time, Takuan says, a spiritual life-energy of psychophysiological nature, called “ki,” permeates “one's body”—an energy that cannot be delineated by either the mind or the body. (Yuasa, 1993) In this connection, Zen also speaks of Zen's free action as a purposeless purpose, as an actionless action, for neither the purpose nor the action arises from the everyday consciousness which sets up a purpose or a goal for action. Zen calls it “samādhi-at-play,” where there is no individual qua the trans-individual, but what there is is just “play,” for the Zen person is absorbed in the activity when engaging a thing of the everyday “life-world.” In short, Zen freedom designates a term of achievement. What Zen says of freedom of action has an implication for every action people perform in daily life, from the simple act of opening a door to the magnificent play of a great athlete or performer of any kind. In them, Zen contends however, the spirituality of a performer must be expressed. Zen extends an invitation to all of us to act in this way, so that the quality of life will be enhanced with a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment, free from stress and anxiety."

"Zen's methods of meditative practice are concrete ways for an individual to become a Zen person by awakening to the fundamental reality in the everyday human “life-world.” In so doing, it teaches to participate in the whole, and to express freedom in daily action, by showing one's “original face” right here-now and right in front of one's eyes."

p.s. This encyclopedia from Stanford University really has quality articles (albeit academic) on almost all philosophies in the world. Though I can't gaurantee every single one is well written, as different authors authored each of these. I am currently reading the one on Abhidharma http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/abhidharma/
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